Monday, 23 January 2012

Oh The Shame!

Directed by Steve McQueen
Full production details on imdb


a subtle and understated tale of modern isolation and need. beautifully atmospheric tragedy with perfect, sorrowful score.

McQueen's second feature as writer director is an intense and atmospheric tale of isolation. An adult tale in more than one sense it is a window into a rare intersection of the lives of estranged brother and sister Brandon (Michael Fassbender) and Sissy (Carey Mulligan). Both lost and alone, their lives teeter on the edge of sanity, both with needs and cravings, struggling to maintain normal human relations.
Brandon is a sex addict, on the surface a smooth, composed 30 something year old, but whose life is ruled by where he can find his next 'hit.' Normal human relations elude him, while he risks his job with his tardiness and hard drive ruining digital pornography collection. The details of Sissy's life are not spelt out to us, but it is implied that her poetically opposed issues are around getting over emotionally attached to inaccessible individuals.

The two leads are perfect, the siblings bringing out the humanity in each other. Two different tragedies, two sides of the same coin. Sissy reenters Brandon's life knowing how low she has gotten, but it is through her that Brandon gains a fresh perspective on his life and how low he has sunk, how out of control he is. Their tragedies are quite different, yet obviously linked through their common childhood. This is never delved into in any depth, but left as a subtlety, epitomised in Sissy's revealing statement "We're not bad people. We just came from a bad place." Both parts subtly played, their problems hidden in plain sight behind Brandon's neat quiet confidence, and Sissy's bleach blonde noise.

The atmosphere is wonderfully maintained throughout, quiet, tense, isolated. The sustained strings of Harry Escott's score so full of desperation and sadness, that there is no way any of the (copious) sex scenes can be considered gratuitous (unless sorrow is your particular kink...), and while they are nicely shot, they are rarely sexy, any appeal making Fassbender's character more sympathetic and his lifestyle more awful. The use of music is, as with every aspect of the film, subtle. Diegetic music - pumping club techno - against Escott's extra diegetic strains make usually upbeat gritty scenes somehow softer but more tragic. Mulligan's performance of New York, New York a pivotal point exposing both character's vulnerabilities.

The only flaw in the film could be with the specifics of the plot. It's very much a portrait of two characters and our times, and not heavily plot driven. There is no obvious direction for the film beyond a sense that things are wrong, and that they must get better or crash and burn. It loses its way slightly toward the end, events feeling slightly forced, but this is forgiven in the poetry of the final scene.

On the whole a fantastic, tragic offering from British talent McQueen. Despite difficult subject matter, or in fact because of it, it makes for tense emotional watching, with much broader themes of isolation and need in modern society emerging with poetic tragedy.

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