Sex machine in the city


The sexual furies that roil the new movie Shame are poundingly, startlingly graphic for a mainstream release. (The picture is rated NC-17.) The film's protagonist, Brandon Sullivan, played with fearless commitment by Michael Fassbender, is an emotional zombie anonymously employed in a glass-and-steel cubical farm in high-rise Manhattan. Brandon drifts through his workdays in a fog of apathy. His consuming interest is an unending search for orgasm—with prostitutes, with nightly pickups, often with himself in office bathroom stalls and laptop porn sessions in his sterile midtown apartment. It's not much of a life, but it's all that this priapic automaton requires. 

The English director, Steve McQueen (Hunger), tracks Brandon's obsessive prowlings with a serene, long-take camera style and carefully controlled color design, cooling out the action with Glenn Gould's elegant Bach variations. So the blunt full-frontal nudity and frenzied couplings are kept at arm's length, and drained of erotic sensation. The picture has a flawless visual beauty, but it's as arousing as a laboratory report.

Although Brandon admits that his longest romantic relationship lasted only four months, some women are drawn to his unapologetic predation. ("I want to stick my tongue inside you just as you come," he tells one of them, by way of introductory banter.) We see him banging away at his conquests against alley walls and big floor-to-ceiling apartment windows. He jokes that he's actually a Neanderthal, and his icy compulsion does have a pre-human cast. When one of the women—a sweet office coworker (Nicole Beharie)—betrays glimmers of affection in the midst of a naked afternoon tangle, Brandon pulls away, unable to get off. After she leaves, he summons a call-girl, whose requirements are more agreeably straightforward.

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Brandon's sleepwalking life is complicated by the arrival of his sister, Sissy (Carrie Mulligan in a boldly uncharacteristic performance). Sissy is a smalltime singer, and in one audaciously long close-up in a club scene, we see her whispering her way sadly through a spare arrangement of "New York, New York," her uncertain voice barely rising above a dissonant piano accompaniment. Like Brandon, but in a different way, Sissy is deeply damaged. We never learn what went wrong in their earlier lives, but while it left Brandon paralyzed by indifference, Sissy is tormented by a desperate need for connection. Her brother is incapable of providing it, though. "You're a weight on me," he hisses, in a striking two-shot profiling them against an out-of-focus TV screen. "You force me into a corner, and you trap me." Sissy is horrified by his frigid hostility. "Why are you so angry?" she asks.

We never find out. There's something dark and tethered writhing behind Brandon's dead eyes; at times, in isolated moments, it seeps out into his face; but it remains obscure and unknowable. "We're not bad people," Sissy says, squandering her kindness. "We just come from a bad place." At the movie's heart-crushing conclusion, we realize that Brandon still lives there, and in his agonized defeat may never move out.

Kurt Loder is a writer living in New York. His third book, a collection of film reviews called The Good, the Bad and the Godawful, is now available. Follow him on Twitter at kurt_loder.

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70 responses to “Shame

  1. Muriel is an effortlessly sexy, natural beauty who hails from Argentina.

    With her calm and easy going personality Muriel makes the perfect Hegre model ? well that and the fact that she simply oozes sensuality. And with her lush figure, long dark hair and Latina good looks it is easy to see why!

    Muriel works for a large pharmaceutical company but when she isn’t working she likes to have fun. And lots of it. A happy and carefree girl Muriel likes nothing better than relaxing with good friends and a nice cold beer!

    All of this and Muriel is bi-sexual too. Now there’s a thought that is too, too hot!

    Super sexy and fun to be with, Muriel is set to bring a lot of happiness to Hegre-Art members!

    1. How many grandkids does Muriel have?

  2. I like that this is a relative high profile movie with an NC-17 rating. Return of the 70s!

  3. fearless commitment…
    boldly uncharacteristic…
    arousing as a laboratory report…

    Count me in!

  4. He jokes that he’s actually a Neanderthal, and his icy compulsion does have a pre-human cast.


    1. Oh Steve, you’ve made rape cool again!

  5. “…with prostitutes, with nightly pickups, often with himself in office bathroom stalls and laptop porn sessions in his sterile midtown apartment.”

    Where’s Masterbatin’ Pete?

    He’s gonna love this movie!

    1. Still no life?
      +1 me.

      1. I, to have sexual fury, and would allow Michael Fassbender to fast-bend me over.

        1. That’s x10 twice, so +100 for me.

          rectal, you said you had a life. Now, I knew you were lying, but it only took you 5 minutes to put the lie to yourself. That’s some kind of record, I think.

          1. Who knew that I would 1) show up on a movie thread, and then 2) be easily baited into a stupid game of awarding myself fake epi-points.

            Oh wait…everybody knew that.

            1. +10 more me

              Still living that life, rectal?

              1. Livin la vida loca, baby.


                  +10 more

                  1. Vile troll.

          2. Epi, you’re baiting the trolls again. What would your mother say? It’s not nice to pick on those with limited faculties.

            1. I have to score my points, dude, or someone else will get them.

              Also, rectal said she had a life, and I’m just curious how an obsessive stalker-griefer who lives in front of her computer has a life. Maybe she meant “she has life” because she’s alive. That could be it.

              1. I thought her manic phase was yesterday.

                1. It can last more than a day. Depends on how much paste she’s eating.

              2. the delicious irony of someone making fun of someone else for not having a life because they post on a website all the time…by always being there to post constant replies to them.


                1. +1000 for the delicious irony of you saying that, and +1000 more for how much you don’t realize it.

                  I am so winning the points in this thread.

                  1. Honestly I’m running out of ideas of things to say to you to keep this troll-fest going. Just admit defeat and slink away home you slimey piece of crap.

                    1. I find this all difficult to follow, but I think Episiarch is winning.

                    2. +10 more!

