Shame: A Steve McQueen Film

Lying on a large mattress, the sheets wrinkled and a light cover placed strategically across Michael Fassbender’s nether regions, the score hauntingly beautiful and the aerial perspective engrossing. The camera remains motionless, fixed on the complexity of the actors apparent thoughts and biding its time until Fassbender makes a move. The framing of this opening shot is so visually appealing, from the shades of blue and white against Fassbender’s fair skin, to the fack that it is an over-head shot rotated on its side. One might even confuse its beauty for a painting, but it is just the artistic genius of acclaimed director of the 2008 film Hunger, Steve McQueen, who is responsible for illustrating an incredible portrayal of a man struggling with sexual addiction.

Fassbender on the edge of his bed

McQueen’s use of editing, sound, and framing are what makes his 2011 film Shame so provocative. Making its North American debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, McQueen does not hold back from the reality of addiction whether it is the use of drugs, alcohol, food, or in this case sex. His exploration of this topic could have been a tacky one, yet he somehow managed to draw an awe-inspiring performance from Michael Fassbender whose facial expressions natural body movement sold this narrative as an authentic struggle rather than an addiction that has a reputation for not being taken seriously. From the long takes,  to the bombardment of sexual outlets for Brandon (Fassbender), to the shots of everyday rituals such as walking around the house naked and using the toilet, nothing is hidden in this film. You are confronted with his addiction from beginning to end and you feel just as trapped as he is in this nightmare of a life and the consequences that result from it. Carey Mulligan also appears in the film as Brandon’s sister, Sissy. She has her own struggles and addictions, but her purpose is to enhance the destructiveness of Brandon’s behaviour. He withdrawals from reality, he cuts off all contact with those who love him and ruins any chance at a potential relationship, stating his longest one was only four months.

In the lobby of his apartment building

Carey Mulligan as Sissy, Brandon's distressed and unpredictable sister

At the screening of this film, McQueen and Fassbender came on stage to introduce the film and then take questions from the audience after the movie came to an end. McQueen was giddy as well as nervous, getting overly excited and stumbling over his words as he tried to express his feelings about addiction, the inspiration for the editing, music, and long takes in the film, and his complete hate for story boarding. He said that he merely just “mucked around” and the key to filmmaking is to “experiment,” which I found completely reassuring for those who have had no formal training in the production of a film. Fassbender on the other hand received questions concerning his research into the role, stating that he merely read the script over and over again until it was like “a second layer of skin.” When it came time to shooting he expressed he was a little uncomfortable at first about all the nudity but he was soon parading around the apartment naked without hesitation, and this comfort came from his trust in the script and the director.

McQueen and Fassbender taking questions after the screening in Toronto

Fresh off the gondola in Venice, where he won the prize for best actor, Michael Fassbender looks every bit the gentleman

This film is a masterpiece in ever sense of the word. The dialogue is minimal and the music is emotional overwhelming. You feel entranced from the opening shot to the final frame, a medium close-up of Fassbender on the subway in New York city, staring at a married woman that he had once attempted to seduce and chase once the subway stopped. However, this time we are unsure of whether or not he has healed or if he is still trapped in this spiral of addiction, as the subway stops with the camera positioned on his face and then there is an abrupt cut to the title “Shame.” Interpret it as you will, but I warn that this film is not for the faint of heart or for those who are overly sensitive about this topic. On the other hand, as one enthusiastic fan shouted from the balcony in the Princess of Whales theatre, “Michael Fassbender you are an acting God.” Completely agree.

To conclude, I will let out my suppressed girlish squeals of excitement and happiness for having seen Fassbender in the flesh. Such a gentleman and what an utterly brilliant performance. I will also confess my new-found love for Steve McQueen and I pray that one day we shall be best mates.

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