Embracing the Melodrama Part II #117: Never Let Me Go (dir by Mark Romanek)


NeverletmegoposterquadI can still remember, back in the year 2010, when I first saw Never Let Me Go at the Dallas Angelika.  Going into the film, I didn’t really know what was waiting for me.  I hadn’t read the novel that it was based on.  All I knew was that it had a cool trailer and it starred two of my favorite actresses, Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley.  Before I watched Never Let Me Go, I didn’t even know who Andrew Garfield was but that changed quickly.  Never Let Me Go took me by surprise.  I figured it would be a sad movie, based on the melancholy trailer and title.  But I had no idea how sad or effective it would be.  By the end of the movie, I was in tears.

And, even though I was already writing for this site at the time, I somehow never wrote up a review of Never Let Me Go.  Oh, I certainly meant to.  I went out of my way to recommend the movie on twitter.  I included it on my list of films that deserved Oscar consideration.  But I never actually got around to writing that full review.  The emotions were just too overwhelming.

Well, I’m going to use this opportunity to recommend that, if you haven’t already, you make an effort to see Never Let Me Go.  It’s a beautifully done film, one that confirms that director Mark Romanek is a major talent who really should have more than just three feature films to his credit.  (True, he does have a lot of music videos…)  As well, the film was written by Alex Garland, which should interest those of you who fell in love with Ex Machina earlier this year.

As for the film itself, it takes place in a world where, we’re told, a medical breakthrough was discovered in 1952 that allows people to live to be over 100 years old.  The details of that medical breakthrough are slowly revealed to us over the course of the film.  Unfortunately, it’s impossible to really talk about this film without revealing those details so consider this to be your SPOILER WARNING.

Basically — much as in Clonus — life has been extended through the use of cloning.  Cloned children are raised outside of the view of “normal” society.  They go to special schools.  And when they turn 18, they are harvested for their organs.  Clones are told that their ultimate goal is to “complete,” which is a polite way to say that most of them die before they ever reach 30.  A few lucky ones are allowed to be “carers.”  They take care of and comfort dying clones and, as a result, they get to put off their first organ donation for a few years.

Unlike Clonus, where the cloning was clandestine and done only to benefit the very rich, the clones are not a secret in Never Let Me Go.  Everyone knows why they exist and everyone knows what is going to ultimately happen to them.  Whenever the clones are allowed to leave their schools and explore the real world, they are greeted with a mix of hostility, fear, and guilt.  Because they are due to be sacrificed, society chooses to believe that the clones are somehow less than human.

As for the clones, the majority of them accept their fate.  You watch Never Let Me Go and you keep waiting for some sort of revolution and it never comes.  Some of the clones are angry.  Many of them desperately believe that there’s some way that they can avoid having to give up their organs.  A good deal of the film is spent listening to people you’ve come to love talk about getting a “deferral” that the audience knows does not exist.  For the most part, though, the clones passively accept their fate because that’s what they’ve been raised to do.

The film itself follows three clones from their childhood to their completion.  Kathy (Carey Mulligan) is a carer.  Ruth (Keira Knightley) starts out as a snob but softens as her fate becomes more and more inevitable.  And, lastly, there’s Tommy (Andrew Garfield).  Tommy starts out as an awkward young boy and he grows up to be an awkward young man.  Of all of them, Tommy is the most convinced that, as a result of the artwork he innocently drew as a boy, he will somehow be given a deferment.  Garfield is so heartbreaking in this role.  When he finally snaps and screams in frustration, you scream with him.

Never Let Me Go is not an easy film to watch but it’s one that I highly recommend.  It’ll make you think and it’ll make you cry.  And after you watch the movie, read Kazuo Ishiguro’s wonderful novel.  It’s even more heart-breaking than the movie.

Back to School #71: An Education (dir by Lone Scherifg)


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When I first started this series of Back To School reviews, my plans was to somehow write and post 80 reviews over the course of just one week.  What was I thinking?  That one week has now become one month.  However, even if it has taken me longer than I originally planned, I’ve enjoyed writing these reviews and I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading them.

We’ve been looking at these films in chronological order.  We started with 1946’s I Accuse My Parents and now, 70 reviews later, we have reached the wonderful year of 2009.  It seems somewhat appropriate, to me, that as we finally start to reach the end of this series (after this review, only 9 more to go!), we should take a look at one of my favorite films of all time, a film that was nominated for best picture and which introduced the world to one of the best actresses working today.

