the circular runner

Some Thoughts About Shame the Movie and My Own…

In media, observations, Uncategorized on January 7, 2012 at 8:58 am

It’s probably because I’m married and my wife doesn’t have a lot of time to go to the movies or maybe it’s because I’m trying to spend more time telling my own stories and less time escaping from my projects by watching others’, but this year, I went to the movies a whole lot less than usual. Which means that like a lot of other people who love movies but don’t always make it to the theater, I spent the couple weeks of the holiday season catching up. It’s a good time. There’s a lot of holiday-kiddie crap (emphasis on crap not on kiddie, which can be great), but there’s also the dramas that the studios release for Oscar consideration. One of the films I saw that fit that category to a T though I don’t hear much about it is Steve McQueen’s Shame.  It’s not a feel-good movie. If you read my post on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, then you know I’m ok with that. But whereas Girl was trying really hard to be “dark” and “edgy,” Shame is one of those movies that sits with you because its darkness is a little less cinematic and, though you may not think it at first, a little closer to our day-to-day experience of life.

Our connection to Shame might be surprising considering that the film is rated NC-17 and about a sex addict. But the title, I think, doesn’t only deal with the shame of Brandon (Michael Fassbender). It deals with our own shame, as well, and I think that’s why we’e not hearing more about this movie’s Oscar potential.

I’m not arguing that critics don’t love this movie and that it’s not doing great at the box office because we Americans are prude–at least that’s not the whole reason. There is a small part of me that wants to quip that Michael Fassbender’s not-so-small part is making many male critics uncomfortable, but that’s just me being clever. Truth is Shame isn’t really about sex or even about the addiction to it. Don’t get me wrong: sex is everywhere in this movie, and it can be graphic at times though it’s never gratuitous. Like porn, the movie’s portrayal of sex is cold and it’s not pretty, but that’s fitting considering that Brandon spends hours watching on-line sex. Moreover, though a lot’s been made of the movie’s brutal look at sex, the really brutal thing being shown–the reason for Brandon’s shame and for our own whether we admit to it or not, is Brandon’s loneliness.

I can say honestly that the scene that sticks with me most, that haunts me, has nothing to do with sex. It comes toward the end, after Brandon’s failed attempt at a normal relationship, after a night of one sexual experience after another, after something terrible happens to his sister.  It’s a cold morning–all shades of gray, and we sit with Brandon as he weeps. We sit and we watch this emotionally stunted man cry his eyeballs out. He probably has hit bottom, but the power of the scene is that we know this is not that kind of bottom we usually see in movies about addiction. There’s no guarantee that there will be uplift after this, that Brandon will change. This is a bottom, not THE bottom.

More to the point, we are seeing a lonely man suffering a loneliness of biblical proportions. Think spiritual desolation. Think Job. I know this might freak some out, but think Jesus on the cross asking God why he’s been forsaken and you’ll get the feeling. It’s uncomfortable to look at this type of emotion–it’s definitely unusual in a movie. Partly because I’ve felt it, because I think many of us, maybe all of us have, I believe that the shame that the title of this movie refers to is the shame of a character facing his loneliness, honestly and openly. And if this movie’s NC-17 rating is merited it has less to do with frontal nudity or our prudishness. It has to do with our own shame of feeling that same hunger for connection and not knowing how to sate it.

  1. Wow! Quite a thoughtful review! I have stayed away from this film precisely because of the nc-17 rating. But you’ ve made it sound like something I’d really like to see. I’ve grown more “prudish” as I’ve grown older-nudity and sex seem to push me right out of the cinematic or story-telling experience.

    • Thanks. I would tell you that if you can get past the sex, the movie is quite deep. But you have to get past the sex, and there is a lot of it. If you do end p seeing it, drop a line. I’d love to hear from you.

  2. I really enjoy your blog. I’ve nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award, which I hope you’ll accept and enjoy! The rules can be found on my page:

    • i most humbly accept. thanks for thinking of me. now, i’m going to have to figure out who to nominate and, harder yet, i’m going to have to figure out how to get that badge on my post. LOL.

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