Shame: Seeking sex, but losing human contact

Toronto.com Movies Review Shame: Seeking sex, but losing human contact

Shame: Seeking sex, but losing human contact

shame conceptShame Brandon is a 30-something man living in New York who is unable to manage his sex life. After his wayward younger sister moves into his apartment, Brandon’s world spirals out of control.

(out of 4)

Starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan. Directed by Steve McQueen. At Varsity Cinemas. 99 minutes.

Shame one-ups The Artist’s justly vaunted silent performances with a wordless pas de deux that could literally take your breath away.

It’s an early scene in this commanding film, set in a New York City subway train. Michael Fassbender’s sexually driven Brandon intensely eyes a pretty woman (Lucy Walters) seated across from him. She smiles in return.

As Hans Zimmer’s borrowed score from The Thin Red Line ramps ups the tension, both faces flash a series of messages: interest, attraction, attempt, revelation . . . and ultimately, deflation.

The seduction is real, completely unspoken, and it’s expertly choreographed by Steve McQueen, the British director who brought Fassbender and himself to global attention with Hunger in 2008.

Yet Shame is anything but romantic, as we shall soon witness in the most explicitly physical terms of empty carnality.

It’s also not simply a movie about sex, despite Brandon’s evident obsession. Perpetually aroused, he seeks constant release through sexual activity of all kinds — one-night stands, hookers, Internet porn or simply masturbation — but he doesn’t get fulfilment.

The thirty-something Brandon gets off, but he never gets out of the prison of his mind, a collapsing space of loneliness and self-recrimination that is far more binding than the Irish jail that held Fassbender’s Bobby Sands in Hunger.

He yearns for genuine human contact — as in that subway scene — but he’s apparently incapable of it.

McQueen’s powerful sophomore work, which he co-wrote with Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady), bears a more subtle message about the fraying of human connections in the modern world. Our electronic gadgets are always on, chirping and buzzing away, but the beat of the human heart has been slowed and drowned out.

Brandon is one of the many lost souls of the 21st century, looking for connections of the body that aren’t found through an Internet browser.

“Where are you?” a plaintive female voice asks on the answering machine of Brandon’s grim apartment, made all the more so by sombre classical music. She’s another conquest who has been cast off.

Brandon is vexed by another woman, who is harder to shake and who is disrupting his furtive routines.

She’s his sister Sissy, played by a transformed Carey Mulligan, no longer a hothouse flower. Sissy is a self-loathing lounge singer whose melancholic rendition of “New York, New York” slows the rush of Shame just long enough for a mind to remember and a tear to roll.

These two have a troubled past together, but it’s probably not the illicit sexual one that fuelled speculation during the film’s fall festival debut. We’re not sure what happened in their early lives together — the artist and sculptor in McQueen prefers to show, not tell — but Sissy drops a hint.

“We’re not bad people,” she tells Brandon. “We just come from a bad place.”

Their current locale isn’t much better. Shame’s Manhattan is a grey expanse of concrete and silicon, where alcohol flows in place of blood. Brandon works for a nameless company that produces no product of discernible worth.

He’s apparently good at his job, even though he spends his days surfing porn or masturbating in the john. His philandering boss Dave (James Badge Dale) congratulates Brandon for “nailing” a presentation, ironically oblivious to the sexual connotations of the statement.

Or the religious connotations, for that matter. Brandon is first glimpsed as he lies in his bed like the crucified Christ, wrapped in sheets that are as blue as his vacant eyes.

Brandon may once have been a man of substance. He’s still charming enough to entice a co-worker out on a dinner date, yet cold enough to make her regret the experience. He cares for Sissy, yet barely tolerates her. He attracts the woman in the subway, yet also frightens her.

He wonders if he’s still human. A sign in the subway train behind him — which McQueen, a skilled photographer, would surely have noticed — reads, “Improving, non-stop.”

If only it were that simple for Brandon. The wisdom of Shame is that it offers no easy exit for this prison of the mind.

via Shame: Seeking sex, but losing human contact… – Toronto.com.

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