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Shame: Powerful Film About Sex Addiction
This is a film about sex addiction. If you were previously unaware that this was even a thing, well now you’re that much wiser.
Brandon (Fassbender) has carved out an existence for himself that feeds his addiction on every level, while giving off the appearance of a normal guy to the casual observer. He lives alone barely keeping in touch with his sister, his computers both at work and at home are filled with porn, he trolls clubs and bars nightly to pick up girls and seemingly has prostitutes on speed dial. His life revolves around satisfying his addiction where he’s reached the point that it’s controlling him. His sister, Sissy (Mulligan), who comes with her own share of baggage and is possibly even more messed up than him, shows up unannounced, moves in with him and shakes up his neat little routine. With her around, he’s no longer able to turn a blind eye to his issues and shame rocks his entire being - hence the title of the film. He takes out his anger on Sissy further exacerbating her problems - she has suicidal tendencies and low self esteem which, among other things, makes her crave male approval - which he conveniently ignores as well.
They obviously have a completely messed up, slightly incestuous, history but the characters are never given a background other than that they’re from New Jersey by way of Ireland. Either way, the amount of self-loathing in this film is astounding and this ambiguity allows you to project some of your own insecurities onto the characters.
The film has a lot of sex but it isn’t sexy in the slightest; it’s actually really painful to watch. Fassbender looks like he’s falling apart at the seams, like his addiction is causing him physical pain. Yet the more he plugs that void (pun intended), the more disgusted he feels with himself. Sex is no longer something he does for pleasure; it’s turned into a form of self abuse. It's something dark, dirty and hateful to the point where he’s incapable of sleeping with someone that he actually likes.
Mulligan’s Sissy is no less messed up but where Brandon skirts around his issues, she’s fully aware that she’s in trouble and practically oozes vulnerability. She moves in with Brandon as a cry for help only to find him angry that her presence affects his freedom to indulge in his vices. She looks perky and happy on the outside, but one look at Mulligan’s eyes are enough to show just how troubled she is.
While Shame is a character driven piece, relying mainly on Fassbender and Mulligan’s talents more than anything, there’s still plenty more to back the actors up. The film’s bathed in an icy blue tone, and is mainly scored to Bach – giving the film a sense of grandeur and intimacy yet really reinforcing the hurt and sadness in the story. It’s an incredible, albeit difficult film to sit through but one that showcases some really fine talent.
They would try anything as if they had no fear of failure. They weren’t afraid of screwing up because the process and the act of creation were the important parts; if the product ended up sucking it was no big deal because they’d already be at work on the next piece. At least that’s the vibe that the documentary gives off. It also helps that the modern day, grown-up No Wavers seem every bit as cool as they did back then.
Paul Thomas Anderson is the man behind cinematic gems like Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and Boogie Nights, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that The Master is unquestionably one of the director’s most dazzling and mesmerising visual compositions to date.
The narrative is centred on Freddie Quell (Phoenix); an emotionally and mentally disturbed WWII naval veteran who is having difficulty adjusting to post-war life. After spending some time in a veteran's hospital, being treated for what appears to be a posttraumatic stress disorder, Freddie is released into the wild. Not really knowing his place in the world, he moves from one tedious job to another; alcoholism and his violent and volatile outbursts – which erupt at the slightest provocation – get the better of him and holding onto a job and finding peace of mind eludes him.
One night, on a scavenge for more booze, Freddie sneaks onboard a party boat. After awakening from a drunken coma, he meets Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman); an unconventional and alluring man who claims to be a doctor, philosopher, physicist and, above all, ‘a man’. A man who alongside his devoted wife, Peggy (Adams), has fathered semi-religious organisation, 'The Cause'. Built on radical concepts of rigorous mental analysis, the movement aims to discover some kind of a deeper truth about the origin of human beings. Dodd preaches that everyone is capable of abolishing their 'animalistic' ways and only by reconstructing themselves back into 'perfect human specimens' will they be able to live a free and a fulfilled life. Taking an instant liking to Freddie, and his unsound mental state, Dodd takes him under his wing and Freddie soon becomes the 'pet' project for the self proclaimed 'master'.
It's been a long time since a film this engrossing and captivating has found its way onto the silver screen. Working on multiple levels and focusing primarily on the dynamic between Freddie and Dodd, The Master demands unwavering attention. Each layer of the plot holds its own meaning and subtle metaphors; ones that pose a lot of unanswered questions – it leaves it up to the viewer to digest.
Shot entirely in the rarely used 65mm format, Anderson, alongside cinematographer, Robert Elswit, really pushes the envelope, visually; the dreamlike water scenes and the impeccable portrayal of the 1950's come to life and contribute to the aura of the film.
The towering performances from both of its leads are something special; Phoenix in particular, hangs in limbo, between sanity and partial madness, and delivers a performance of a lifetime. From the slouchy posture to the sunken eyes, he's never looked more haunting. The same can be said for the ever-charming Hoffman, whose portrayal of the enigmatic leader is just as electric, while Adams' quiet presence is eerie and captivating at the same time, as the dutiful wife.
The Master possesses a presence that can't be denied and if you don't 'get it' from the first viewing, its okay, give it another try – it will get you. There is no escaping its hypnotic charm.