Steve McQueen‘s Shame opens limited today. It demands a spinach-eating looksee from all non-Eloi viewers, but hoowee, it’s a bucket of bleak. Here’s my 9.5. Telluride Film Festival review: “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.
“Michael Fassbender plays a successful Manhattan 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.
“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.”
Chilly and clinical as it is, it’s all but impossible to not think about Shame, a lot, after it’s over. Failing to see it means hanging your head in shame the next time an intelligent film discussion occurs in your circle.
On 9.30 N.Y. Times critic Manohla Dargis called Shame “another example of British miserablism, if one that’s been transposed to New York and registers as a reconsideration of the late 1970s American cinema of sexual desperation (Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Hardcore, Cruising, etc.).”
From 11.10: “What if Michael Fassbender’s sex-addict character was called ‘Shame’? And if everyone called him that — all the girls he picks up, his sister (Carey Mulligan), his charmless boss at the office and so on? And what he if struck up a relationship with a 10 year-old kid who lives in his building, and what if the kid found out he was a sex addict and said, ‘I’m ashamed of you, Shame!'”