Monday, July 02, 2012

Michael Fassbender’s cock. I’m sure that’s why you’re reading this review. You’ve heard the rumours and the murmurs on the internet and just want to know if he really does have a big dick. Well, the answer to that is: yes, Fassbender is hung. Feel free now to go searching for a gif of his dick in all its glory.

With the important stuff out of the way, I can talk about the comparatively boring subject matter of the film itself. Filmed by Steve McQueen, who made the surprisingly magnificent Hunger, it tells the tale of Brandon, a man who literally has sex on the brain. Yes, this is a man whose office breaks consist of him having a quick wank in the bathroom and a man who watches porn the very second he gets home - apparently masturbating is infinitely more important than showering or eating.

‘My Ding-A-Ling, My Ding-A-Ling, won't you play with My Ding-A-Ling’

On his way home from work (where he’s already destroyed the hard drive on his computer because of the colossal amount of porn he’s been watching), Brandon is in full predator mode. On the subway he spots an attractive young woman and begins staring at her. The woman seems a little bit uncomfortable at first but Brandon is nothing if not persistent. We slowly see the woman crack and her discomfort changes - she now becomes uncomfortable for a different reason. She’s uncomfortable because she’s attracted to this man. We then see that she has an engagement ring and a wedding ring.

When the woman exits the subway car, Brandon follows. But the woman disappears into thin air. For a few moments Brandon is disappointed - the woman got away from him.

‘Ride on lady, I’m your monkey’

Not to be discouraged, Brandon and his dickhead boss later go out looking to get laid. His boss is boorish to an extreme and hopeless with women. He tries to be charming but he has the seduction powers of a tapeworm. Brandon, though, is more successful. Eventually, after sending his drunk boss home in a cab like he’s a good little boy, Brandon gets picked up by the same woman his boss tried to chat up and they fuck in a deserted corner somewhere. Suddenly the girl on the train seems a million miles away.

‘I woke up in the morning, I was sexualised, A new day was dawning, I was sexualised, Read a morning paper, it was sexualised’

In-between these casual encounters we see Brandon at home going about his day (which usually consists of him walking around naked, waving his dick around). He begins receiving a barrage of voicemails. They’re from his sister. He does his best to ignore them but eventually his sister turns up in his apartment.

It’s when Sissy reappears in his life that some cracks start showing. In one scene Brandon and his boss go and watch Sissy sing in some New York bar. They take their seats and Sissy begins singing a sad version of ‘New York, New York’. All the optimism is drained out of her rendition and instead it becomes something of a dirge. The song no longer signifies hope and determination. Now it reeks of despair and desperation. So much so that Brandon is reduced to tears. Perhaps he’s finally seeing how hollow his life is. This city has not made his dreams come true. It’s just made his nightmares more acute.

The ‘New York, New York’ scene is actually pretty hard to watch. Not because it’s poorly acted or anything. It’s just that the song is sung so slowly and the directing is so unflinching that it becomes a little uncomfortable. But it certainly works.

And it also answered one of the first questions that I had about the movie. Why is a British director making a film with British and Irish stars and setting it in New York? Surely London would have worked just as well? But the ‘New York, New York’ scene clarified things for me. New York is a city that is mythologised to a ridiculous extreme. Whether it’s Sinatra or ‘Empire State of Mind’ or Sex in the City, it’s constantly romanticised, much more so than London. Hell, New York is romanticised even when people are trying to make it look horrible - just look at all the detective shows that are set in NYC. So Shame tries to cut through some of that. Here’s this huge metropolis and here are all the opportunities that it contains, but does the grandeur of the place help connect us and bind us together? No, it isolates us and makes us even more vulnerable.

‘Touching you, touching me, touching you, god you’re touching me’

One of the most nauseating scenes in Shame is when Sissy and Brandon’s boss hook up. Brandon has to sit there in a taxi as the two of them make out. And then later he has to let them fuck in his bed. He’s powerless because he doesn’t want to lose his job and all he can do is go for a late night run through the city.

This run is actually a good example of McQueen’s strength as a director. He doesn’t make any attempt at anything flashy. In one shot he just follows Brandon running across town. But the length of the shot and McQueen’s fidelity to it ends up giving this simple moment an intensity it would be easy to lose. You’re right there in Brandon’s head - you can feel the rage. This is a two-handed power play that his sister and his boss are playing on him. His sister is punishing him for his lack of love and attention as a brother and his boss is putting him in his place - sure Brandon might be better with women but now he’s fucked his sister.

