Tag Archives: Carey Mulligan

Shame

Shame is a feeling that most of us know very well. Now imagine that feeling is so great, it dominates your every waking moment. Steve McQueen’s film Shame, which was released on DVD last week, takes a look at a man whose sexual addiction and shame associated with it have almost completely swallowed his life. This film does not pass judgment; it simply drops in to watch a man struggle with his darkness.

The protagonist, Brandon (Michael Fassbender), is held hostage by his sexual addiction, and has his life perfectly ordered in order to fulfill it. He forgoes personal connections, is emotionally distant and buries himself in his shameful secret. When his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), a lounge singer, drops in unannounced, it throws his life into chaos. Just like Brandon, there appears to be something very wrong with Sissy. She is self destructive and an emotional wreak. Although their past is never addressed in the film, it’s clear that something awful has happened to both of them. There are moments where they seem to get along, but others where Brandon lashes out at Sissy with a terrible anger. The movie is tragic, and it appears as though Brandon’s situation may never improve.

I truly believe that Michael Fassbender should have been recognized by the Academy for this role. While I understand the politics regarding why he was overlooked, it would have been nice to see the Academy take a chance and nominate his riveting, and heartbreaking performance. Carey Mulligan is also good here as Sissy, though the role was a little too confined for her to really shine the way she has in previous films.

I found Steve McQueen’s sympathetic look into the dark, and often misunderstood world of a sex addict refreshing. It’s a controversial topic, indeed, the medical community seems to be split regarding whether sex addiction actually exists. When we do hear about it, sex addiction is all too often sensationalized by media, or winds up at the butt end of jokes. McQueen shows us a different side of a problem that is no laughing matter. Rather than showing Brandon reveling in sex, we are shown that it has become a necessary ritual for him. The camera often gets uncomfortably close to his face during intercourse and orgasm. He doesn’t look happy. In fact, he seems to loathe his actions so much, that he can’t bring himself to have sex with a woman he is genuinely interested in. He pursues sex relentlessly, picking up men and women (sexual preferences don’t seem to matter to him, it’s only the act he is interested in) and risking his job by filling his work desktop with porn. As the film progresses, we watch Brandon fall further into a spiral of self destructive behaviour. At one point in the film he approaches a woman at a bar, and explains in detail the lewd things he wants to do to her. Her boyfriend, who is beside her, confronts Brandon, and beats him up as he is leaving.

Strengths aside, Shame is not without its flaws. This slice of life film moves along at a very slow and methodical pace, which will not be to everyone’s tastes. Although I found the majority of it fascinating, the tail end of the film really drags. Some scenes also teeter on the edge of pretentiousness, such as Sissy’s bizarre, and super slowed rendition of “New York New York”. The scene just barely works, and showcases one of Brandon’s rare scenes of emotional honesty, yet it felt a little too surreal for the rest of the film, and doesn’t quite fit.

While not perfect, Shame is a powerful film. I commend Steve McQueen for an unwavering portrayal of such a controversial and misunderstood subject.

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Drive

Drive was hands down one of my favourite movies of 2011. The film has excellent pacing and is beautifully shot. Aesthetically, the film felt like a strange mix of an 80’s crime drama (helped along by the pulsating electro-pop soundtrack) and minimalist European cinema. It is a strange collision that works quite well.
The plot is simple. A quiet seemingly nameless young man, the Driver, (played by Ryan Gosling) works as a mechanic and stunt driver by day, and lends his services to criminals as a get-away driver by night. He meets and forms a bond with his neighbours, a young woman named Irene (Carey Mulligan), and her son Benecio (Kaden Leos). He comes to love them and resolves to be their protector. When Irene’s husband, Standard (Oscar Issac), is released from jail, it starts a series of events which culminate into a brutally violent end.
Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan are fantastic. Neither character says very much, communication radiates out from their eyes and body language. Muted as they both may be, their physicality, mixed with the few lines they do speak, go a long way. The camera work and lighting also assist the audiences reading of scenes by amplifying the feelings the actors are working towards by introducing a range of temperature to the film. Scenes literally have a way of feeling hot or cold in ways that are clearly meant to assist in our collective reading of what takes place. When Gosling is alone or working on a heist, many of these scenes feel cold, metallic and shot in cold grey tones with hardly any colour. When there is colour present, such as at a night club scene, it seems harsh. His is a world of cool calculation and machinary. When the Driver is with Irene, the feeling of the film changes, becoming warm and comforting. We take a ride on the Driver’s emotions. Warms tones are present as he drives with Irene at night, sits in the dim light of her apartment and visits a hidden creek with her and her son. We feel the love and companionship between these characters. And still there are other scenes, such as the beautiful and brutal elevator scene, where we shift from warm to cold, love to malice.
This film is not for everyone. The entire first two thirds of the movie unfold in a slow and meticulous manner, serving as a long build up to an explosively violent end, which left me both shocked and exhilarated. While not for the faint of heart, or those lacking in patience, Drive is one of the best mainstream films released this year, and well worth the ride.

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