Kids, I’m going to let you in on a secret. Sex is pleasurable. All that firing of the happy parts of your brain? That’s evolution making sure we propagate the species.
In the film “Shame,” Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a sex addict — seemingly functional and successful otherwise, his compulsions for stimulating those pleasure centers rival a junkie’s. His upscale New York life is a playground of constant temptation and gratification.
When his sister (Carey Mulligan) arrives unexpectedly, Brandon’s equilibrium seems thrown off. She seems childlike and fragile, and his actions turn especially cold.
His access to sex is easy, whether through the sheer force of his good looks and charm or more dubious means (prostitutes, a laptop full of porn, etc.). His ability to connect to others emotionally is far more stunted.
Director Steve McQueen lays his intentions — and his lead actor — bare before the opening credits. Fassbender’s frequent full-frontal nudity establishes that punches will not be pulled. The film is rated NC-17.
But the film’s languid pace and almost overwhelming bleakness can make it tough to connect to. Fassbender’s performance is enthralling, tightly wound with moments of explosiveness. And Mulligan is once again reminding me why she’s been one of my favorite actresses since “An Education.”
Sadly, the plot is not as engaging as the performances that inhabit it, but “Shame” is still a challenging, worthwhile film.