And just to further illustrate what a despicable person his boss is, there’s a scene where we see Brandon’s boss Skyping his wife and kids. McQueen cleverly denied us these details earlier in the film (that the boss was married with kids) which makes his fucking around even more egregious. The scene, like much of the film, feels very much like something out of Kubrick. In a scene in 2001, one of the astronauts is listening to a birthday message from his parents. He barely registers any emotion at all. And so it is with the boss. He talks to his kids and goes through the motions but the true him is off to the side. The true him is the guy that wants to fuck everything in sight. A husband, a father - these are just roles that he’s acquired to live a life that will more comfortably facilitate his sleazy existence.

‘I know I can, I know I can...It’s got nothing to do with anything I had to drink, It’s more to do with the way I think’

The only ray of hope for Brandon is a co-worker at his office. He asks the woman (Marianne) out and they go to a restaurant for dinner. At first it seems that everything is going terribly. The conversation seems more antagonistic than friendly but this actually works out for Brandon as there ends up being some sexual tension. Unusually for Brandon, he doesn’t make a move at the end of the night. He doesn’t go for a kiss and he doesn’t try and take his date back home. But seeing as he usually tries to immediately fuck everything in sight, perhaps this is progress?

After a fight with Sissy, Brandon throws away all of his pornographic material. The next day he kisses Marianne and they go back to a hotel room. Everything seems to be going well but Brandon can’t maintain an erection. Is this too intimate perhaps? Can he not perform if he actually sees his partner as a human being? And is it also a form of self-sabotage - he’s subconsciously trying to ruin any relationship that might go anywhere?

‘To need a woman you’ve got to know, How the strong get weak and the rich get poor’

When Brandon has the next bust up with Sissy, he tries to escape the pain in the only way that he knows how - by trying to fuck anything he can find.

At a bar, Brandon blatantly tries to pick up a girl in front of her boyfriend - he gets a beating for his troubles. He then tries to get into a nightclub but gets refused entry - he has a big cut on his face. Desperate for any kind of release, he heads into a nearby gay bar. Dark and seedy and with cum-stained walls, he receives a blow-job from a stranger. Surely this must be enough, you think. He must be done now. But no, Brandon then goes off to an apartment to have a threesome with some hookers.

The notable thing about this last encounter is that it seems like the first time that Brandon has some self-awareness. Towards the end it seems like he’s no longer enjoying it - that he realises how empty these tawdry encounters are. In the orgy all we see are various close ups of various body parts - it’s as if the people are just pieces of meat. Brandon’s face then shows a stunning kind of sadness - it seems like he no longer wants this but he’s incapable of stopping it.

‘Well you and I collapsed in love, And it looks like we might have made it, Yes it, looks like we might have made it to the end’

When Brandon gets back to his apartment, he finds that Sissy has slashed her wrists. She lives but Brandon is devastated.

The end of the film comes full circle. Brandon is once again on the subway and once again he sees the girl he flirted with earlier. This time, though, she’s obviously interested while he stares passively at her. As she stands up near him, we see that her wedding ring has gone - now she’s only wearing her engagement ring. The old Brandon wouldn’t need any further encouragement but this Brandon can only sit and stare.

It’s never made clear whether Brandon gets up to follow the girl as the screen cuts to black before we have an answer. But there are two different futures for him. He can either get up and follow the girl or he can just stay where he is. If he follows the girl, he’s going to continue further along this dead end of a life he’s set up for himself. But if he stays where he is, then maybe he has a chance to do something more. He doesn’t have to become a saint and he doesn’t have to find the perfect woman. He just needs to discover some self-worth and exercise some control. His current existence is a sad state of affairs where every impulse must be filled - there’s never an inappropriate time to engage in some sort of sexual behaviour. To continue like this, to discard any human relationships with any depth or complexity, is to court oblivion. Startled by his experience with his sister, he finally has a chance to wake up. It may hurt to open yourself up to other people but the wounds you receive by closing yourself off cut much deeper.

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  1. I am never gonna see this movie.It's trash!

  2. it's a really powerful film actually. how can you label it as "trash" if you haven't even watched it? and why would you even bother commenting about it?