When I first heard about Shame, three little words were enough to interest me: full frontal Fassbender. Yes, yes, it’s a serious drama about sex addiction. I’m getting to that. But oh man, the chance to watch Mr. Rochester in NC-17 nude scenes—what a way to get butts in the seats. Written and directed by Steve McQueen (who also directed Fassbender in 2008’s Hunger), the film follows the escapades of Brandon (Michael Fassbender), an otherwise well-adjusted sex addict whose desires have consumed every aspect of his life. His work hard drive is full of porn, his closet is overflowing with his stash, and his laptop is permanently queued up to video chat sites. His real-life sexual exploits are bleak—it becomes clear pretty quickly that this guy isn’t having that much fun having sex. On top of all this, Brandon’s frequently naked sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) pops into his life seeking shelter and attention. Sissy has her own problems: she’s a recovering cutter who can’t seem to hold a job. McQueen implies that something seriously screwed these two up as kids, but thankfully he leaves their past vague and focuses on the much more interesting present.
Michael Fassbender is everywhere right now for a reason: his performance is fantastic. He definitely deserves a nod come awards season, as does Mulligan for her tortured turn as Sissy (just try not to get teary-eyed while she sings “New York, New York”). And while the actors are generating most of the buzz for Shame, there are many other factors contributing to its excellence. McQueen is a gifted filmmaker with a great eye for composition. A threesome soundtracked to classical music is one of the most gorgeous, unsettling scenes in the movie, and in one beautiful, super-long tracking shot, the camera follows Brandon as he jogs through the streets of New York. You’ll wonder how in the world McQueen possibly shot this, and you’ll be thankful that someone actually still knows how to make films like Shame.
So how about that nudity, you ask? Well, it’s actually sort of torturous—these sex scenes are not fun. Frankly, I’m grateful I got to watch this movie alone in a room full of strangers, because I would probably be uncomfortable watching it with almost everyone I know. But neither does all the nakedness seem gratuitous, because you know, it’s a movie about a sex addict—a truly amazing movie about a sex addict! Just don’t see it with your mother.