Starring Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan; directed by Steve McQueen
Good evening, everyone. My name is Critic Man and I’m a “filmaholic.”
(The entire assembled group responds with, “Hello, Critic Man”)
I’ve been a filmaholic for many years. It started when I was a teenager and saw Star Wars for the first time. It was at a huge single screen theater called the Cooper along Colorado Boulevard. You remember that movie theater?
(One man from the audience interjects, “Oh yeah, you could get quite a good ‘filmic high’ at that establishment!”)
Right on! Since then, I have gradually elevated to the harder movie stuff, like R-rated fare, buying VHS movies and then graduating to DVDs, laser discs, Blu-Ray, Criterion Collections, director’s cuts, packages full of commentaries and extras. I have seen every film by the old masters like Hitchcock, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Allen, Lumet, and many others. I have even made my way to film festivals, and, yes, have even resorted to watching trailers of upcoming attractions on the Internet.
(Murmurs and whispers throughout the audience)
I have indulged in reading many film reviews, tasted the critical juice from Rotten Tomatoes, uh, the website that is, and have followed Roger Ebert’s blog, and, yes, even his tweets. I’m even reading the biography of Pauline Kael, the former film critic of The New Yorker.
(A woman shouts out, “We are here for you, brother!”)
Thanks. And I’m so glad that you all know what it’s like, having been there yourselves. But, um, I also need to come clean about something I did recently that brought me here to this evening’s meeting of Filmgoers Anonymous. (Pause) Uh, wow, this is hard…
(A man encouragingly responds, “Go ahead; you are among friends.”)
Um, ok, (after a deep breath); everyone, I just went and viewed the movie Shame.
(The crowd gasps and falls into an awkward hush)
That’s right. I confess. I saw it. Some of you may have seen it too, but have not been able to admit it to yourselves, much less to your friends and neighbors. But, let me tell you this: it was really good. Sure it was tough to watch, but it was a worthwhile experience.
(More murmurs through the crowd)
Hear me out. I’m not saying it was a masterpiece. In fact, it was thin in terms of explaining the background of the main character, played by Michael Fassbender, and his troubled sister, played by Carey Mulligan. As you all know, Fassbender plays a…, well, there’s no better way to say this so I will just say it. He plays a sex addict.
(A woman blurts out, “That’s something even us additcs wouldn’t want to see!”)
I know, I know. It sounds like a twisted and explicit film with not much redemptive value. But, even though it’s graphic, with scenes where, um, (sign) boy this is awkward…
(A man entreats, “Just let it out, man”)
Ok, there are scenes where Mulligan’s character walks in on her brother masturbating. She sees porn on his computer with him in the room. Fassbender is seen having sex with prostitutes, girls he picks up at bars, having three-ways, he even wanders into a gay bar and gets “serviced” by a patron while there. There’s even a scene where he walks in on his sister in the shower as he thought she was an intruder, and then stands there for a creepily awkwardly long time talking with her while she is buck naked.
(A woman exclaims, “Oh my!”)
(After a pause) I guess I could see how this looks. I am making this seem like some sort of porno film, aren’t I? But, that would be missing the point. Sure it’s graphic; it needs to be in order to show the seriousness of this man’s addiction, and, more importantly, his emotional affliction. He seems to find no real intimacy in sex, more like something to do to keep him occupied and to provide him with some feeling — any feeling — that he seems unable to get from simple human interactions. His sister is also damaged, but her response is to be overly emotionally needy. She clings to her brother and longs for him to provide emotional support — support he cannot provide. And when Fassbender’s character has a chance to connect with her, he violently rejects her as if she reminds him of what he, or rather they, were subjected to growing up in their familial environment. This is all put in stark relief when Fassbender’s character tries to experience a “normal” relationship with a woman in the office, like going out on dates and getting to know someone in a non-sexual way. He just does not have the capacity to have normal relationships. It’s all very sad, and realistically and powerfully acted. (Pause) I guess I’m saying that these are very damaged people who really needed some therapy. They needed some support — sort of like the support from all of you here.
(A few in the crowd separately shout out, “Yeah,” and, “We are with you,” and one even says, “We are here to cure you of film addiction!”)
Ah, but you know what? I am not afraid to admit that I’m glad I saw this film.
(Gasps from the gathered)
That’s right. It showed me something that I have not seen before in a real, naturalistic way. We may not be able to identify with these characters’ behaviors, but we can try and understand, even sympathize with them. In fact, as this film suggests, there may not even be such a thing as sexual addiction in the traditional, clinical sense; it may be just a consequence of sterile, unconnected, isolated, and alienated lives. The people depicted in this film are not unlike you and me in that they are human beings with depth and struggles and conflicts. We should have some compassion — to not look away or be judgmental or critical.
(The crowd rustles awkwardly)
You know, come to think of it, I’m not even sure there is such a thing as film addiction.
(Some indignant cries of, “What?!” are heard)
I guess what I am saying is that I would see this film — and others like it — again. That’s right; I’m likely to fall off the proverbial projector. You may find that a weakness, but let me tell you this: At least I don’t have to feel ashamed about such things as having an affair while still married to my critically ill wife, making racist or homophobic comments in publications or speeches, sexually assaulting women as head of a trade organization, having a love child with my housekeeper while married, sending young women naked pictures of myself over the Internet, molesting young boys in college football locker rooms, having wild sex parties and sex with an underage woman while leader of a European country, sexually assaulting a hotel maid, or having an affair as an elected official with the wife of one on my campaign aides. And so on.
My only shame was going to see Shame. Thanks for hearing my story. I will leave you now. I have another film to catch.
“Filmaholic” Critic Man, aka Doug Young, has been rehabbing at The Colorado Statesman for the last decade or so. He serves as a senior environmental policy advisor to Gov. John Hickenlooper.