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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz


Relevant And Ravishing

Before reading this review, be advised this is going to be a very long review because there's a lot of important statements I want to address in regards to most audiences and independent cinema.

Steve McQueen’s Shame is a gut wrenching drama that's portrait of addiction is absolutely limitless. I've seen Shame repeatedly and every time I do, I become a nervous flyer as Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan soar me to the introverted sky's their characters take long term residence in.

Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) is a successful Manhattan business executive whose private sex addiction is a daily aspect of his existence. His use of escorts is regular and his observant eyes angle towards strangers who become entwined in his lust.

It's hinted multiple times that he and his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) had a brutally rough time growing up in both New Jersey and Ireland. The specifics of their traumas are never fully revealed but it's safe to assume their upbringing is the cause of how they live their lives.

Brandon comes home one night to find Sissy showering and asking if she can stay for a few days. Predictably, she stays longer than a few days and her indefinite vacancy hijacks the secrecy of Brandon’s cultivated sex life. Throughout the course of Sissy’s stay, Brandon is forced to come to terms with what his life has become, creating a shadow of truth neither he nor Sissy can run from.

Fassbender and Mulligan both give what I consider to be one of their unacknowledged but most effective performances. The authenticity that they bring to the table that Brandon and Sissy sit at wraps them both up in a tornado of their own talent.

Fassbender portrays Brandon’s addiction as a magic spell that can only be broken through sincere acknowledgment of its existence. Without Sissy, Brandon is able to destroy himself more easily because he sees her as a reminder of everything he wants to forget. He loves her so deeply but he doesn't treat her that way because he envies her inability to see him as a symbol of their past.

Sissy is just as traumatized as Brandon is but she deals with it completely differently. Brandon is a loner who buries himself in meaningless sex while Sissy is extremely needy. Mulligan has actually described her as someone who'll reach her arms out to the world and say love me.

Sissy tries to find intimacy from anyone who'll get close to her. She's so fearful of rejection, she'll say yes to any man she can find. She can be a romantic but she's not even looking for romance. She just wants one person in her life whom she can call home. She cannot get that love from her brother so she looks for it elsewhere. Sissy’s vulnerability makes her a very easy target and she often picks men who use her for pleasure and dispose of her afterwards. She also has a long history of self harm and each man eventually does something to make her cut deeper.

She repeatedly and unsuccessfully attempts to save Brandon from his destructiveness but this only ostracizes him from her more. Deep down, he knows the gravity of what he's done to himself but he chooses to ignore it. He can't stop it himself. He needs someone to pull him out of it. Naturally, Sissy is the obvious choice but she's not making the greatest life choices either.

He doesn't consider that helping himself would help her. He doesn't consider that he and Sissy are practically the same person. He needs love just as much as she does, he just doesn't look for it. He completely drowned in the deep dark waters of his own loneliness a long time ago. Sissy's officially underwater but she's still gasping for air.

All the emotional turmoil Shame shows audiences is further brought to life by its timeless music. Composer, Harry Escott wrote my favorite film score of all time. I listen to it every day. Music is such an important part of cinema and it's an important part of Shame. Brandon can't talk about his feelings so the music talks for him and it says everything. Sissy is a lounge singer and Brandon cries upon seeing her sing New York, New York. She's broken and innocent at the same time and the effortlessness of knowing her so accurately emotionally overwhelms him.

Now, it should be noted that Shame is an NC -17 film. The film's graphic exposure of sexual addiction was so essential to the story and I think the MPAA rating was appropriate. I find some reactions to the content, however, to be wildly inappropriate. Shame was released in theaters and got rave reviews by almost every critic out there. It was on most critics top ten lists and was Roger Ebert’s second favorite film of 2011. Despite all the praise, it did not get any Oscar nominations. NC-17 films almost never do.

This brings me to a deeper and bigger issue that I am very much aware of. The film industry continuously makes NC-17 films so audiences need to stop treating them as Scarlet letters or badges of shame.

Having said that, there is a line of exposure of dark subject matters (particularly with sexual abuse and violence) that cinema usually doesn't cross because they know audiences just can't deal with it. The filmmakers who bring these stories and people to life are the ones I consider heros. The Brandon’s and Sissy’s of the world deal with their pain every day. Why should they have to suffer alone?

Audiences can be as disturbed as they get by films like Shame. That's completely acceptable but to ignore that kind of Cinema simply because it causes them distress is something I find to be very selfish, immature and pretentious. So many people have choices while others don't. If you have an emotionally privileged life that's free of trauma, good for you but don't deny that independent cinema is a massive form of education about the world.

Everyone deserves to be happy and entertained but everyone should also have this cinematic education and not make excuses such as the world is dark enough, why would I want to see it on screen? It's absolutely offensive to me. It's as though the film industry are chefs tirelessly making meals and the audiences are children only eating the sugary desserts.

I wish that some audiences could get it through their heads that it's not always about enjoyment and entertainment. I'm not saying that people have to see films like Shame all the time. I'm just saying that sometimes (especially during Oscar season) they ought to acknowledge that there's an entire culture of cinema they just walk by without a second thought because it's not fun. It's not fun for me to watch disturbing cinema ethier but I do so out of respect for the arts and for the people living the realities of these films.

The urgency of representation in Hollywood is mostly about the people that are unacknowledged but it's also about how dark subject matters are portrayed. They are often toned way down to make it easier for audiences to watch them. People's traumas in real life aren't toned down. There brutal, vicious, heartbreaking and they have to deal with them.

In order for people to fully learn about the gravity of certain issues, censorship HAS to stop. I know this would cause a lot of problems but the problems happening now are much worse. There's a difference between hearing about something and seeing something. If people see issues in cinemas as they are in real life, those issues would be taken more seriously. Not everyone watches the news. I believe that almost everyone watches movies.

People are required to learn history in school. Disturbing cinema is an adult education of different histories going on in our country right now. It's important and urgent. (Sigh, a little chuckle)… As you can tell, I get very passionate and riled up about these things.

Overall, Shame is one of those lighting bolts the film industry thunders up every once in a blue moon. It's relevant, ravishing and inarguably, one of the best films of the decade that's now over but not forgotten.

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