Culture

NYFF: Steve McQueen’s ‘Shame’, or, Sexy Sex

Culture

NYFF: Steve McQueen’s ‘Shame’, or, Sexy Sex

+

Director Steve McQueen‘s Shame follows the life of Brandon, (Michael Fassbender) a Manhattan bachelor whose joyless cycle of erotic escapades is interrupted by the (sort of) surprise visit of his little sister Cissy (Carey Mulligan), a more conventional kind of train wreck. Shame is the kind of movie that will strike a lot of people as distasteful, and inspire the very same people to describe it as ‘not my cup of tea.’ And they are correct: Shame is in no way middle-aged, prudish or cozy. Therefore, not very much like a cup of tea.

There are many reasons why Shame is our exact cup of tea. For one thing, it’s nice to see such a parade of deviance on the big screen, nicer still to see a leading man getting his kicks sampling some dishes less acceptable on the sexual bill of fare. There’s a lot of honesty about the film, too. The scenes of discussion between the siblings are as unpredictably brutal as the bathroom-walk-in moments. Fassbender’s towel falls off during the middle of one (subject: ‘what do you want from me?’) and creates an unsettling wall of Jericho between his and Carey Mulligan’s netherparts, one of many close genital encounters between them. A first date scene between late-twenty-somethings is played to the mark. Initial blushing awkwardness, a nervous waiter. Fassbender and his date talk about the point of pointlessness of relationship in a conversation we’ve heard a million times before. She wants to know, if he doesn’t believe in monogamy, what he’s doing on this date?

The world of suits and scotch-filled tumblers, if it never loses its beauty, begins to feel like what it is after a time: a glossy stand-in for an empty, or unexpressed, feeling. The scenes of life depicted in magazine ads, no rough edges. A Mad Men out of period, more hopeless, less interesting, but closer to home.