Friday, June 22, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Shame (2011) ****

NC-17, 101 min.
Director: Steve McQueen
Writers: Steve McQueen, Abi Morgan
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, Nicole Beharie

There are certain movies that are more fun to figure out rather than merely watch. I’m not talking about mysteries, although in a way I am, but not the whodunit kind. “Shame” is a mystery of human behavior. It follows the story of a man who is addicted to sex. When his sister drops in on his New York apartment to crash for a while, he has to face some of the emotions he spends so much time avoiding through his addiction.

“Shame” is directed by the controversial British director Steve McQueen. No, not the same Steve McQueen beloved by an older generation of Americans. McQueen’s movies never tackle such simple subjects as those of our American hero McQueen. McQueen is fascinated by the hidden motivations of extreme human actions, motivations often hidden from the very people committing these actions. Those motivations reveal here that the hero’s shame may not be what we would assume.

Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, who seems to prefer to pass through life in his own bubble of an existence. He works. He feeds his addiction. He lets no one in.  After getting tired of not having her calls returned, Sissy just lets herself in one night. Brandon does seem to care about his sister; although he makes it obvious he doesn’t want her around. He’s even more put off by her hooking up with his married boss. All the while, he’s compelled to feed his addiction.

I began to wonder where shame came into Michael’s existence. Although he doesn’t broadcast his addiction to the people around him, I didn’t feel it was something he was ashamed of. It’s not something you let the world know about, but it doesn’t seem to hurt him or others. In another movie, his sex addiction might be depicted as destructive in some way. Since it isn’t here, what does he have to be ashamed about? Ah, but where does this addiction come from? Therein lies Brandon’s shame. It takes some working to really figure out McQueen’s aims and Brandon’s inner workings. That’s part of what I like about a film like this one.

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