Thursday, June 7, 2012

Chill of death

Is this how a brother looks at a sister?
If nothing else, Shame (2011) all by itself justifies digital filmmaking.  I daresay the film would be impossible by any other means, with Sean Bobbit's camera gliding smoothly as it does over the surfaces of the Manhattan night, resting for long, long takes which measure the vast distances between people, even people who have known each other well.  A cut, even to come closer to the faces would disturb the frost as it grows up between the isolated figures on the screen.  The camera is rock-solid steady.  I would bet there was not a handheld shot in the film -- if there was, it didn't call attention to itself.

This has to rank as one of the chilliest films ever made about sex, bathed in a bottle-green palette, and frequently accompanied by Glenn Gould's recording of The Goldberg Variations

Moreover, the Brits who made this film, including director Steve McQueen and actors Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan are using New York not as an environment, as a native filmmaker does, but as a location; a location to be explored like the caves of Lascaux, both quaint and dangerous.  It's OK that Fassbender and Mulligan not completely convincing Americans -- it's like those movies where you can tell they're speaking German because they have a German accent.

Perhaps most interesting is how the film keeps moving without an appranet narrative engine.  Nobody has anything they need to accomplish in a set period of time.  Nobody is looking to change, although Mulligan's character would probably like to get her own apartment and a steady gig.  Fassbender does not bottom out.  He does not go into treatment, or fail in treatment.

I would argue that, the title notwithstanding, there is no evidence that the character does feel shame.  A little self-hatred, a sense that what he's doing isn't working, a fear of getting caught.  But no sense that Fassbender can or wants to do anything about his addiction.  Not even after getting a beating.

It's really not a movie.  It's a snapshot.  But just as the young woman at the bar, who has come with her boyfriend, stares rapt at Fassbender's lewd proposition like a mouse staring at a snake, we can't take our eyes off the thing the protagonist has become, a thing which sheds the characteristics of a human being as the film progresses until it (he) has no reason to live other than the next pointless encounter, like a shark endlessly swimming in search of prey.  And a shark's life doesn't have to have meaning.

They really could have titled this movie Dead Man F******.

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