That film, of course, is An Education.

Set in 1961, An Education tells the story of Jenny (Carey Mulligan), an intelligent and headstrong 16 year-old girl.  Jenny lives in London with her father (Alfred Molina) and mother (Cara Seymour), both of whom have decided that Jenny will eventually attend Oxford University.  She attends public school, where she’s a star pupil and a favorite of her teacher, Miss Stubbs (Olivia Williams) and the stern headmistress (Emma Thompson).  Jenny is someone who, even at the age of 16, seems to have her entire life mapped out for her.

And then she meets David Goldman (Peter Sarsgaard).  David is a handsome and charming older man who, spying Jenny walking in the rain, offers to give her a ride home.  Soon, Jenny and David are secretly pursuing a romantic relationship.  At first glance, David seems to be the perfect dream boyfriend.  He’s sophisticated.  He’s witty.  He knows about art and music and seems to be the exact opposite of Jenny’s boring, conservative father.  And David also has two beautiful friends, Danny (a devastatingly charming Dominic Cooper) and Danny’s glamorous girlfriend, Helen (Rosamund Pike).

Jenny is drawn into David’s exciting circle of friends and, at first, it’s all so intoxicating that the little things don’t matter.  Jenny doesn’t ask, for instance, how David and Danny make their money.  When she finds out that David specifically moves black families into white neighborhoods in order to get people to move so that he can then buy and rent out their former homes, Jenny knows that it’s shady but she pretends not to be worried.  And when David and Danny steal a valuable antique map out of a country home, it’s far too exciting for Jenny to worry about the legality of it all…

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An Education is such a great film, I don’t even know where to begin in singing its praises.  The cast is absolutely brilliant, with Carey Mulligan proving herself to be a star and Peter Sarsgaard being so charismatic that, much like Jenny, you can’t help but get swept up in his world.  This was the first film that I ever noticed Dominic Cooper in and I walked out of the theater with a crush that I continue to have to this day.  The script, by novelist Nick Hornby, is full of witty lines and, even more importantly, it manages to find something very universal within Jenny’s very personal story.  We’ve all had a David Goldman in our life at some point.

However, what I think I really love about An Education is the way that it portrays the excitement of being just a little bit naughty.  One need only compare the vivid scenes in which David and Jenny dance at a club with the drab scenes of Jenny sitting in class to understand why Jenny (and so many other girls) would fall for a guy like David.

Perhaps my favorite image in the entire film is one in which, after having a fight out in the middle of the street, David and Jenny turn around to see Danny and Helen standing out on a beautiful balcony and waving down to them.  The two couples are just so beautiful and so glamorous that it really does become one of those moments where you really do wish you could just step into the movie and spend a few hours just hanging out with them.

An Education is one of the best!

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The Beautiful People (from L-R): Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Peter Sarsgaard, and Carey Mulligan.

Is The Great Gatsby Great Or Is It Simply Ghastly?


(Special thanks to frequent TSL reader and commenter Dr. Jim for inspiring the title of my review.)

Gatsby

Do you remember when everyone was predicting that Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby would battle it out with The Dark Knight Rises and The Master for Best Picture at the 2012 Academy Awards?

It may be hard to remember but, at this time last year, that’s what a lot of self-styled film divas were predicting.  And who could blame them?  The Great Gatsby was adapted from a great book, Baz Luhrmann was an A-list director, and the film featured actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and Carey Mulligan.  The flashy first trailer came out and people, like me, were very excited.

And then, suddenly, Warner Bros announced that The Great Gatsby would not be released in December of 2012.  No, instead, it would be released in May of 2013.  This led to a lot of speculation.  Some film bloggers claimed that Warner Bros was just worried that the Great Gatsby would struggle to find an audience if it was released at the same time as other prestige pictures like Lincoln and Les Miserables.  However, I think most people just assumed that the film probably wasn’t that good.  Suddenly, the opulence of that first trailer was no longer something to be celebrated but, instead, it was taken as evidence that Luhrmann had emphasized style over substance.

Last Friday, The Great Gatsby finally premiered on movie screens across the country and we finally got a chance to discover whether Lurhmann’s film was great or simply ghastly.

