Released in January 2012, Steve McQueen ‘Shame’ was the official selection of the 2011 Toronto and London film festival. I‘d read a lot of positive things about it, in particular the performance of Michael Fassbender. Mesmerizing and tense throughout, long uncut shots drawing you in, with an uneasy tension simmering throughout, Shame certainly didn’t disappoint.
Brandon (Michael Fassbender), is a 30 something, successful senior employee of company, which is never specified, who lives in a modern, but cold and sterile, New York apartment. There is nothing sexy about McQueen’s portrayal of sex addiction, and instead proves hard hitting, powerful, edgy and dark in places. The Guardian sums this up perfectly:
‘Steve McQueen likes long takes: he stays on a image for a lot longer than other directors would, so it feels like you’re forced to be there. For that reason, the sex scenes are difficult to watch. They don’t come across as erotic; they’re more mechanistic: we see a series of grimaces on Brandon’s face, and the faces of the women he has sex with. These people look as if they’re in pain.’
The opening scene paints the perfect picture for the theme and tone of the rest of film, cutting between Brandon intensely, but coldly staring at a woman on the subway (who turns out to be married), with only one thought on his mind, and his apartment where he entertains a call girl. One wank, and two full frontal shots later you jump back onto the subway and get a brief taste of the guilt that travels along with this story.
A woman who you hear in the opening scene leaving estranged messages, turns out to be his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan). They share an uneasy sexual tension, and I half expected it to take a slightly darker and dirtier turn. Sissy is the polar opposite of Brandon, emotionally giving and vulnerable, dependent on her brother, and their relationship is volatile and you sense that they share some dark secrets from their past. But with the story not offering any easy answers throughout, offering no root of the causes of Sissy and Brandon’s problems, the audience is left to infer from the spats of anger and uneasy sexual tension……….all signs point towards a dark and sinister crescendo.
His relationship with his sister aside, Brandon’s life may seem on the surface of it appealing and envious to some guys. Why wouldn’t it? Successful at work and loved by his boss by day, and sleeping his way round New York by night. But as we get a deeper insight into his life, we begin to see, his behaviour, his addiction, as a scab covering a wound that has become to shape him. As we scratch away at the scab, we see a wound that runs deep. A virus that has consumed him. Shame.
Shame is a topic rarely talked about. Why would it be? Shame in its very nature is something we want to hide in a box and bury underground. Shame is easily confused with guilt. But guilt is talked about all the time. Guilt is associated with behaviour, I wish I hadn’t done that’, ‘I feel bad for doing that’, and as humans we always talk about guilt, it’s what makes us feel better about what we have done. Guilt is a defence mechanism used to protect ourselves.
But shame is something much deeper. Shame focuses on the self. Shame is that voice in your head reminding you of your biggest insecurities, rearing it’s ugly head just as you’re about to take a risk, put yourself out there, be vulnerable, take a leap of faith. ‘You’re not good enough’, ‘You can’t do that’.
Sex addiction is an illness of intimacy. The shame Brandon demonstrates throughout the film, isn’t so much the shame of the sexual act or sexual pleasure he urns for, it’s the shame not being able to be intimate or develop a relationship with anyone, stemming from the insecurity of thinking he’s not good enough for anyone else.
Not being good enough. Let’s consider that in a more general sense for a minute. Is that sentence not our greatest fear? The one thing that restrains us from putting ourselves out there, taking that risk or simply saying yes? But why? If we quiet down that voice, and look it in the eyes, 99% of the time that voice is our own. We’re our own biggest critic.
‘It is not the critic, who sits there and points out how the doer could have done things better, who counts. The credit goes to the man in the arena, whose face is marred with blood, sweat and tears. When he’s in the arena at best he wins, and at worst he looses, but when he looses he does so daring greatly’
Shame not only highlights the dark and lonely life a sex addict leads but also demonstrates the crippling effect shame can have on someone if they live with it silently, letting that voice in their head dictate how they live their life. Shame is a must see, but a word of warning, it’s defiantly not one to watch with the family.
Silence the voice of shame, and walk into that arena daring greatly.
Brene Brown – Listening to Shame – TED: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/brene_brown_listening_to_shame.html
I was 14, when I walked into WHSmith with my dad and brothers, a crisp £20 in hand, I felt like Charlie with the golden ticket. I didn’t blink or break stride, I knew where I was going, past the magazines, round the stationary, past the board games to the far wall where I was met by a sea of VHS’s (and some weird products that claimed to be a VHS on a disc, and went by the name of ‘DVD’…….ha, they would never catch on!).
