Directed by Steve McQueen
Despite strong lead performances, Shame doesn't quite live up to its promise. Though praise-worthy in its handling of a difficult script, this movie doesn't go anywhere -- or, rather, anywhere I plan on going again anytime soon.
Michael Fassbender is tremendous. Before I go any further in my description of the negative aspects of this movie, I feel it's my duty to first let that fact be known. As raw and unsettling as the movie that surrounds him, Fassbender delivers one of the riskiest, most perverse, and astoundingly revealing performances I can ever recall having seen put on film. Whether or not you might enjoy watching him is beside the point, for what he does here is nothing short of miraculous.
McQueen's flagrant use of nudity and sexuality neither repels nor attracts. As a revealing study in sexual addiction, the almost mechanical nature of Fassbender's desires makes for a depressingly perverse subject, but infinitely intriguing. Instead of engaging in these habitual acts of sexuality for pleasure, he is very much a victim of his desires, unable to attain any level of joy from his hopeless addiction. Fassbender manages to portray this anguish to perfection.
Carey Mulligan, who plays Fassbender's emotionally fragile sister, also manages to impress with her bruised performance. However, the faults in Shame do not lie in the acting, but rather in the underdevelopment of its characters. Much of the dramatic impact of this movie is lost due to the characters' lack of identifiability and significant back-story. Why these characters are the way they are is not an aspect that is ever fully realized, making their pain internalized and isolated, rather than shared with the audience, who should feel affected by the suffering of these characters.
I was unsure of McQueen's intentions with this film, and found myself considerably more disturbed than moved by the time it reached its baleful climax. Should I have felt sympathy or disgust for the actions I had just witnessed? Without offering a concrete resolution, I found myself unsatisfied and unsure of the emotional response I should have been perceiving. Too many questions were raised without proper conclusion for me to be at all sure of what I had just experienced. Nonetheless, I can't say I wasn't intrigued by this film. In fact, I can see myself looking back at this movie with fierce admiration for what McQueen has done, but as a whole I felt the experience rather incomplete, serving more as a showcase to Fassbender's talent than anything else.
Perhaps the questions raised but never answered were part of the filmmaker's intention, and as I think about it, the more I feel that might be the case. As dark, brooding, and ominous as the leading performances, the underlying guilt and suffering found in this movie make Shame a very distressing film to witness. I can't be sure how I might feel about it as time passes by, but one thing I can be certain of is that I'm going to be thinking about this movie for quite some time to come.