Films usually use the Frat House approach when it comes to dealing with sexual addiction. So often, sex addiction in movies is treated with optimism. It's something to be admired. If a guy is getting a ton of action he must be the coolest guy around. The more sexual conquests he racks up, the more his friends build him up into legendary status. An addiction, or out-of-control promiscuity, is met with a smile and congratulations. Most movies treat sex addiction as something that doesn't exist. Having as much sex as possible is a freeing exercise, something to boast about. Not so in Steve McQueen's 'Shame.' For Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) sex is anything but freeing. It's become a prison.
So troublesome has his addiction become that he's alienated himself from his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan). Until Sissy comes barging into his life uninvited, Brandon has no one. His only "relationships" are with hookers, online sex show partners, and his sleazebag of a boss. The real kicker is that Brandon is a very charming man it's just that his entire being, everything he is, is used to try and find sex wherever he can. He has nothing else.
McQueen's vision of Brandon's troubled life is an unflinching one. Brandon wanders around his apartment and his workplace in a daze, no doubt pining for sex. When he finally meets a person he could end up actually caring for nothing works properly. Brandon can't perform. There's a real problem here and Brandon doesn't know how to fix it, or even if he wants to.
The movie hinges on two great performances from its leads. Fassbender takes on the role of Brandon with a bravery rarely seen. It's easy to play the guy who is getting all the girls and loving it, but it must be a lot harder playing the guy who is getting all the girls and hating himself for it.
Mulligan was sadly overlooked when awards time came. Fassbender overshadowed what was one of Mulligan's finest acting performances. There's a moment in the movie where Sissy performs the song "New York, New York" as a solo act at an upscale restaurant. It's, by far, the most moving and emotionally invested scene of the movie. She locks eyes with her brother and the both of them have a moment of reflection. Maybe they're thinking of what their lives used to be like before they became such hardened souls. Maybe they're wondering if they'll ever be able to crawl out of their respective pits of shame and self-denial. The subtext in that scene is deafening even if you don't know exactly what they're thinking. We're not supposed to know everything about them. McQueen allows us to draw our own conclusions.
At one point Sissy says to Brandon, "We're not bad people, we just come from a bad place." That's really the only backstory we get about them. The rest of the movie we're simply voyeurs. Watching as Brandon and Sissy try to make sense of their messed up lives. Will Brandon ever change? The last scene leaves it up to speculation. Did he turn a corner, or like so many addicts did he regress?
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Shame' comes in a 2-Disc comb pack from Fox. There's also a Digital Copy code included for a download. The two discs come in a standard size Blu-ray keepcase. The back of the movie indicates a coding for Region A. The movie comes with a cardboard slipcover that contains the same art work as the case (I really wish they would've used the bed sheet picture from the movie's minimalist poster for the slipcover at least.)
Even with its minimal budget and its very low-key atmosphere, McQueen shot the movie on 35mm instead of opting for HD cameras. I think the difference really shows. 'Shame' sports a very cinematic appearance, with a pristine looking 1080p transfer from the 35mm source.
Fine detail is optimal. As the camera tightens up on faces it's easy to see every fine hair, every freckle and every furrowed brow. Fassbender's facial expressions in this movie are just about the only insight into what his character is feeling and seeing them in this exquisite of detail really helps understand the thought processes of Brandon.
Much of the film is dark adding to the depressive nature and mood of the movie as a whole. Yet, color does have ample time to shine. The bright red hair of the woman Brandon meets on the subway is just one instance of brightly vivid color shining a light on the doom and gloom. Shadows are well-defined, albeit there are a couple instances of very light crushing. There aren't any egregious examples of artifacting to report. The movie simply looks great in high-def. Seeing that it was filmed just recently, I wouldn't expect anything less.
Congratulations go to composer Harry Escott who created one of the most haunting, yet understated scores of last year. It's a good thing that Fox's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is a gem, because there is no other way to present Escott's original music. The music fills the soundfield, quickly and relentlessly, drawing you into Brandon's out-of-control lifestyle. As the music swells it slowly draws you downward into Brandon's self-spiral. I'm so glad that the music in this film was given ample room to breathe since it is such a moving and profound soundtrack to begin with.
I first saw 'Shame' on a press screener DVD disc that was sent to my home. Needless to say, the sound in it was underwhelming. Watching it on Blu-ray was a completely different experience. The sounds of New York fill the rear speakers with subtle ambiance. Voices are distinct and clear, even though much of the movie's dialogue is hushed whispers. LFE is more lively than one might expect, adding intensity to the building music and also helping scenes featuring utter despair with sonic weight.
Directionality works perfectly, placing voices exactly where they need to be in the soundfield. Everything about this mix is fantastic. It's just as great as the video presentation.
This is where the ball got dropped. With a movie like this we really needed an informative commentary track and a really worthwhile making-of documentary. None of which are included here.
'Shame' is difficult to watch at times, but it provides an insight into the human psyche that we rarely see depicted in movies. Brandon is a troubled character who has a very real, and dangerous problem. McQueen's film doesn't judge, it merely observes and we're left to form our own conclusions. The acting here is simply amazing. The movie wouldn't work without Mulligan and Fassbender giving it their all. The audio and video presentations are near perfect, but the special features section is dismal. The movie still comes recommended, however it would've been much nicer to have a more complete and thought out feature package to go along with the movie.