Anyway I knew what I was buying, I’d known for weeks. I looked around to check the coast was clear, like a nervous teenager trying to take a glimpse of the dirty top self magazines for the first time, I reached up and grabbed it……
Now being 14, my life pretty much revolved around, football, school, trying to get past second or even the ‘Promised Land’ of third base, experimenting with alcohol and working out my right arm nightly. So when I first watched American Pie on a recorded VHS, I was blown away. It was like my life, or more accurately, what I wanted and what all of the boys my age wanted our lives to be like at the time; house parties, girls and alcohol. I needed another American Pie hit, like a herion addict yearning for his next hit, I knew what I had to do.
…..American Pie 1&2 the box set. The Holy Grail of VHS at the time!
Now I told you that because you need to understand how much these films influenced my teenage years. Like Star Wars did for others, resulting in thousands of adolescent boys locking themselves in their rooms swinging their light-savers around trying to be Luke Skywalker, me and my mates wanted to be like Jim and the gang. We threw house parties, attempted to throw summer blowouts (only for them to be cancelled), put pen to paper in French lessons to write a ‘sex bible’ (with limited knowledge of the subject in question) to educate those who followed us and were worthy of it’s power. All just so we could feel like them, living the ‘american high school dream’.
So 9 years on after their last outing, when I first heard the old gang for getting back together for one more blowout, I couldn’t wait………..I was going to relive my teenage years again!
From the opening credits, with R-Kelly blasting into the cinema, (‘my minds telling me noooo…..’) the return of Jims famous white sports sock, and two wank jokes in the opening minutes, you knew the ‘pie’ was going to be just as sweet as before.
One by one you see how much each of their lives have changed since Jim and Michelle’s wedding. Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) are playing happy families with their son, and although it seemed Jim had survived the sex drought of high school, the bad weather seems to have returned and his sex life seems to be suffering from severe global warming and experiencing a bit of a drought……..again.
Oz (Chris Klein) is living in LA with his wild model girlfriend Mia, working as a sports presenter and Z list celeb, while Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) has grown a seedy beard, got married and is a housewife, spending his days watching Desperate Housewives, and Finch aka ‘shitbreak’ (Eddie Kaye Thomas) has travelled round the world…or so you think.
And then there’s ‘Stifler’ (Seann William Scott, arguably the most successful actor to come out of the group) (Role Models, Old School). Everybody’s friendship group has or had a Stifler, or a ‘dick’ as he’s later described (if you can’t think who it was, it was you). You have to take Stifler with a pinch of salt, he is who he is, and he’s a major reason why the franchise has been so popular amongst teens and men who grew up with it. He says and does, the things no one else would dare do (taking a ‘revenge duke’ in some kids cooler box). And he returns, more grown up, but just as immature with the same swearing and sex crazy behaviour from the previous outings. Encouraging Jim to crack on to the horny and very attractive 18 year old he use to baby sit, and one of the highlights of the film, plastering Jims dad with shots and drink from a brilliant ice sculpture, giving him the confidence to ‘dust off that old dick and get some ass’
With the guys taking centre stage, there isn’t much face time for the other returning characters. Tara Reid (a shadow of the girl guys fell in love with in 1999) and Heather (Mena Suvari) return, with Heather pulling at the heart strings of Oz once again. The ‘MILF guys’ reunite their friendship at the end, and Sherminator, divorced and still the same old geek, makes an appearance at the reunion. But of course no American Pie outing would be complete without a MILF, or in this case MILFs, with Finchs, utterly disgracefully hot mum getting well acquainted to another one of the group.
This is a return to the films I fell in love with, and is a hommage to the original outings that paved the way for cult classics like Old School and Superbad, with humour that shocks but at the same time makes you burst out laughing, and soundtrack to take you back to school summer holidays, it really deals a heavy dose of nostalgia. The mixed reviews are just a case of people not having that connection with the originals, and personally the American Reunion definitely feels ‘like warm apple pie’ once again!
# One piece of advice for any of you would be daters. Stay till the end, Jims dad demonstrates how the yawn-to-arm-round-your-date cinema move can result in so much more than a dead arm and a cuddle!#