Posted December 4, 2011 by William Dunmyer in Drama

Shame: Harrowing Tale of Human Misery

British artist-turned-filmmaker Steve McQueen is a great cinematographer, a superb editor, and a talented lighting/sound engineer. As a storyteller, he’s not so great. But he’s learning.

“Shame,” McQueen’s second feature film (after 2008’s “Hunger”), is a harrowing look at human misery. The main character, played very well by Michael Fassbender, on the surface looks great. He’s fit, handsome, sexy, well-educated, and prosperous. He gets any woman or man he wants and enjoys the life of the 21st-century Manhattan playboy.

But inside, something is terribly wrong. His sex drive is so compulsive that it threatens to capsize his life. When his boss discovers that his work computer is filled to overflowing with pornography, the first sign of imbalance appears. Also disturbing is his near-constant masturbation and sex with strangers.

When we meet his sister (played beautifully by Carey Mulligan), we see that trouble runs in the family. The script never indicates what happened in their childhoods, but these siblings are clearly haunted by something.

There has been much press about the sexual explicitness of “Shame” and the full-frontal nudity of Fassbender. I’m happy to report that this has been greatly exaggerated. Fassbender does very little full-frontal and doesn’t do many butt shots either. This is not a titillating film at all. It is a depiction of human frailty and suffering. I’m embarrassed to make reference to Fassbender’s private parts. But the press has been so obsessed with this that I felt obliged to do some truth-telling with regard to it.

It’s quite a depressing statement about American culture today that critics have so fixated on the nudity in this film. “Shame” may not be a great film, but it’s certainly not soft-core porn! I feel sorry for the morons who will see this movie hoping for titillation. They are in for quite a shock.

William Dunmyer

William Dunmyer is a lifelong cinephile who fell in love with movies at about the age of 5. He lives in New York City.