Film Reviews

Modern day zombie.

Shame receives the much-dreaded NC-17 rating

Superbly acted, elliptically-plotted and visually candid, Shame, starring the priapic Michael Fassbender and a surprising Carey Mulligan (Drive), is getting all the world’s press because of Fassbender’s sometimes nudity and portrayal of sex-as-Hell.

That is to say, it’s about the hellish world of a sex addict, New York division. It’s the kind of movie that can make moralists of us all, depending on what we think the story means. The “story,” with cinder-block, end-to-end construction, has no connective tissue, so we can project our own meanings on it. It leaves out what we expect from a real story, except when it doesn’t…

Fassbender’s character, Brandon, is a sleek, handsome corporate drone with a computer full of porn and sexy female escorts slithering in and out of his bed in a high-rise apartment. His social milieu is the club scene, glittering and high-volume: and his persona, now frozen to his face, is stylized alienation, as he moves through nighttime New York like an upscale zombie with a hard-on. His sexual exploits are sometimes candidly presented, fore and aft.

Does he have feelings? Once, when he hears his sister sing in a night club he sheds a tear, the only clue to those possible feelings. He’s come home one night to find his sister, fresh from LA, has moved in, disturbing his “lifestyle,” and they bicker, bicker, bicker. Here Mulligan, a peroxided vision, almost matches Fassbender in acting acumen and shows some spirit, damaged though it may be, that her bro seems to lack.

The highlight of this movie, besides a terrific ending, is not Fassbender swinging it around but a real date, through which he tries to break his addiction by asking out and trying to relate to a co-worker (a superb Nicole Beharie) on a human level. The scenes between Fassbender and Beharie could not be better and inject some real humanity into the proceedings, but all does not fare well.

Why the rating? NC-l7 is said to doom a movie because only those of adult age may attend. You can see similar material–and even more–on cable TV. Isn’t the rating system, always ludicrously hypocritical, now even more laughable?

On a slightly less elevated level, these views of Fassbender will probably do for him what Sharon Stone displaying her sole talent in Basic Instinct did for her. It was, and is, a good career move (call it “The Hung and the Restless,” if you will.) But there’s a difference and a crucial one: Fassbender is probably a great actor–or, at least, an actor capable of greatness.

Now, the crucial question: Should you see Shame? Surely most of us have seen naked men playing Hide the Cobra with sex partners before. The movie is as capable of turning you off sex as it is of turning you on. If you love wonderful acting, this is the one for you. It’s not a good narrative; it leaves out all that connective tissue. And that rating will keep all the underage people you’ve been seeing from attending.

As far as this critic is concerned, you’re on your own here. Best of luck.