Howls of the Damned

Shame (2011). UK. Directed by Steve McQueen. With Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale.

The Super Bowl of filmgoers belongs to the Annual Academy Awards.  Approaching this time drain in another manner, I sought a screening of director Steve McQueen’s Shame to pay tribute to the non nominee Michael Fassbender.  Knowing the context and having read countless reviews about this controversial film, I embarked into McQueen’s visual landscape with a sense of impending impact.

Select viewers will shy away from this sexual material and despairing ethos, but witnessing Brandon’s entrapment proved to be cathartic.  Unlike Mary Harron‘s directed American Psycho (2000) starring Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, Shame avoids satire and gleeful mockery of the central character’s proclivities.  Tormented Brandon has no realization moment.  He struggles and affixes his disease to one method of release – sex.  His sexual escapades have a violent, self-annihilating aspect that obliterates his anguish briefly before self-hate has him searching again for oblivion.

Laughably not nominated for Best Actor in his role as Brandon Sullivan, Michael Fassbender ruled 2011 in number of films released: Shame, Jane Eyre, A Dangerous Method, Haywire, X-Men: First Class, and a short Pitch Black Heist.  While it helps to be friends with the director, Fassbender fills the scenes in his silent gazes and exasperated movements with excellence.  Calling to mind Clockwork Orange‘s reliance on Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Canadian Glenn Herbert Gould (b. 1932- d.1982, known for reinterpreting Bach) provides the musical texture and British composer Harry Escott creates 3 classical pieces for whenever Brandon’s character does not play an album in his Spartan apartment and elsewhere.

Film opens with Fassbender awake with a deadening stare in the morning light.  His alarm sounds.  He remains motionless.  Clips of the evening inter-cut Brandon’s eventual rise to prepare for work.  Money exchange.  Coitus. Absence.  Showering involves an almost sorrowful masturbation component.  Prisoner no matter where he situates himself, Brandon also has a nondescript job like Patrick Bateman in the financial realm.  The specific occupation is irrelevant, but the acceptance of sexual drives or foibles and aggression are celebrated as indicators of power.  Bateman and Sullivan are permitted their pornographic and lustful antics in this hormone charged New York City enclave.

Why is Brandon a sexual addict?  How did this develop?  Clue crumbs whimper out of his sister Sissy (gifted Carey Mulligan) and during his strained conversational date with a beautiful coworker Marianne (Nicole Beharie).  Parents are never discussed.  We learn his geographical notes of Irish birth then relocating in this teen years to New Jersey.  Sissy’s dependency, suicidal nature, and desire for belonging via love mirrors Brandon’s noncommittal, relentless self-obliterating sexual disease.  Between the two, hints of incest surface as a method of protection in presumption of sexual abuse from their parent(s).  Together, they merely hurt one another and seemingly cannot function as fully formed individuals in the company of others.  Charades outside the apartment walls.

McQueen frames New York City in the grittiness and flash of glistening night.  Several commentators criticized his rendition of NYC in this sallow form.  However, New Yorkers recognize that once the night is cast and tourists return to their buffeted hotel rooms, the grim permeates.  Personally, walking along the Lower East Side and through Chinatown, garbage bags tower the sidewalks mixed with dead fish odors stained into the pavement from the open markets.  There is no 5-second rule if you drop some food.  Layered streets of filth echo Brandon’s self-hate which is never reconciled.

Sissy and Brandon cycle their self-inflicted wounds metaphorically and physically.  Little changes just as life would suppose.  Torture persists.  Very good film.

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