Director Steve McQueen and actor Michael Fassbender are proving to be one of Britain’s most flourishing collaborations. After the critical success of their first project Hunger, there was room for the duo to explore new territory. Fassbender brings a bleakness to the films of McQueen; a genuine sense of desperation that is usually so hard to capture. This austerity that was conjured up in Hunger returns in their follow up collaboration, Shame. Hunger showed Fassbender pushing his body to its limits in order to make his performance powerful. Shame shows off a very different side to Fassbender. It is an incredibly internal performance coming from his mind and trying to subtly display the character’s mental state; a complete contrast to his depiction of Bobby Sands in Hunger, who is portrayed obviously and physically. Together, McQueen and Fassbender tell the story of one man’s isolation from society and family due to his sex addiction and attitude towards sexual pleasure and relationships.
Loneliness can be brought on by any kind of addiction and it is sexual isolation that is focussed on in McQueen’s dark and sombre film. When his sister comes soaring back into his life, Brandon (played by Fassbender), is forced to re-design his highly private and concentrated sexual behaviour as his personal life becomes threatened and highlighted. A broken family and a secretive childhood seem to haunt the brother and sister and it is not until later into the film that the severity of the damage caused by such things is addressed. Brandon is successful at work and comfortable in social situations, yet his inner demons plague his private time and cause him to sink into a lonely and deprived world of sexual urge and satisfaction. The film is intense from beginning to end. Brandon is unpredictable and somewhat scary. He makes the audience nervous and curious, drawing us into his ugly and confusing world. There is an undeniable sense of hopelessness that swamps the film and McQueen appears unafraid of revealing the true ugliness of human nature and instinct. What is even more seductive about this movie is that the characters are presented with the ability and opportunity to change. Although the characters are ugly and nasty, there is a possibility that they may correct their behaviour and move on from the past, something that is so irresistible to a cinema audience.
Michael Fassbender’s performance is enriched by Carey Mulligan’s. She comes close to stealing the show from Fassbender and gives a performance that rivals and compliments Fassbender’s. There is an electric chemistry between the two that works so well and that also creates a slight awkwardness between two characters who are undoubtedly strangers to one another, but first and foremost siblings. Both the actor and actress’ careers are rocketing in Hollywood but despite recent Blockbuster success in Prometheus and The Great Gatsby, both give performances in Shame that will not be easily beaten. Mulligan and Fassbender are versatile; comfortable in both gritty independent cinema and glamorous Hollywood hits. McQueen draws something out of the two of them that makes them almost unrecognisable as cinema stars. Shame circulates around the idea of coming to terms with personal failure and inconsistency. Human lust and human desire are studied alongside human dependency and human love and all are given equal time in front of the lens. Above all else, Shame is a majestic and seductive piece of work that takes a lot of pleasure in revealing the hideousness of the private lives and behaviour we are capable of living and committing when we don’t think anyone is looking. Even in the closing moments of the film, McQueen continues to tease and taunt the audience, disallowing them any type of relief from a clarifying conclusion.
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