                      The SQL statements I’m running right now are real monsters, rectal. I am ready to rack up points all afternoon.

                    3. That was me, dude. If that’s you.

                    4. Are you working on the Netflix prize?

                    5. No, but the datasets are similarly huge.

                    6. She’s got huge……… data sets son

                      But I just want to sing!

                    7. I’m the famous rectal, “Epi’s Bane,” the gal responsible for all the trolling here at H&R! I manage to post under 48 different names, simultaneously, at all hours of the night! How ya’ doin’?

                    8. +10 me

                      This is a humdinger of a thread. Still living that life, rectal? I think we need to change your name to “rectal projection”. It’s projection, except retarded like you.

        2. You and me both. That is one reason to go see this movie is to admire his junk

  6. Ah yes, we must all keep in mind the horrible, empty lives led by handsome Manhattanites who get laid all the time.

    Will no one think of their pain? Will no one stand up to help these poor unfortunates?

    1. They are the 99%

    2. Raises hand.

      I need to know that somewhere someone is getting some strange. A Captain Kirk for the 10’s

      1. Once you’ve gone green, there is no in between.

        1. Bah. My favorite was the Dale Bozzio lookalike from the Gamesters of triskelion episode. There’s something about that hair with silver boots….

          1. “Love? What is love?” Ouch. Almost as bad as “Brain and brain! What is brain?”

            And I’m still going with Ensign Rand – that girl knew how to party.

      2. Not me, man.

        I’m enough of a jerk that although I can just barely tolerate the thought that handsome Manhattanites get laid more than I ever did, the price for that tolerance is that I refuse to listen for a single moment to any indie douche nonsense purporting to tell me about the horrible emotional suffering of Mr. ScoresAllTheTime.

        I read this whole review hoping that the Cloverfield monster would show up in the third reel.

        1. There’s always the Blue Marlin in Costa Rica to ease your pain

          1. Went to the bar with my former preacher boss before we, uh, knew the score. Watching both of us twig to it at the same time, but from opposite ends of the, uh, appreciation spectrum would be a good movie scene.

  7. I haven’t seen one of these ‘non-porn movies about sex’ since……Auto Focus, I think?

    I guess this will go on my Netflix queue in a few months.

    Also – Steve McQueen? Really?

    1. Also – Steve McQueen? Really?


      1. I think you mean homophobe.

    2. Are you really complaining about the director’s name?

      1. “Complaining”? No.

        “Demonstrating my immature sense of humor”? Yes!

        1. Your presence on the H&R comments is a true testament to your immature sense of humor.

          1. Perhaps. But I wager I can outdo anybody here by laughing until I shit my pants in the event that Kurt Loder ever reviews an art film directed by “Charles Bronson.”

            And don’t even get me started about the time I discovered there is a young African American actor named Denzel Whitaker, who appeared in The Great Debaters with Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker.

  8. I read this whole review hoping that the Cloverfield monster would show up in the third reel.

    Ouch! A little over the top, dontcha’ think, Fluffster?

    1. I think the Cloverfield monster making a surprise appearance would improve MANY films.

      1. Twilight comes to mind

    2. There was a Newsweek article the other day asking me to feel bad for sex addicts, and their profound emotional pain.

      I couldn’t decide if the Cloverfield monster was the way to go there, or if we needed the Son of Sam, or maybe some Daleks.

  9. Haha. If The Onion ever thought up a car company, it’s name would be Chevrolet.

  10. There was a Newsweek article the other day asking me to feel bad for sex addicts, and their profound emotional pain.

    Any movie featuring Jeffrey Combs, particularly From Beyond featuring a creepy impotent physicist looking for a inter-dimensional dose of The Little Blue Pill, would have had some schlocky panache.

    That said, you can never go wrong with Daleks.

    1. meatus

      1. I know it was you, sloopy. You broke my heart.

      2. Oh, also, I hate you and hope you die.

        1. +20 me!

          Bring on the points, rectal! How’s that live livin’ going?

          1. What a loser. I figured you were still lurking around here somewhere, so I thought I’d throw out an obvious bait and see if you bit. And like a good little puppet, you did just that.

            “Don’t shoot me, shoot him! I’m the real Episiarch!”

            1. +10 more!

              Keep it coming, rectal projection! Please, tell us more about how you make the puppets dance. It’s so fucking hilarious. I’ve got the time, my queries are still running, and I keep racking up the points.

              1. This is far too boring to maintain any longer. It was fun while it lasted rectal, but I’m afraid I must away for the evening.

                Keep working on your stalker game, you’ll bag that celebrity bf eventually!

                1. +10 again!

                  Hey rectal projection, I was wondering if you are living that life right now? Projection: it’s extreme and it’s rectal.

                  1. +10 more! Geez miss rectal, you sure are on a roll tonight! You’ve even started copying my point system!

                    I’m going to award myself 10x bonus for that.

                    1. +10 more. Thanks, rectal projection.

  11. The picture has a flawless visual beauty, but it’s as arousing as a laboratory report.

    Hey, I can understand the references if you’re talking about a lab report with Frequentcist analysis, but have you ever read a lab report with Bayesian analysis? Bayesian statistics can really rev me up!

    1. Whether I get aroused by a lab report depends on whether any of the Urkobold’s lab whores are involved.

  12. The life is not what it used to be, [huh], [LOL]. There is a new world waiting for you though.

    Endorsed by National AnonBot Association.

  13. Sooooo, what’s your opinion?

  14. Well, now, a movie about a person who is depicted as a self-involved “Neanderthal,” who has no emotional life and avoids anyone else’s emotions, that does not resolve whatever conflict such a person might find himself in dramatically, now that’s a must-see item, no doubt.

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