If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Think of the usual addiction movies you've seen in the past, typically centring on drugs or alcohol. And think about how they all focus on the journey the character takes through the addiction, from beginning to either the resolution, of self-destruction. This movie side-steps from those ideas quite a bit, but is it to a good result or bad?
Our main character is Brandon, played by Michael Fassbender, who is a successful, well respected, and from an outsider's perspective, very competent man. He has a well-paid job, owns a high end apartment with fantastic views of New York City, he pretty much has it made. However, from the get-go, we see he has a dark obsession that is hidden from his daytime world, and that is, his uncontrollable addiction to sex. It rules everything he does and is constantly on his mind, even in the workplace. Brandon seeks nothing more than the thrill of getting off to videos on the laptop, or in bathrooms during the lunch break. Prostitutes and random women he meets on his travels provide the only drug that can keep him satisfied.
His daily routine is always the same, including going to work, travelling the Subway, and at any point possible, finding sex. But early on, this is interrupted by the arrival of his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan), who needs a place to stay. And after Brandon repeatedly ignored her attempts to contact him, he drops in uninvited and pleads for him to allow her to stay. Reluctently, he agrees. It is clear however, that Sissy is mentally unstable, or rather, is the kind of woman who could self destruct at any moment. She craves others to help her and comfort her, and seems unable to function when dismissed. Despite their clear differences, it's apparent that they both share serious troubles that have haunted them throughout their lives.
Over the rest of the movie, we see Sissy and Brandon go through troubled waters in their sibling-ship, from her disgust at his addiction, to his disgust at her interfering in his well-routined life that is now set in chaos. The film is a window into their brief time under one roof, how they both struggle to cope, and the consequences of their actions.
This movie, as you can see from my synopsis, doesn't concentrate on much of a story, it barely tells you enough to introduce the characters, but little more You hear no background, no monologues, even very few conversations. This is instead a character piece of a brief space of time within Brandon's addiction, a sliver of information. And yet even this tony amount really illustrates the scale of the problem he is in. The influence of sex on his everyday life has consumed him, in the same way drugs and alcohol can do to many other people. They cannot live without it, and struggle to live with it. In that same manner, he doesn't care where the relief to his compulsion comes from, in fact, the dirtier and seedier it is, the better the payoff.
And just like an addict, we see Brandon go through some of the phases too. At times he has implemented it seamlessly into his life, but at others, interference drives him to self-hatred and outbursts of anger. He even at one point tries to banish it from his life, throwing all the porn and everything related to it away as if to "go clean". But ever so slowly, gets drawn back in...
The majority of the movie is taken up with very slow, contemplative moments. Be it a song Sissy sings at a restaurant, scenes of Brandon's everyday routine, the movie takes it's time in simply letting the visuals tell the emotions. Very little dialogue is used here, and when it is, it's brief and very withheld. The film is helped by some exceptional moments of cinematography and contrast lighting which gives indications of the mental battle the characters are going through, or simply to show the city in its splendour. What really keeps you interested in this however, is Fassbender himself, his performance is really special. The small gestures and facial expressions are timed so well, and portrayed so effortlessly, you can't help but ponder on his character. Even with so little information to go on, you begin to vaguely see what turmoil he is going through. Carey Mulligan is very good in her brief scenes too, especially in one scene where Brandon and she are in a heated discussion and he's throwing insults at her which, when you think of them, relate to exactly the problems he is going through too. It is as if he's using this to accept the full scale of his situation, but will not face it at all.
As for the sex scenes in this, there is a reason this is rated 18's in Ireland, they are extremely graphic. And almost immediately after the first one, you realise what the subject matter is, and begin to see them as horrible portrayals of his addiction. They are almost in the entirety, not based on any pleasure or emotion at all, and you feel almost sick for witnessing them. There is one scene of intimacy where Brandon is with a woman who may genuinely love him, and you hope that this may be the turning point. But, it almost completely turns him off and he can't go through with it. This really is the scene when you realise he cannot be saved, that the addiction has taken over and will not withdraw the hold. Seeing this scene immediately followed by him having with a sex with a hooker in the same room solidifies this.
It's very difficult to pin this movie down to rate it, because on some levels it works really well, such as the visuals and performances. But on the other hand, there's almost no development to the characters whatsoever, and it really hurts the movie because you can't pinpoint their motives or reasons as to why they turned out as they did. There's also no feeling that there will be either redemption or destruction from the addiction either, it's as if he's... stuck within this horrible spiral that continuously returns to the same spot, and the same position. I can see that some people could read into that and translate it better, but I found it so hard to create any meaningful ties.
That's why I'll give Shame a Matinee, it's a difficult film to judge or derive conclusions on, but Michael Fassbender gives a great performance, and it's exceptionally well shot on the camera. I will give the warning that this is not for all audiences, and I will stress the age rating. It's there for a very good reason for the vivid and unpleasant sex scenes. But, if you can take it and want to see a different take on the psyche of an addict, give this a try. Be sure you're ready for a movie that takes its slow time however.
Thanks for reading! ^__^