Irrepressible actor and director Eoin Macken tells us what he really thinks of the latest flicks, starting with ode to sexual deviancy – Shame.
Director: Steve McQueen
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale
Cert (UK) 18
I usually find myself beginning most of my writing with a proviso, however in this case it is not for me but is for the film’s content: this is not a film to watch with your girlfriend or close sibling and it… Is. Not. A. Date. Film.
In fact it’s not a film to watch with a mate with whom you’re not fully certain of their sexual allegiances. It’s a film that you watch alone, and with a certain prior awareness of what to expect because it will certainly divide opinion. Is it about incest or sexual addiction? Is there enough of a conclusion or is it’s stark ending too easy? Do we sympathise or detest our protagonist? Is it too drawn out and slow-paced or is its uncomfortable suffocation the brilliance? This is partly what makes it a potentially great film, it leaves you thinking, questioning, and never lets you surface to grasp at clean air. It’s dirty, gritty, perverse and emotive.
The film is all about Michael Fassbender, our sublime protagonist, who has been blessed with genetic physical endowments that far outweigh his acting talent. Yet, instead of overshadowing, his magnificent gifts merely embellish his attractiveness – on screen at least. We are introduced to him via various forms of sexual relief that simply results in more sexual frustration and a great deal of washing: water charges must be cheap in New York.
It’s quickly apparent that his OCD behaviour towards cleanliness is part of his own self-loathing, and his constantly detached sexual deviancy is masochistic and unbearable in the extreme. The arrival of his younger sister, the very convincingly inept Carey Mulligan, brings some relative clarity to the situation, as both siblings are equally disturbed in their own way. They can’t have been raised on the right side of the street, issues with God, parents, identity – dead family pet perhaps?
None of it is lucidly explained but there is an undeniable sexual tension or hints at past indiscretions, which would definitely explain why both are sexually “confused”. After all if you had had some form of sexual interaction with your sibling you’d hardly approach sex in a romantic manner now would you?
The film does meander for a time as Fassbender flirts with attempting to have a relationship, but is so deeply embroiled in the heady sexually hurtful mess inside his head that in the end can’t get it up for one of the hottest girls on screen this year and instead has to “release” with a bored prostitute. This is the ultimate exposure of sexual intimacy issues. I just hope the poor guy didn’t go method on this one. It all eventually moves towards a non-disclosure ending that may frustrate some, but if so bear in mind that you will not be as frustrated as poor Fassbender’s character. Maybe that is the point, to make you feel something of what he does – that even if you find this film cinematically emotive enough to fawn over you will still know the dissatisfaction of a lack of a resolved climax.
All told, the film ultimately succeeds in hitting the sweet spots but may lack certain finesse for some viewers, and may disturb others. A bit like sex really.
One sequence reminiscent of Gaspar Noe’s hardcore “rom-com” Irreversible is particularly hard viewing, but perfectly compliments Fassbender’s desultory descent in complete self-hatred. If you did find this film titillating, like I did at the appropriate moments, it’s because McQueen has found a balance between tantalising sexuality and disturbing sexual behaviour, and the end result is that you suddenly see sex for what it is: primal, rough, dirty and ultimately fruitless as you just have to do it all over again. And again. And again. I do so wish that Freud could see this film, perhaps that is why Fassbender went the Freud/Jung route on his next filmic venture, to exorcise his own demons from the making of this film.
For Shame? Nonsense, it’s what cinema is all about.