I saw Shame last night, which was brilliant, mesmerizing, thought provoking and utterly pornographic, a movie I wouldn’t recommend to anyone and I wouldn’t see again in a thousand years.
Before the Industrial Revolution, there was no such thing as privacy. People lived, ate, defecated and copulated in concert. When they were done, depending on their social class, they either lurched out into the fields to harvest hops for the liege or set forth to redeem Jerusalem from the Infidel.
The Industrial Revolution compartmentalized labor and in doing so, gave rise to the notion of privacy. Americans seem to believe that “privacy” is such a basic concept, so analogous to “life” and “liberty,” that it’s actually entombed somewhere in the Constitution. That’s simply not true. The Founding Fathers had a notion of modesty, but not of privacy, and the idea that the Constitution defends the modern notion of privacy is simply laughable.
Pornography is privacy’s fetish.
On the surface, Shame is about sex addiction. The film is so amazingly well done that we follow Brandon, its sexually addicted protagonist, without so much as a snicker through the sordid sortées that comprise his life – masturbating 10 times a day, hooker visits, online playmates, encounters with random strangers in bars. Michael Fassbender not only goes full frontal, he actually urinates on screen! I call that brave acting. Nonetheless, my boyfriend George Clooney is a lock on this year’s Oscar, Mick.
In the middle of all this, Brandon’s sister appears out of nowhere. One senses she’s as damaged as Brandon – very wisely, writer/director Steve McQueen chooses not to tell us why or how the siblings became so damaged; in that sense Shame is more of a cinematic short story than a novel. Sissy uncovers Brandon’s sex addiction. (My avoidance of the verb “discover” here is deliberate: One senses that she knows everything there is to know going in.) The cars pile up on the highway.
The film has two incredibly great moments.
The first is Sissy singing New York, New York in a nightclub. She is a horrible singer, but at the same time a brilliant singer, managing to turn the upbeat promotional jingle into a dirge of such profound pathos and pain that the hairs on my neck literally stood up.
The second scene is a moment when Brandon hits bottom. This is not a bottom in the Friends of Bill sense of the word: The audience senses that Brandon hits “bottom” many, many times over the course of, say, a week and like a little red rubber ball whose core has been gnawed by rats keeps right on bouncing back up.
He’s spent the first part of the evening fingering a Staten Island girl in a low-rent bar. Does he go down on you? I love eating pussy. I want to taste you. I want to taste inside of you. The interesting thing about Brandon here is that he’s a complete nonentity most of the time, projecting absolutely nothing, but in the grips of his sexual addiction he sprouts this Mephistophelean appeal that is riveting. (Note to Academy: Sirs, maybe you really should reconsider that Clooney lock!) Staten Island girl’s boyfriend beats the shit out of Brandon and he ends standing in line up in front of a club. Across the street, a muscular black guy leans against the empty window of an abandoned department store. Drug dealer? Male hooker? We just don’t know. “Not tonight,” the bouncer tells Brandon, and as those words are uttered, the mysterious black guy opens the door to the empty building and vanishes. Brandon follows him inside to what is surely one of the circles of hell. Every kind of male-on-male sexual activity you could possibly imagine taking place in this awful, awful place filled with commercial refuse, capitalism’s graveyard. As the black guy sinks in front of Brandon, we see Brandon snarling. Orgasm is no release, just another form of self-abuse – for which read self destruction…
As I say, brilliant but the very opposite of a – heh-heh – feel good movie. Not for the faint of heart!
In other exciting news, my pipes unfroze. I can do my dishes again in the kitchen sink.