Before I started writing this review, I debated with myself whether or not I should include a spoiler warning.  You see, I am a F. Scott Fitzgerald fanatic.  I have read and I have loved almost all of his books (even the unfinished Last Tycoon) and I even went through a period where I identified (perhaps a bit too strongly) with Zelda Fitzgerald.  The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books of all time and it’s hard for me to imagine a world where anyone hasn’t read it.

Unfortunately, judging from the reactions of some of the people in the audience at the showing that I attended, apparently I was giving the rest of the world a little bit too much credit.  So, if you haven’t read The Great Gatsby, then you really should stop reading this review and go pick up a copy.

And, if you’re still reading this review, here’s your SPOILER WARNING.

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With the exception of a few unnecessary scenes that feature Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is a sanitarium, Luhrmann’s film closely follows the plot of Fitzgerald’s novel.  Nick, a recent Yale graduate, moves to New York City in the 1920s.  He has abandoned his earlier plans to be a writer so that he can concentrate on making money as a bonds salesman.  Needing a place to live, Nick ends up renting out a small cottage.  Living across the bay is Nick’s cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and her extremely wealthy and crude husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).  And living right next door to Nick, in a gigantic castle, is the mysterious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio).

While the Buchanans are a part of the old rich and the American establishment, Gatsby is a much more enigmatic figure.  As Nick discovers, nobody seems to be sure who Gatsby is, where he came from, or how he has made his money.  He seems to devote most of his time to throwing massive parties where he is often nowhere to be found.  However, through the cynical golfer Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki), Nick learns that Gatsby used to know Daisy and that he’s still madly in love with her.  Gatsby befriends Nick, attempting to use him as a way to get to Daisy.  Meanwhile, Nick also finds himself unwillingly in the position of being Tom’s confidante, accompanying him when he drives into New York to meet with his mistress, Myrtle Wilson (Isla Fisher).

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To answer the obvious question, The Great Gatsby is not the disaster that so many of us feared but, at the same time, it’s not the triumph that so many of us had hoped for.  Instead, it’s somewhere in the middle.  As with most of his past films, Luhrmann unapologetically embraces style over substance and as such, the film is a lot of fun to watch even though it’s never as intellectually challenging or emotionally captivating as Fitzgerald’s novel.  Whereas Fitzgerald’s novel viewed Gatsby and Daisy with a captivating ambivalence, Luhrmann’s film is content to be a big, glossy soap opera.  As someone who loves the novel, I was frequently annoyed to see how interesting characters like Jordan Baker and Tom Buchanan were simplified for the film version.  But, as someone who loves on-screen spectacle, I enjoyed watching The Great Gatsby even if I could never quite bring my heart to fully embrace it.

One thing that The Great Gatsby definitely gets right is the casting of Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby.  DiCaprio’s gives one of his best performances here, perfectly capturing Gatsby’s allure while hinting at the insecurity that lies underneath the confident façade.  Carey Mulligan is well cast in the difficult role of Daisy and Tobey Magurie makes for the perfect Nick Carraway.  (That said, you have to wonder if Maguire and DiCaprio are ever going to start aging or do they both have a picture of Dorian Gray hidden away in a closet somewhere.)

Unlike Fitzgerald’s novel, Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is not quite great.  But it’s not exactly ghastly either.  If anything, perhaps it will inspire a few more people to read Fitzgerald’s classic novel.

LIBRARY IMAGE OF THE GREAT GATSBY

Trailer: The Great Gatsby


Here is the trailer for the film that many people are predicting will be the major Oscar contender later this year, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (in 3D, as all films are nowadays).  I’m not totally sold on the idea of Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby (it seems like such a predictable and safe choice, to be honest) but I think Carey Mulligan is a great choice for Daisy and Tobey Magurie was born to play Nick Carraway.  Judging from the trailer, this film is either going to be brilliant or it’s going to be a huge mess.  Speaking as someone who loves F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel and who has often wished that her own voice might sound like money, I’m hoping it will be brilliant.

Poll: Which Movie Should Lisa Marie Watch on March 20th?


Anyone who knows me knows that sometimes I just can’t help but love being dominated. 

