Friday, May 18, 2012

Shame Spiral

Much like its central character, Steve McQueen's SHAME is caught in a vicious rut. It cannot escape its utter banality and overall lack of narrative direction. Talk about tired formula: the film feels content to replay the same dramatic moments over and over, but all under the guise of unveiling some painfully hidden reality. While it certainly sheds light on the perils and embarrassment of sexual addiction, the film cannot solely run on these repeated moments of revelation. Eventually, it has to, you know, do something. But, surprisingly, it never really does, and after a while, it starts to feel less like a film and more like the reinforcement of a single issue: Brandon cannot stop seeking the pleasure of ejaculation and cannot have real intimacy with anyone only impersonal, meaningless sexual experience. Important character trait enough, but quickly one realizes that this is the only thing the film has to say for itself. And it says it over and over and over and over...

Truthfully, I have big issues with this type of sheer expose cinema. It's perfectly fine to unearth harsh realism but only if you have somewhere interesting to go with your story. If not, you are just trying to score points off of simple verisimilitude. Can you imagine if this film were about a heroin addict? It would just be our main character trying to live his normal life while also shooting up every chance he can get–and that'd be the entirety of it. Okay, I'm sure this would be painfully realistic, but would it go anywhere? No way. It would just be stuck trying to expose the same issue and theme of addiction, ad nauseam. This sort of instant realism is way too easy, in my opinion. It takes no risks, but just settles in on its own smugness. SHAME is like that–settled and stuck.

Unfortunately, the only time the film tries to move away from reinforcing the same issue, it completely fails. The emotional climax of the film involves a character's attempted suicide–a dramatic twist that feels forced rather than earned. It's a tired way of adding misery onto the already overburdened shoulders of Brandon. It's a climax so emotionally manipulative and obvious you'd think a computer had randomly generated it from a book of screenplays. At best, it did absolutely nothing for me.

Though the film is rather lifeless, I take nothing away from Michael Fassbender, who is terrific as Brandon. He's a wonderful actor with a great face that knows how to express itself perfectly to reflect his character's inward turmoil battling its outward rigidity. I'm a big fan of his work, and had another actor less interesting to watch been cast instead, I wouldn't have been able to sit through the film. He is its one redeeming quality.

Ultimately, for a film with so much sex, SHAME is surprisingly dull. It teeters around on a pivot, but it stays in one place. Perhaps the point of it all is that Brandon is stuck in an unending spiral from which he cannot escape, and the film is merely reflecting that. I understand that, but it doesn't necessarily make a good, enlightening, or even interesting film–it just makes a point.

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