Year: 2008, 2011
Countries: Ireland, UK
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham, Brian Milligan, Liam McMahon, Carey Mulligan
Director: Steve McQueen
Run time: 96 minutes, 101 minutes
On April 17th, Alliance Films releases the Blu-Ray DVD combo package of Shame, Steve McQueen’s dark and creepy art film about sexual addiction starring the great Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan.
There’s a lot of nudity. There are naked women throughout the movie, which is a selling point for high definition. But the nudity is treated so starkly, both male and female, that although a lot of it is titillating, it made me feel dirty for being titillated. Which is quite a remarkable accomplishment in filmmaking, I think. Shame really is a great movie, but I would be hard pressed to say I enjoyed it. It’s like watching a really brutal boxing match. You appreciate the artistry, but you can’t help but cringe at the carnage. And it’s Fassbender that makes this work. He is so compulsive, and so depraved and lost to his own urges that it really is difficult to watch. Carey Mulligan plays his sister, and she has some of the same personality traits, thanks to a shared trauma they went through as children.
Shame is certainly not for everyone. It is not the movie for people who watch movies for nudity. It’s not a movie for people who want a happy ending or humour or fast-paced filmmaking. But it IS a movie for people who appreciate terrific moviemaking. Even then, I don’t expect they’ll be watching it more than once.
There is precious little dialogue in Hunger. Those seeking action, or talking, will have to look elsewhere for their fix. Those seeking phenomenal movie making, however, need look no further than this story about the final days of Bobby Sands. Sands, for those of you (like me) who were not around for his story, was an IRA prisoner in a British prison who led a hunger strike in the early 80s, leading to the death of ten inmates, including himself. Although this is the central story in the docudrama, we don’t even meet Bobby Sands until the movie is about halfway done.
In the meantime, director Steve McQueen (who really ought to have changed his name before getting into film, if he was going to do films this good – I mean really, that would be a fine name for the director of Buxom Bitches of the Badlands or something, but Hunger is no B-movie) sets the tone with a look inside the prison. The utter chaos of the “troubles”, the almost incomprehensible actions of both the IRA prisoners and their British captors, and the general tone of confusion that surrounded the whole thing. We meet a prison guard who is constantly in fear of assassination. We meet two IRA prisoners who join with their brethren in a “no wash” strike, where they refuse to bathe or shave and they pour their urine into the hall and smear the walls with their feces and do other disgusting things. For some reason.
The only real dialogue in the film comes soon after Sands (Michael Fassbender) is introduced for the first time, as he sits down with a priest (Liam Cunningham) for a long, incredible, powerful talk about his impending hunger strike (among other things). This is some of the best acting I have seen on film in a long time, as Fassbender and Cunningham sit across from each other, in one extremely long take, discussing the reasons to go on a hunger strike and the reasons not to go on a hunger strike. The camera doesn’t move, the actors move very little, and the only action in the scene is the pair of them smoking. And it’s one of the most riveting scenes I can remember.
The best thing about that scene, and the movie as a whole, is that it perfectly captures the questionable motivation behind Sands’ actions. He is certainly willing to die for his cause, and his beliefs, but he is also willing to take his fellow soldiers down with him, and I could never really understand exactly what he wanted to accomplish with the strike. I suspect that to this day, nobody really knows. Or at least, no one really understands. But I believed Michael Fassbender understood, when he was sitting in that room with Liam Cunningham, and that is the best reason to watch the film.
I watch movies in my living room, and in my living room there is a clock that ticks. It’s not terribly loud, so I never notice it when I’m watching a movie in full surround sound cranked up to eleven. But I certainly noticed that tick-tock while watching Hunger. The movie is almost silent much of the time, as people sit around in prison. I was about to take the batteries out of the clock, but I realized that it added a little something extra to the film. It was the perfect companion to prison, and made it feel even more so like time was passing incredibly slowly. The movie appears to be going incredibly slowly as well. But in fact, it isn’t. It’s slow, but it’s just incredible.