Tuesday, December 6, 2011
IMDb listing -
Roger Ebert's review -
Shame (Fox Searchlight, directed and cowritten by Steve McQueen along with Abi Morgan) is a movie that I went to see with some trepidation, not for its rating (NC-17, entirely appropriate, more on that below) since a good number of reviewers (e.g. Roger Ebert above) had made it clear that Shame was a serious movie, but rather because I feared that its subject, sex addiction, would make it susceptible to banality in another way -- a banality of film-maker imposed guilt, yes, shame that could come across as forced. Having seen the film, I do believe that for the most part, Shame avoided this second potential pitfall very, very well.
First let's deal with the rating, NC-17. I do believe that the rating was appropriate but not because it showed more nudity than R-rated pictures. IMHO the film did not show any more skin than a fair number of R-rated movies like The Reader  starring Kate Winslet and David Kross/Ralph Fiennes, or that the film was any more intense / adult themed than say Black Swan  starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, films that gained Kate Winslet an academy award nomination and Natalie Portman a win. The nudity presented in Shame was certainly de-glamourized, in line certainly with the basic theme of the film which was, afterall, about addiction to sex rather than any kind of romance. But is making use of glamourized nudity to make a romantic point in a film somehow better/more wholesome than making use of de-glamorized nudity to make another equally intended point in a story? If nudity has a place at all in film, its deglamorized use here seemed appropriate to the movie's plot/theme.
Additionally, there is a fairly graphic (bloody) attempted suicide scene near the end of Shame that would disturb a good number of viewers. But there was a very graphic / bloody scene in the recent film Limitless  staring Bradley Cooper (obscenely rated PG-13 !!) in which the drug-addicted protagonist of that story was shown as stooping to drinking the blood of a villain he had just killed in hopes of sucking in a "hit" of the drug that he craved.
In my mind, ALL these movies should have been rated NC-17 or to give parents leeway at least be given a "hard-R" rating with said parents being warned that the images/themes presented would not be suitable for (or even comprehensible by) most teens. I struggle to understand any of these films The Reader , Black Swan  and Limitless  would remain suitable to at least some teens under 17 while Shame would not. So I am a definite proponent of honesty in ratings and, in particular, a defender of the serious application of the "R-rating." I found it ridiculous that the Oscar Winning The King's Speech  was rated R (for language) while Limitless  with it's graphic violence and drug addiction thematics was rated PG-13. And as I write here, I'm not even sure why Shame was rated NC-17 while the above mentioned films were rated either R or below. But such it is ... and to close the point here, I would simply insist that parents note that the thematics of Shame (as in the case of the other above mentioned films) would be beyond the comprehension of the vast majority of teens.
To the film ... Shame is about a 30 something single man, Brandon Sullivan (played by Michael Fassbender), living and working in Manhattan who's addicted to sex. He has one night stands, he hires prostitutes, both his computer at work and his laptop at home are filled with porn, he can't even sit in a subway car on his way to work without fantasizing about (and coming onto) a random, reasonably attractive woman sitting across from him in the car. And all this brings him repeated doses of nearly unbearable shame: His computer gets pulled by the IT technicians at work on suspicion that _it_ could be the source of viruses plaguing the firm's computer system. His adult sister Sissy (played by Carey Mulligan) is a mess, but he doesn't really see it and in any case is unable to do anything about it. He pursues a coworker, Marianne (played by Nicole Beharie), but perhaps because he starts to actually care for her, he finds himself unable (or unwilling) to perform (or otherwise actually express that he cares). As with any addiction, any joy in the act is lost in the craving for the next "hit" and the happenings of the rest of the world get lost in the struggle to find it and then in the haze when he at last gets it.
I found the presentation of the addiction quite convincing. There are only a few lines in the dialogue that I found forced. One dialogue exchange in particular I would note here: During his first date with Marianne, Brandon says very matter of factly (and quite to her horror) that he simply doesn't believe that marriage or lasting fidelity were "realistic." The exchange came across to me as the screenwriters ticking off "probable symptoms or attitudes of a sex addict." I'm not sure that a character like Brandon would be so brazen about holding such a view or even that he would necessarily hold it at all. I would imagine that a sex addict would be far more conflicted than that, as indeed, Brandon was (see above).
But aside from a few forced lines of dialogue, I found the film quite well done and certainly one presenting the case for the existence of this kind of addiction: Who would be willing to risk the various doses of overwhelming shame associated with such sexual behavior if not an addict?
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