PULLING POWER; Michael Fassbender Plays a Sex Addict, Carey Mulligan Is His Sister in Search of Love. They're Both Obsessed -- and So Is Director Steve McQueen
Byline: David Sexton
FILM OF THE WEEK SHAME Cert 18, 101 mins [bar] TEVE McQueen, the director of this film (not the actor, who died in 1980), first made his name as an artist making video installations rather than as a regular movie director. He won the Turner Prize in 1999, went to Iraq as an official war artist in 2006, represented Britain in the 2009 Venice Biennale and was appointed CBE in the latest New Year Honours list.
Hunger, his strikingly composed piece about the last days of the IRA hunger striker, Bobby Sands, won the Evening Standard Award for Best Film in 2009. Shame, which stars the same actor, Michael Fassbender, is a study of a sex addict in New York, a man hopelessly in thrall to his own lust. McQueen, evidently, is interested in routines of compulsion.
His next film, it appears, is to be about actual slavery.
Brandon (Fassbender) lives alone in a sterile white apartment, working successfully enough at a job that is never quite specified in an equally glossy office. All he thinks about is sex. In the opening sequence, we see him on the subway, staring lustfully at a woman opposite, horribly intent upon her. At first, she seems flattered by the attention, smiling a little, but soon becomes unnerved and stands up, ready to leave. He too rises and pressures her further. At the next stop, she gets off and he follows her, the camera pursuing, but she escapes him. Disconsolately, he goes back down into the subway.
Intercut with this wordless sequence we see him walking around his apartment after sex, nude, and urinating. A prostitute visits him and he commands her with rapacious authority. He masturbates in the shower. At work, he finds his computer has been taken away, infected with viruses. He goes to the toilet and urgently masturbates again, seen this time from above. At home again, he looks at porn on his laptop while eating a takeaway. He goes to a bar with his boss, who tries to pick up some women. His boss is openly desperate and doesn't succeed but Brandon, coldly focused, scores. After they've left the bar, one of the women comes and finds him and they have rough sex standing up under a bridge, explicitly graffitoed "fuck".
McQueen films these uglinesses with deliberate beauty, just as he turned Bobby Sands's dirty protest into cool elegance. The camera moves only when it must and every shot is exquisitely composed. The imagery is so formally perfect that it constitutes in itself a reproof of the human mess. It is intensely colour co-ordinated, even. Brandon wears elegant grey tweeds and inhabits a silvery grey metallic world, both in fact and in the lighting of the film. The almost ethereal orderliness is further underlined by Glenn Gould's performance of the Goldberg Variations repeatedly heard on the soundtrack (overfamiliar, a device that should not have been used again, having been made so much Hannibal Lecter's own).
In a certain way, Fassbender gives a sterling performance as Brandon, brutally intent on one thing but managing to conceal this drive from all around him. …