That’s why, on occasion, I’ll give you, our beloved readers, the option of telling me which film to watch and review.  In the past, you’ve commanded me to watch and review Anatomy of a Murder, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Logan’s Run

Well, here’s your chance to, once again, tell me what to do.  I’ve randomly selected 12 films from my film collection.  Whichever film gets the most votes will be watched and reviewed by me next Tuesday, March 20th.

Here are the films up for consideration:

1) Black Jesus (1968) — This Italian film stars Woody Strode as an African rebel leader who is captured by his country’s right-wing, American-backed dictatorship. 

2) Capote (2005) — Philip Seymour Hoffman was an Oscar for best actor for playing writer Truman Capote in this film that details how Capote came to write his true crime classic, In Cold Blood.  This film was also nominated for best picture.

3) Chappaqua (1966) — In this underground cult classic, drug addict Conrad Rooks seeks treatment in Switzerland while being haunted by a scornful William S. Burroughs.  This film features cameo from Allen Ginsberg, The Fugs, and just about every other cult figure from 1966.

4) Crazy/Beautiful (2001) — Jay Fernandez and Kirsten Dunst have lots and lots of sex.  This was like one of my favorite movies to catch on cable back when I was in high school. 🙂

5) An Education (2008) — In my favorite movie from 2008, Carey Mulligan is a schoolgirl in 1960s England who has a secret affair with an older man (played by Peter Sarsgaard), who has plenty of secrets of his own.  Co-starring Rosamund Pike, Emma Thompson, Alfred Molina, and Dominic Cooper (who is to die for, seriously).

6) Female Vampire (1973) — In this atmospheric and ennui-filled film from the infamous Jesus Franco, a female vampire spends the whole movie wandering around naked and dealing with the lost souls who want to join the ranks of the undead. 

7) Nightmare City (1980) — In this gory and fast-paced film from Umberto Lenzi, an accident at a nuclear plant leads to a bunch of blood-thirsty zombies rampaging through both the city and the countryside.  Hugo Stiglitz plays Dean Miller, zombie exterminator!  Nightmare City is probably most remembered for introducing the concept of the fast zombie and for serving as an obvious inspiration for Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later.

8) The Other Side of Midnight (1977) — Based on a best-selling novel, The Other Side of Midnight tells the story of a poor French girl who becomes a world-famous actress and who ends up sleeping with apparently every wealthy man in the world.  Meanwhile, the man she loves ends up marrying Susan Sarandon.  Eventually, it all ends with both a hurricane and a murder.  Apparently, this film cost a lot of money to make and it was a notorious box office bomb.  It looks kinda fun to me.

9) Peyton Place (1957) — Also based on a best-selling novel, Peyton Place is about love, sex, and scandal in a small town.  Lana Turner is a repressed woman with a past who struggles to keep her daughter from making the same mistakes.  At the time it was made, it was considered to be quite racy and it was even nominated for best picture.  This film is a personal favorite of mine and it’s pretty much set the template for every single film ever shown on Lifetime.

10) Rosebud (1975) — From director Otto Preminger comes this film about what happens when a bunch of rich girls on a yacht are taken hostage by Islamic extremists.  The film’s diverse cast includes Peter O’Toole, Richard Attenborough, Cliff Gorman, former New York Mayor John Lindsay, former Kennedy in-law Peter Lawford, Raf Vallone, Adrienne Corri, Lalla Ward, Isabelle Huppert, and Kim Cattrall.

11) Valley of the Dolls (1967) — Oh my God, I love this movie so much!  Three aspiring actresses move to the big city and soon become hooked on pills and bad relationship decisions. Every time I watch this movie, I spend hours yelling, “I’m Neely O’Hara, bitch!” at the top of my lungs.

12) Zombie Lake (1981) — From my favorite French director, Jean Rollin, comes this extremely low budget film about a bunch of Nazi zombies who keep coming out of the lake and attacking the nearby village.  Some people claim that this is the worst zombie films ever made.  I disagree.

Please vote below for as many or as few of these films as you want to.  The poll will remain open until March 20th and whichever film gets the most votes will be watched and reviewed by me.

Happy voting!

If Lisa Marie Determined The Oscar Nominees….


The Oscar nominations are due to be announced on Tuesday morning so I figured now would be a good time to play a little game that I like to call: “What if Lisa had all the power?”  Below, you will find my personal Oscar nominations.  These are the films and the performers that would be nominated if I was solely responsible for selecting the nominees and the winners. 

