Years ago I briefly dated a guy we shall call Jay. Jay was a catch, I guess. He had an incredibly successful career and a beautiful Copenhagen apartment, he was handsome in his expensive suits, and his date nights were always carefully planned with foreign films and meals to match. Relatively quickly I realised that Jay had no friends, just colleagues. He had a family but he had no contact with them (nor any desire to speak about them). Jay was lonely and he had no idea how to transcend this loneliness. We went our separate ways relatively quickly - there was no connection and there never would be.
I watched Steve McQueen's Shame yesterday and for the first time in years I thought about Jay. The similarities between Shame's Brandon (played by Michael Fassbender) and Jay are superficial - the walled-up Self and an absolute inability to connect emotionally whilst seeming succeeding in life - yet I was struck by them. I hope Jay is happier now.
Shame has been marketed as a film about sex addiction and carries an 18 certificate (NC17 in the US) with much hype surrounding Michael Fassbender's nudity. I thought it was an intellectually engaging film - and very pointedly unerotic - and I don't buy that it is about sex addiction. The addiction is the symptom, not the cause. This review pokes at some uncomfortable things (spoilers).
Visually it is just stunning as you would expect from a director rooted in visual art: scenes are very deliberately framed, long shots are used to great effect, and the film is drenched in blue-grey hues. McQueen also uses reflective surfaces very effectively hinting at Brandon's fractured Self. I noted a meta-commentary running throughout the film: Brandon rides the New York subway a great deal and the trains have posters framing Fassbender's face: Medical Enhancement, A Work In Progress etc. Every single detail matters in this film.
Every single detail matters in this film, so I wonder about some things. Brandon dresses in well-made, yet bland clothes and lives in a stark apartment where you would be hard pressed to find anything expressing personality - except for his records which are all on vinyl. We see him placing a needle on the record (Glenn Gould's The Goldberg Variations) - in a film so careful about each frame, that tiny detail nags.
My good friend Anne saw Shame yesterday as well and we had a long conversation over the phone about it. She liked it as much as me - although like is a strange word to use in this context. It is a thought-provoking film, it is a beautiful film, but it is not a film for everyone. I think it will stay with me for a long time.