So I went to see Shame last night and I am left somewhat confused. Shame, if you haven't heard, is a Steve McQueen movie starring Micheal Fassbender. It's gotten a lot of attention and critical acclaim. It's the story of a man addicted to sex. It also features long shots of Michael Fassbender entirely nude - full frontal, people - so naturally I wanted to see it.
I have to admit that even though I love movies and see a lot of them, I often seem to miss the point or have a very different interpretation than others, so I may be completely off-base in my analysis here. But I left feeling uncomfortable, and not in the way that I think the director intended for me to feel uncomfortable. This morning it occurred to me why that might be.
The movie is very slow and quiet and doesn't really give you anything directly but it is quite clear that we are meant to understand that this character has lived through trauma as a child and is scarred by it. We are also meant to understand that this trauma has led him to an unhealthy obsession with sex. This is where my troubles arise. We see some of the different sexual things that he does. We do see that he doesn't seem particularly connected to them but, except for one scene close to the end, we don't really see that he is hurt or bothered by the things he's doing. I don't see that what he is doing is actually hurting him. It's clear that the director wants us to believe that he is but I don't see it. He seems quite unable to connect to people in a really emotional way, that's made quite clear, but the connection of that to the sex is having is not clear. It's as if we are meant to believe that the sexual things he deo are damaging in and of themselves - ie. if you have tons of sex with random people, that all by itself is a problem, whether you seem distressed by it or not. I just don't believe that. The things this character does are not particularly dangerous or disturbing. They include:
- watching porn during most of his free time
- getting visits from sex trade workers
- watching porn at work (not smart but not exactly unheard of)
- having a massive collection of smut magazines
- going to sex clubs
- picking up random people and having sex with them.
These may be things that our society frowns upon but they are also things that the vast majority of us have done at some point in time and lots of people do quite regularly. His behavior does not seem out of control to me at all.
The key to whether the behavior is okay or not is how it makes him feel. Had the writer and director done a better job of showing us what is driving the behavior - some connection between the seeking of sex and what led him to do it, and some indication of how he feels afterward - I would have acknowledged that even if he isn't a sex addict (if you have read some of my other posts you'll know I don't agree with concept of sex addiction), he is at least using sex as a way to divert himself from his pain. We get a glimpse of that near the end of the movie but just a glimpse.
You could just as easily make a movie about someone who is doing exactly the same sexual things as this character and is happy as a clam. I think there is much too heavy a reliance on the sex itself to indicate that there is something wrong for this person. True, he doesn't show much interest or excitement in the sex, and that is telling, but for me it just didn't go far enough.
And there is a scene in which he throws a hitachi magic wand in the trash and that's just not cool.
If you'd like to see a movie that tackles a similar storyline is a more nuanced way and is, in my opinion, more successful, watch The Woodsman with Kevin Bacon.