For those who are interested, you can check out my picks for last year by clicking on this sentence.

Please understand, as you look over this lengthy list of deserving films and performers, that these are not necessarily the films I expect to see nominated on Tuesday morning.  In fact, I would be hard pressed to think of a year in which I have disagreed more with the critical establishment than I have this year.  For whatever reason, the films that truly touched and moved me in 2011 appear to be the films that are totally and completely off the Academy’s radar.  These are not my predictions.  Instead, they are my personal choices and they should not be interpreted as representing the opinion on anyone else affiliated with this site.  So, if you’re angry that David Fincher’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo didn’t receive a single imaginary nomination, direct your anger at me and me alone. 

Best Picture

The Artist

Bridesmaids

The Guard

Hanna

Higher Ground

Hugo

Shame

Sucker Punch

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Young Adult

Best Actor

Michael Fassbender for Shame

Brendan Gleeson for The Guard

Gary Oldman for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Michael Shannon for Take Shelter

Rainn Wilson for Super

Best Actress

Kirsten Dunst for Melancholia

Vera Farmiga for Higher Ground

Elizabeth Olsen for Martha Marcy May Marlene

Saoirse Ronan for Hanna

Charlize Theron for Young Adult

Best Supporting Actor

Albert Brooks for Drive

Bobby Cannivale for Win Win

Jonah Hill for Moneyball

Patton Oswalt for Young Adult

Andy Serkis for Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Best Supporting Actress

Anna Kendrick for 50/50

Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids

Carey Mulligan for Shame

Ellen Page for Super

Amy Ryan for Win Win

Best Director

Vera Farminga for Higher Ground

Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist

Steve McQueen for Shame

Martin Scorsese for Hugo

Joe Wright for Hanna

Best Original Sreenplay

Bridesmaids

The Guard

Hanna

Shame

Young Adult

Best Adapted Screenplay

Higher Ground

Hugo

Incendies

One Day

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Best Animated Feature

Kung Fu Panda 2

Puss in Boots

Rango

Rio

Winnie the Pooh

Best Foreign Language Film

(Please note that I do this category a bit differently than the Academy.  Whereas the Academy asks nations across the world to submit a nominee, I’m simply nominating the best foreign language films that I saw in a theater last year.  Those who follow the Oscars will note that I’ve both nominated and awarded the brilliant Canadian films Incendies, which actually was nominated for a real Oscar in this same category last year.)

The Double Hour

Incendies

Of Gods and Men

The Skin I Live In

13 Assassins

Best Documentary Feature

Bill Cunningham New York

Buck

The Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Jig

Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles

Best Original Score

The Artist

A Better Life

The Guard

Hanna

The Tree Of Life

Best Original Song

“The Star-Spangled Man” from Captain America: The First Avenger

“Mujhe Chod Ke” from DAM999

“The Keeper” from Machine Gun Preacher

“Man or Muppet” from The Muppets

“Pop” from White Irish Drinkers

Best Sound Editing

Drive

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Hugo

Sucker Punch

The Tree of Life

Best Sound Mixing

Drive

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Hugo

Sucker Punch

The Tree of Life

Best Art Direction

Bunraku

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Hugo

Sucker Punch

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Best Cinematography

The Artist

Hugo

Melancholia

Shame

The Tree of Life

Best Makeup

Beastly

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Insidious

Sucker Punch

X-Men: First Class

Best Costume Design

Bunraku

The Help

Hugo

Sucker Punch

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Best Editing

The Artist

The Guard

Hanna

Hugo

Shame

Best Visual Effects

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Hugo

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Sucker Punch

The Tree of Life

List of Films By Number of Nominations:

10 Nominations – Hugo

7 Nominations – Shame, Sucker Punch

6 Nominations – Hanna

5 Nominations – The Artist; The Guard; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2; Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy; The Tree of Life

4 Nominations – Higher Ground, Young Adult

3 Nominations – Bridesmaids, Drive

2 Nominations – Bunraku, Incendies, Melancholia, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Super, Win Win

1 Nomination – Beastly, A Better Life, Bill Cunningham New York, Buck, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, DAM999, The Double Hour, 50/50, The Help, Insidious, Jig, Kung Fu Panda 2, Machine Gun Preacher, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Moneyball, The Muppets, Of Gods and Men, One Day, Puss in Boots, Rango, Ressurect Dead, Rio, The Skin I Live In, Take Shelter, 13 Assassins, X-Men: First Class, White Irish Drinkers, Winnie the Pooh

