Audience Review/ Shame

Cornerhouse customer Simran Hans recommends Shame

In December, I was lucky enough to snag a ticket for an early screening of Turner prize-winning Steve McQueen’s hotly anticipated second feature, Shame, a month before the film was released nation-wide.  This month, this bleak and beautifully-crafted picture hits cinemas across the country.

Shame is the story of Brandon (Michael Fassbender); brother, businessman, New Yorker and sex addict. Brandon’s lifestyle thrives on routine, which is jarringly interrupted by the arrival of his exuberant, estranged younger sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan).  Sissy’s arrival is the catalyst for the film’s events, and what emerges is a complex and uncompromising portrait of a man whose addiction mars his personal, professional and emotional integrity.  Fassbender delivers the performance of a lifetime, establishing himself as more than an action-hero with rugged good-looks.  Magnificently subtle, Fassbender’s Brandon is at once powerful and predatory, wounded and painfully vulnerable.  Dialogue is used sparingly, and it is to Fassbender’s testament that he is able to invoke empathy for such an unlikeable character, carrying the film with astounding physicality.  Sissy is the perfect antidote to her sterile, introverted brother, and Mulligan’s fearless, emotionally uninhibited performance is equally extraordinary.  Brandon and Sissy’s dynamic brother-sister relationship is compelling though ambiguously presented; McQueen hints at abuse and incest, whilst leaving their background curiously vague.  The chemistry between Fassbender and Mulligan however, is electric, and the film really comes alive when the two are on-screen together.

Though the dialogue is minimal, the direction is not.  Famous for his work as an installation artist, Steve McQueen’s creative flair and background in art is unsurprisingly evident in Shame.  The sprawling soundtrack of haunting violins that accompany a breathtaking tracking shot of Brandon running through the desolate streets of New York makes for one of the most powerful scenes in cinema I’ve seen all year.  Mulligan’s wide-eyed, emotionally-charged rendition of ‘New York, New York’ too, is four minutes and fifty-six seconds of cinema that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.

What is perhaps most fascinating, and in turn most disturbing about this film, is the way in which it portrays the universal, uniting human experience  of sex as a means of cold, clinical disconnect.  The subject matter is not an easy one, and cinema-goers may be put-off by McQueen’s raw, unflinching depiction of sex and human nature at its darkest.  However, though anything but glamorous, the nudity and sex scenes are far from gratuitous.  This is, after all, an adult film, and McQueen is to be commended for his refusal to tone-down his vision.

After Cornerhouse’s preview screening, McQueen joined a stunned audience for a Q&A session. Many of the questions harked back to his 2008 feature-film début and general masterpiece, Hunger, the visceral portrayal of Bobby Sands’ stint in prison, all of which were met with clipped disdain by McQueen.  “I’m not here to talk about Hunger”, McQueen quipped, assertively navigating the Q&A in his preferred direction.  McQueen came across as refreshingly direct, unnervingly honest and a little bit in-your-face.  The same can be said of Shame; it is quite clear that McQueen has not created this film to win people’s hearts.  McQueen is an artist, and Shame is art.

Shame screens at Cornerhouse from Friday 13 Jan. Book your tickets and find all the times here.