“I can’t say I was bored, but I think Shame is borderline absurd,” the recently notorious New Yorker critic David Denby posted on 12.7, “and I’m amazed that so many people seem to be taking it seriously, or not seeing the film for what it is.
“The overall coldness — the indifferentism, the emptiness, mixed with a quasi-religious purity of self-defilement — are hardly the result of creative uncertainty or failure. The icy style and alienated tone, I’m sure, are exactly what the British writer-director Steve McQueen was aiming for. Before he turned to feature filmmaking, McQueen did art installations, some of them using video. Shame is an art-project sex movie, just as McQueen’s last, Hunger (2009), was an art-project political movie.
“Shame has a rigorously color-coordinated silver-gray design, a formal perfection of imagery, and very little of the mess and spill of ordinary life — particularly of the tumultuous life of a man who constantly changes sex partners. The movie offers a controlled aestheticization of out-of-control behavior.
“It’s very possible that a serious movie could be made about sex addiction — say, if the man, in pursuit of his obsessions, had a family that he tore up along the way. But this hero is single. And, if you accept the terms of the movie, he’s an isolated sufferer, haplessly driven, mainly hurting himself. But I can’t accept those terms. The solemnity of Shame — the moral disapproval, the grim misery, the lowering music — is very strange, a sombre form of titillation which congratulates the audience for its higher values while giving it plenty of handsome flesh to look at.
“Shame is a glum ordeal. It’s a movie about a creepy form of martyrdom: The religious overtones of ritual self-abasement are inescapable. Right at the beginning, Fassbender lies naked, spread-eagled on his bed, nailed to his cross. Brandon Sullivan screws for your sins.”