December 8, 2011 -- There is a lot of sex, as one would expect in a movie about a sex addict which has the dreaded NC-17 rating. There is a lot of blood in this film too, but not much violence. That means this movie is missing two of the key ingredients for being successful in today's movie market, violence and the “R” MPAA rating. This is clearly an art film that is not designed to make a lot of money, but to win awards on the art film circuit. In fact, this film has already won several awards at film festivals and other international film contests.
This movie reminds me what Director John Waters (“Hairspray”) said about these kinds of movies. He said it is considered O.K. by the Hollywood establishment to have sex scenes in movies, as long as the people having sex don't seem to be enjoying it. If they enjoy sex, then it is pornography. If they don't, it's art. “Shame” is definitely art because Michael Fassbender (“Jane Eyre”) the film's main character, Brandon Sullivan, looks miserable during his many sex scenes. He suffers from some kind of sexual addiction disorder. He's obsessed with pornography, anonymous sex with hookers and strangers of both sexes and masturbates at in the rest room at work. He gets his work computer so gummed up with viruses from porn sites that it has to be flushed out by a technician wearing protective gloves. His boss, David Fisher (James Badge Dale of “The Departed”) even complains about all the disgusting porn in Brandon's computer. Despite all that, he holds down a high-paying job in New York City.
Brandon's life is sort of under control until his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan of “An Education”) crashes in his apartment while in town for a nightclub singing gig. Sissy's interminable ultra-slow rendition of “New York, New York” is a real drag on the film. It leads to Sissy having sex in Brandon's apartment with David, Brandon's boss, who came with Brandon to hear Sissy perform. Sissy's presence seems to push Brandon off the edge. His behavior gets even more erratic after Sissy walks in on him while he is masturbating in the bathroom and then she sees the interactive porn site he had connected to on his laptop computer.
Following that, Brandon junks his computer and cleans out all the porn magazines in his house. He tries to have an honest relationship with a pretty co-worker, Marianne (Nicole Beharie of “The Express”) which goes nowhere. He admits to Marianne that he has never had a relationship with a woman that lasted more than four months. The first date between these two people is the nicest segment in the whole film. It gets a whole lot more depressing later on. Failing to have sex with a person he likes, he turns back to prostitutes and anonymous sex. Things get worse for both Brandon and Sissy, as you would expect. This is an art film, so you don't really expect it to be the least bit encouraging about life, and it isn't.
The acting is very good by Fassbender, who is having a breakout year as a top actor, as well as Mulligan and Beharie. The script has a kind of minimal story arc. It doesn't get very high, but it sure goes low, right down into the pits. The sex is kind of boring because there is no real passion to it. It is like watching farm animals breed. The film is a little bit interesting from a clinical point of view (so that's what Tiger Woods was up to). There is a lot of humping and heaving and blood and depression, but it doesn't really go anywhere or add up to anything. This film rates a C, for curious.
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