Tuesday, March 20, 2012
EAST MARS (AP) --- Ewan McGregor's Penis, in an effort to regain market share (currently dominated by the upstart penis of Michael Fassbender), released this statement on the Conan O'Brien show recently. Clearly, the gauntlet has been thrown.
If we've learned anything from this contretemps, it's that Louis C.K. is a dyed-in-the-wool classicist.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
First unveiled at the Venice Film Festival and then at Toronto, where it was acquired for distribution by Fox Searchlight, Shame arrived in theaters this month the subject of a great deal of conversation. As the followup feature to British director Steve McQueen's Hunger, where Michael Fassbender—who also stars in Shame—turned in an eye-opening performance as Bobby Sands on his hunger strike, Shame had people going, “oh, yeah, far out, those guys, cool.” But mainly, the thing people were talking about was the sex.
Anytime anyone makes a picture with sex in it America freaks the fuck out. And Shame not only had nudity but dudity: Michael Fassbender's penis was apparently all over this motherfucker, and it was big, too. When McQueen sold the picture to Fox Searchlight, apparently one of the terms was they had to release it as an NC-17 if necessary, and Fox Searchlight, to their credit, not only did but did a bit of dick-swinging of their own about how they were going to wear the NC-17 as a badge of honor and fuck y'all and all kinds of nice, swaggery stuff. Of course, with all this talk about the NC-17, people who hadn't seen it yet started getting the sense that Michael Fassbender's 14-inch throbbing erect member was the entire subject of the movie, if all the talk was to be believed (Ed. Note: it's not 14 inches, nor is it throbbing or erect, and really isn't on display all that much). And, inevitably, despite the best attempts of many to maintain and not bug out about all the sex, Shame ended up becoming either the “Michael Fassbender's penis” movie or “the NC-17 movie.”
What I found, when I finally saw it yesterday, is that it actually is both of things. And isn't. McQueen and co-writer Abi Morgan present the audience with very few specific details, which would be maddening if it was an accident, but not very long into the picture I started getting the sense—reinforced by everything that happened for the rest of its running time—that what they were up to was creating something whose meaning would be provided by each audience member's individual interpretation of it, kind of a cinematic BYOB party. So, what follows may say more about me than it does the picture. Or not. If your interpretation of the picture is that everything is spelled out and so forth, then I'm wrong. (Ed. Note: I'm never wrong. Fucker.) (Further Ed. Note: past this point be mild spoilers, be thou warned.)
Michael Fassbender stars as Brandon, a really good-looking guy with a (surprisingly realistically) really nice (if a bit cold) apartment with some kind of unspecified yuppie day job that keeps him in reasonably though not ridiculously luxurious creature comforts. His boss, David (James Badge Dale, who's secretly becoming one of the best character actors alive), is married but tries incessantly (and ineptly) to fuck every attractive woman in sight; Brandon doesn't even try and all the women his boss tries to fuck approach him. But, because he's not terribly proactive, Brandon relies mostly on porn, hookers, and webcam girls for sexual gratification. Mostly on porn, though: dude's got a fucking ton of it.
Still, whatever, don't knock a dude's hustle (as I'm sure Gautama Buddha would have said). His life's going okay. He charms some random suits into doing some random deal that his non-specified company is up to (it doesn't matter what the company does, because it doesn't matter to Brandon, it's just his job). He may need to go to the office men's room to fap multiple times a day, but who among us is without our quirk(s)? If it ain't broke, don't fix it. If fapping three times a day at work and getting picked up by women in Audis who have you fuck them against a pillar under the FDR drive and maintaining the porn library of Congress isn't getting in the way of your everyday existence, it's not a problem.
But then, his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) shows up. And literally everything that can go wrong does. I'll leave the story, such as it is, here, because the whole rest of it is Brandon's shame spiral anyway. His carefully ordered existence comes apart, and he's led to question whether any of it has meaning. You know, no biggie, just all that shit.