List of Films By Number of Oscars Won:

3 Oscars – Hanna

2 Oscars – Bunraku, Shame, Sucker Punch

1 Oscar – Beastly, Bridesmaids, The Cave of Forgotten Deams, Dam999, Higher Ground, Hugo Incendies, Melancholia, Puss in Boots, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Super, Young Adult

So, will the Academy agree with my picks?  Well, probably not.  Indeed, it’s probable that they won’t agree at all.  And to that, I say, “Oh well.” 

The Academy Award nominations will be announced Tuesday morning.

Film Review: Shame (dir. by Steve McQueen)


Earlier this month, Jeff and I saw the new film ShameShame has gotten a lot of attention because 1) it’s rated NC-17 and 2) it stars a frequently naked Michael Fassbender (or, as me and my girlfriends call it, “the Full Fassbender.”)  I’m sure that some people out there will find Shame to be either too shocking or too disturbing or too explict for its own good but you know what?  Those people are idiots.  Shame is one of the best films of 2011.

(An extra benefit of Shame being rated NC-17 is that I was asked to show ID before I was allowed to enter the theater.  Usually, this is where I would do one of my patented “Don’t Tell Me What I Can’t See!” rants but, honestly, I had just recently “celebrated” my birthday and being mistaken for 16 made my day.)

In Shame, Michael Fassbender plays a succesful, outwardly confident New Yorker named Brandon.  Though the film never offers up a clinical diagnosis, Brandon is a sex addict who spends his time having anonymous sex with prostitutes, watching pornography on his computer, and apparently masturbating every chance he gets.  We discover this via an opening montage which quickly establishes both the pattern of Brandon’s life and that sex for Brandon is more about maintaining order than getting any sort of pleasure.  We watch as Brandon awkwardly flirts with an attractive co-worker and reluctantly goes out drinking with his boss and it quickly becomes obvious that Brandon is incapable of maintaining any sort of “real” relationship. 

Eventually, Brandon’s life is disrupted when his self-destructive sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) shows up at his apartment and proceeds to move in with him.  Though Sissy and Brandon are obviously close, it also becomes apparent that Sissy is everything that Brandon isn’t.  Whereas Brandon is rigidly controlled and closed-off, Sissy is erratic and demanding.  With Sissy’s arrival, Brandon quickly starts to spiral as his own behavior lurches out of his control, leading to one harrowing night that forces both Mulligan and Fassbender to confront who they are, each in their own individual way.

Obviously, for Shame to work, it has to strike a perfect balance.  With this material, it’s very easy to go overboard and come up with something that feels histrionic and false.  Fortunately, director Steve McQueen finds that perfect balance.  McQueen mixes scenes of clinic observation with almost lyrical montages in a style that reminds one of some of David Cronenberg’s better film. 

McQueen’s direction is matched by the performances of Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan.  Playing the role of Brandon, Fassbender finds the perfect balance between self-loathing and narcissism and he makes blatant self-destruction both scary and compelling.  It’s impossible to imagine this movie working with anyone but Fassbender in the lead role.  He has more than enough talent and charisma to keep us watching even when we want to look away.  (And, let’s be honest, the fact that he’s naked for most of the film helps too.)  As Sissy, Mulligan runs the risk of being overshadowed by Fassbender’s performance but she more than holds her own while paying a character that will probably inspire mixed feelings in most viewers.  Debatably, Mulligan gives an even braver performance than Fassbender.  It takes guts to be this potentially unlikable on-screen and it takes talent to make us still care about the character and, fortunately, Mulligan has both.

I’ve heard a few people complain about the fact that McQueen declines to spell out any easy motivation for why Fassbender and Mulligan behave the way that they do.  I would argue that this is the film’s greatest strength.  Any possible explanation that McQueen could have offered would have just served to render what happens on screen simplistic.  Ultimately, the characters played by Fassbender and Mulligan are mysteries to themselves as well as to the audience.  That said, McQueen does offer up several clues.  To his credit as a director, McQueen has faith in the ability of his audience to notice those clues without having to have things spelled out.

After watching Shame, all I can say is that perhaps, in the future, all movies should be rated NC-17.