It’s been a while since a mainline
movie was rated NC-17. And this one
carries that rating for very good reason. So
be warned, all you genteel people out there: the
people in “Shame” have no shame. They
are not only not shy about their sexuality, they are unceasingly showcasing
it. They are not only not bashful, they
are downright exhibitionist. They are
not nobly nude, they are starkly naked. It’s
not about covenantal commitment between a man and a woman, it’s about
self-gratification with little regard and no love for the other.
Yes, for many gentle folk, it will not only prance up to the line of
pornography, it will bend over bare-bottomed and show you much more than you
care to see. As far as sex on screen in
contemporary cinema, it shoots you the moon.
And yet….and yet.
It deals with some of the darkest corners of sexuality in a shadowy
area that few have dared to trod: addiction.
And it does so in such a way that is so searingly honest that we cannot
help but be impacted. You cannot watch
this film and be unaffected. And so
this movie will, undoubtedly, garner Oscar attention, and you, gentle reader,
will have to decide if you have the constitution to withstand its unblinking
descent to the depths of depravity.
Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is an
obviously successful New York City businessman, in one of those modern firms
where employees work at their laptops and confer in quiet but intense
meetings, as if this is serious and we have our competitors and we have to be
on top of our game at all times. The
co-workers are young and savvy. There’s
not much humor, or camaraderie, either, at least on the job.
After hours is a different story, maybe, but what happens at other
places stays at other places.
gets home to his nicely-furnished apartment, he lets out his libido.
He gets online and does porn over the Internet, the interactive kind,
where the models will do things on a webcam and say things into your headset
that you wouldn’t want your Mother to see or hear.
But even that’s not enough.
has to “take care of himself” frequently afterwards---in the shower, in
the bedroom, and yes, even in the men’s room at work.
He’ll pay for an “escort service” to send someone to his place,
and he’ll pay her, and afterwards, send her away, still not satisfied.
He’ll go to a club or a bar and meet someone, and maybe even couple
furtively in a dark alley, but he doesn’t “date” for long and he
doesn’t bring them home. Because he
really can’t stand to be “in relationship.”
That would involve his emotions. And
all that’s involved for him is his runaway fantasy world of strange women as
sex objects. The minute they stop being
strangers, he’s no longer interested.
Who will deliver him from his own
determined self-dissipation? Well, his sister comes to visit, rather
unexpectedly, and needless to say, this puts a big crimp in his continual need
for personal privacy. Sissy (Carey
Mulligan) is so open about her own nudity and crying need for affection that
at first we wonder if this is some kind of really taboo incestuous
relationship, but it’s not quite like that, either.
She’s tremendously sad, vulnerable, needy, and lonely, and wants her
brother to be there, emotionally, for her, but he just can’t.
He can’t make himself attach to anyone.
There’s this girl at work that he likes, and who’s young and
attractive, so he tries to “date” like a normal person, but…he can’t
get himself interested. He’s so into
his fantasy addictions that they have completely substituted for reality.
And clingy Sissy is left out, no matter how hard she cries.
Michael Fassbender is so intense and
dedicated to this role that he completely convinces us that he is this pitiful
character. And Carey Mulligan is such a
perfect counterpoint with her own compulsivities that we aren’t at all
surprised they’re related. And the
angst of never being able to meet each other’s needs is only a mirror-image
of their desperate needy insatiable loneliness with the rest of the world.
This movie will send the viewer away
reeling with its gut-level impact. It
will neither give any emotional quarter nor ask it.
But it will demand your wide-eyed attention.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim Pastor,
St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,