In New York City, Brandon’s carefully cultivated private life – which allows him to indulge his sexual addiction – is disrupted when his sister arrives unannounced for an indefinite stay.
Year 2, Film #30
THE REVIEW: Before watching Don Jon yesterday, one of my suitemates mentioned how it was basically a take on the 2011 film Shame. How convenient that I had Shame ready to watch and in the queue; perfect timing. And seeing the two back-to-back definitely makes me appreciate Shame so much more. It’s more thoughtful, more suspenseful, and more interesting.
In the opening sequence of Shame, and many more times throughout the film, there are extended periods of silence, or rather, minimal noise. The opening sequence in particular has maybe about five words total and instead, uses telling visuals with an accompanying musical track to tell a story. We learn everything we need to about Brandon (Michael Fassbender): where he is, what he does, and what he “does”. The sequence succinctly conveys all this information and more into a tightly packaged ten minutes. Other films can spend upwards of thirty minutes trying to set the scene and provide the source of conflict and not do it as well as Shame does in ten.
Even when there is more going on in a scene — characters are talking, things are happening, all with a subtext — Shame is very reserved. Long takes combined with either no music at all, or calm, classical pieces, provide a sense of mystery. And filling this sense of mystery are the extremely subtle and captivating performances by Fassbender and Carey Mulligan (who plays Sissy, Brandon’s sister).
While I keep using words like subtle, reserved, and mystery to describe Shame, there is a lot of the film that is overt. Any one who has seen the film, or heard anything about it, has probably heard about all the sex, nudity, and the like that goes on. For all this, Shame received an NC-17 rating. And while that’s very relevant and a very big part of the film, the more interesting aspect for me is that it was the quite and thoughtful moments that were more entertaining, a prime example being Sissy singing “New York, New York” and seeing Brandon’s and his boss David’s (James Badge Dale) responses.
All this being said, some aspects of Shame left a bit of a sour taste. The conflict is indeed very similar to that of Don Jon but instead of the main character Brandon being addicted to porn, he’s addicted to real sex (the opposite of Jon). Naturally, this leads to certain problems and situations later on in the film and it’s seeing how Brandon reacts that is the driving force behind everything. But at times, the conflict is too ambiguous; too vague. While the film doesn’t suffer from the staggered nature of Don Jon, Shame can feel unresolved.
Resolved doesn’t necessarily mean that everything, every last little plot point that’s introduced, needs to be answered and provided with a solution. Sometimes unresolved plot points a great from an entertainment point-of-view. Just think about Inception and if we were told whether Cobb is dreaming or not in the final scene. That film wouldn’t be the same; a lot of the enjoyment comes out of that mystery of not know what happens, of having things be unresolved. Shame has many unresolved things like that as well, including an analogous final scene (not in terms of dreaming vs. reality but in terms of ending on a cliffhanger). What I’m talking about is a more general feeling of completeness. While there were a lot of questions left unanswered in Inception, we did get some answers. Where this becomes a problem in Shame is that some things feel like they should have answers, be resolved, but aren’t. David’s storyline and Brandon’s corporate life both are examples of part of the film that just fall apart; they’re left unfinished.
The axiom “sex sells” can be seen very readily in Shame. A lot of attention was place on the film for that reason and that reason alone (well, Michael Fassbender in particular). And while that axiom is true here — that is after all the definition of axiom — the more interesting, and I think more entertaining part, is the long extended look at a few characters and their environment. Having images alone tell the story is an incredible skill and Steve McQueen is a master of that here. The dialogue and sound adds an entirely different component but here, everything is in the picture.
THE RATING: 4 out of 5