Steve McQueen‘s Shame is a prolonged analysis piece that’s entirely about a malignancy — sex addiction — affecting the main character, and nothing about any chance at transcendence or way into the light. It’s a bucket of bleak. Michael Fassbender plays a successful Manhattaan guy with a sex-addiction issue. He’s into slamming ham like a vampire is into blood-drinking, minus any emotional intimacy whatsoever. And at the end of the day, all the film does is show you how damaged and deranged he is. The guy is lost, tangled, doomed.
Act One: Fassbender is one smooth, obsessive, fucked-up dude. Act Two: Fassbender really is a twisted piece of work, you bet. Act Three: Boy, is this guy a mess!
This is what an art film does — it just stands its ground and refuses to do anything you might want it to do. But Shame has a point, delivered with a methodical intensity, that sinks into your bones. And part of the point is that suppressed memories of incest…nope, I can’t do this. I have to leave for Albuquerque in less than 45 minutes, and it’ll take too many graphs.
But Shame has integrity, and is one of those films, like A Dangerous Method, that you might not like as you watch it but you think about a lot in the hours and days and weeks afterwards.
The sex scenes are grim and draining and even punishing in a presumably intentional way. Fassbender walks around with his dick hanging out and flopping against his upper thigh, and I suppose it ought to be acknowledged that he’s fairly well hung. Carey Mulligan, who plays his effed-up sister, has (a) a longish nude scene in a shower and (b) a song-singing moment that goes on for three or four minutes. I’m obviously not assessing the inner aspects. Another time…sorry.