‘Shame’ – A Review

It perhaps says more about my day last Friday than the film itself, but when, after hours of attempting to draw a model in life class, I saw the opening sequence of Michael Fassbender walking round his minimalist NYC apartment with no clothes on, my overwhelming reaction was ‘oh, b$ll&cks, not another naked man.’

It was however a phenomenon I had to get used to, as there is a lot of naked flesh in Shame, Steve McQueen’s study of a man’s obsessive pursuit of sexual gratification which inevitably evaporates the moment the act is done.

Some critics have described it as a portrait of sex addiction, but that seems a bit too simple.  It’s more the constant search for something that will satiate an insistent appetite, but which, once achieved leaves the person feeling worse than ever, and escalating the desire for more and more; creating a cycle of constant disappointment.

I didn’t enjoy watching the film.  There were bits of it that made me want to scream with boredom, and of there had been a fast forward button I would have made liberal use of it, especially during an excruciatingly awful rendition of New York, New York by Carey Mulligan, and I heaved a sigh of relief when it was finally over, but, having said all of that, it did provoke a long discussion with the friend with whom I saw it.

I had no sympathy with any of the characters; E did.  I thought the lack of sympathetic response was part of the intention of the director, because there was no real insight given into their interior lives, it was all about appearance and surface to me, a distancing that made me ever aware of the artifice of it, that I was in a cinema, that this was acting, that it was all about looking and observing.  E agreed with only some of that.

I thought the line ‘we’re not bad people, we just come from a bad place’ was a sign that the director had been bullied into giving some superficial ‘explanation’ for the damaged siblings’ behaviour, and would have more respect for him if he’d resisted and left it out.  E disagreed, and appreciated the mood and comment the line encapsulated.

I became impatient with the slow languorous shots, which could have been several ‘art’ films, in which nothing happens, spliced together; on or two would have been fine, but so many was too much.  E liked the mesmerising nature of the continuous sequence of Fassbender running through night time New York; I spent all the time working out where he was running.

It’s definitely one about which to make up your own mind.

Leave a comment


  1. “I didn’t enjoy watching the film.”


    LOL, you just saved me $40.

    “There were bits of it that made me want to scream with boredom, and of there had been a fast forward button I would have made liberal use”

    That’ll do me. I loathe that type of self-reverential claptrap at the best of time.

    For the kicker!

    “especially during an excruciatingly awful rendition of New York, New York by Carey Mulligan”

    Actors should act. Musicals are routinely an abomination. Singers should also not act. Both are professions which require talent and skill. Spending oodles on watching amateurs butcher classics, there are free television programmes for those who are sufficiently bereft of wit to watch.

    Thank you for the review, I don’t need what that film has to offer:)


    • Oh Brendan, I wouldn’t want to put you off making up your own mind about it!! But, yes, if there are other things on your list of things to see, I’d go for them first.

  2. Ditto Brendan. (Although you’ve only saved me R30 – it’s clearly a lot cheaper to see a film in Cape Town!)

    • But Jill, you might disagree with me(!). My friend E did. But there are better narratives to enjoy out there!

  3. Rowena,

    I’ve read enough of your reviews to know that while I disagree with you strongly on some issues, what’s important about your reviews is that you ain’t got nothing to sell and you’re steering straight.

    I can winnow the rest. You go on being honest, few enough of you out there:)

    Jill, movies here are $13/17 a pop, sometimes 3D movies are more. Coupled with the 30 mile round trip, the time wasted because it’s impossible to figure out when the actual movie starts, the reek of popcorn, and the massive tub of popcorn, yellow salt and fizzy drink my spouse will not attend the movies without, and it comes to a loadamoney.


  4. Might still see it one day, but I’ve never been into overtly self-conscious film. And as for naked men – well, that’s totally out!
    Brendan, there is precisely one independent cinema left in Cape Town. It’s called the Labia (yes, really) and it has two tiny little theatres close to the Hiddingh campus of UCT in Gardens. I think the larger one seats 200, the smaller one about 40. The popcorn still comes in brown paper bags, and you can order a g&t and take it to your seat with you. They run like clockwork, only show decent stuff, never have adverts, and the tickets cost less than if you go to one of the supersized mall outlets. Which I detest. You are surrounded by a million teenagers with cell phones glued to their ears, get cold cardboard-flavoured popcorn, and I for one spend hours in the garage afterwards trying to find my car. So, I sympathise fully. My first choice is the Labia, second is my couch with a rented dvd. 🙂

    • “never have adverts”


      Cooo, sweet.

      “second is my couch with a rented dvd. :-)”

      Very much so. I have a very large Computer screen, and with a DVD or Blu Ray, I can have sub titles up. Even in modern American movies the background racket is so heavy that you can’t make out what the actors are saying.

      Part of that is down to it being recorded specifically for 7:1 sound definition, and you need that to get it perfectly. Some of it is the increasingly use of explosive/intrusive sound as part of the language of media expression.


      • Jill, Brendan

        I love the fact that two people I know only through my blog are having a conversation about the movie going experience in two different continents! Well met indeed!

    • Sounds very much like my preference for the Curzon and Renoir cinemas in London. No blockbuster movies or popcorn and clientele that’s generally quiet and reasonably well behaved ! ;-))

  5. aorchestra

     /  February 4, 2012

    Interesting to hear other peoples views on the film. You’re right, it was hard to get through in parts. I liked its portrayal of addiction too but actually would have liked for it to go into this even further. What did you think of the title?
    I was also trying to figure out where he was jogging but I never did!
    You should check out my review I’d love to hear your thoughts.


    • Thanks for visiting. Until now I hadn’t thought that much about the title. Now I think it might be that Brendan had no shame in seeking his own gratification, but that we feel a bit shameful watching it all.


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