The main thing I think a lot of people missed with this picture is that Brandon's shame thing doesn't originate from sex. The way he relates to people (gender ambiguity intentional) sexually stems, as I read it, from his inability or unwillingness (or unwillingness that begets inability) to relate to other human beings besides himself. The initial sequence in the picture, a series of shots of Brandon either alone on the subway or alone at his apartment or at the office or out drinking with co-workers but at arm's length physically (and certainly emotionally) from them show us: this is what he wants. He's won. He has a spiffy high-rise apartment with his vinyl records and his porn-glutted computers and hookers to come over and shtup him (notably, the one non-hooker he connects sexually with in this sequence is driven, successful, and is aspiring to be all that Brandon outwardly is, naturally making her be like, “I want to fuck that guy.” While we're on the theme of projecting one's own interpretations onto blank slates and shit.)
Sissy's arrival throws this all into disarray precisely because what she represents is a connection and obligation to something other than Brandon's self. She's everything he's tried to leave behind: vulnerability, disorder, emotion. She makes out with and then fucks David, for whom Brandon feels contempt for his ineptitude with women, for his having “fallen victim” to marriage/kids, and yet somehow being the boss in spite of all this. So on top of everything else she's attracted to things Brandon loathes. And he envies her, as well, quietly: she's a singer, and while no Maria Callas or anything she does a slow, mournful cover of “New York, New York” that harmonizes with the movie's emotional tone and outsider's perspective on New York City quite nicely, as well as evoking the kind of unrehearsed emotional response from another human being that Brandon either can't or doesn't know how to. The end provides a (very) faint glimmer of hope that Brandon at least recognizes the cause of his anhedonia, and that having so recognized he may find some kind of fulfillment. But, again, that's what I read into it. It could have been an affirmation that he's fucking doomed.
As for the fucking, there is a bit. Michael Fassbender's penis makes an early and prominent appearance in the picture, and while big is nonetheless not noteworthy for anything other than being a penis, which about half humanity has. For the most part the sex is shot in a way that highlights the impersonality of the act for Brandon. Either all we can see is a tit or a belly button or the side of a hip or the back of a head or an ass, rather than a whole human being he's connecting to (with the one notable exception of the one encounter when he can't get off; in that instance it's not even necessarily that he can't get it up, because he doesn't really try, it's that he's afraid of what'll happen if he does: I mean, fuck, it could lead to a relationship and an emotional obligation.) Carey Mulligan's much-discussed—and, frankly, rather lovely, despite the awkwardness of the scene—nude scene is shot through a mirror; Sissy, as Brandon's sister, is verboten to him sexually, so there's that added level of remove, but she still does look good naked, so he doesn't leave right away either. It's all a giant goddamn fucking mess.
The movie itself is not. Steve McQueen knows what to do with a camera. On a budget of about $8 mil, he makes New York come alive. The geography makes sense except for when it deliberately doesn't (something only a New Yorker would give a shit about, but take my word for it, it's good.) The acting is all terrific in an ever-so-slightly-heightened naturalistic mode, which is the best thing about the movie as a whole: it's about a guy whose sex life is on a scale few civilians are even capable of contemplating and fucked up in a way that requires a bit of abyss-gazing experience to process without shutting down, and yet it never rings false. The movie is not, as many reviews have said, about sex addiction. Brandon's not an addict. It's not his compulsive pornography and one-night-stand habits that are at the root of his problem, it's that those habits come out of his inability to process anyone else's worth as equaling his. That is his shame: his complete, hermetically-sealed, absorption with self.
Being a picture whose apparent point is to challenge the audience to determine what is actually in the movie and what is their own projection onto it, and being that the notion of reciprocal projection takes a fairly bright synaptic spark to sort out, Shame is not a popcorn picture (Ed. Note: keep in mind, the dude telling you this happily noshes away and periodically goes “Ha ha! Fuck yeah Delphine Seyrig, get it girl” while watching Last Year at Marienbad) but that shouldn't be taken to mean that it's “too difficult” or intimidating or any of that horse pucky. Shame is a challenge, but it's a challenge well worth meeting. The fact that by the end of the movie, I was deeply empathetic toward a rich guy with a big dick who gets laid effortlessly and is a brutal asshole without cause to the one person who loves him should be taken as a sign that this is a very good movie indeed.
|Carey Mulligan: the loveliest fifth business in the history of narrative|