American Nympho

If you haven’t heard about Shame then you must not be a cinefile in any way, shape, or form. Fair enough, but now you have. So, lend me your ears.

It’s a fairly straightforward film, but it’s definitely a tough watch. Well, it’s a tough watch if you’re offended by nudity. A lot has been written about this film and the nakedness of the lead actor, so let’s just get it out of the way:

Yes, you get to see Michael Fassbender’s penis…a lot. You also get to see a few ladies parts too. Ok, Yeah? We done? Good. So what’s the plot?

Michael Fassbender plays Brandon Sullivan. What do you need to know about Brandon? He’s tall, handsome, dresses well, has a good job which seems to pay well, and is hopelessly addicted to sex. He is a man with a split life. One half restrained, the other unbuttoned. This Yin and Yang appears to be kept in balance until his sister, Sissy, arrives (played by Carey Mulligan). Sissy is the opposite, her flaws are out in the open for everyone to see. Her presence slowly tears away at Brandon’s life-structure, with disastrous consequences.

If I sound a little vague, I apologise. It’s hard not to give away important plot points, and it’s important not to. This film relies very much on shock and surprise, as well as breaking ideas of convention. Brandon is, afterall, unconventional.        …or is he?

Now, I can only explain what I personally thought the movie was trying to say, so that’s what I’ll do.

Where else to start but with the title?

What shame? Well, it seems to me that the shame in question is sex. I know a lot of you are smacking your heads on the keyboard saying “duh” at this point, but hear me out. Sex is the most normal, common, and critical thing in life. It’s life itself. Of all the things on earth to be ashamed about, sex should be last on the list. Indeed, we all agree that sex is “natural and normal” in the right place and at the right time. However, the minute someone oversteps the boundaries we’ve instated, we consider it shameful. How can someone else’s sex life be “wrong”? Because it’s not like ours? What is “too much” sex? The exact amount that we’re used to having? How do we distinguish romantic sex from lustful sex? Is there even a difference?

Now I’m not above these judgements myself, none of us are. We all have our boundaries. “I’ll do that, but that’s just weird!”. It’s my opinion that this film challenges those self-imposed boundaries. It questions whether the amount of sex Brandon is having is even the issue. I myself couldn’t help but feel like the central problem he is facing isn’t to do with “too much”, it’s to do with “why?”. Why is he having sex? What are the motivations behind it? Brandon’s problem isn’t sex addiction, it’s narcissism; self-satisfaction. He continues to have sex for wholly his own sake, to ‘get his rocks off’. Not once does he think about the other person, about satisfying the other half. Until, that is, one very powerful turning point in the film. It’s an instance where he begins to give instead of just receive, and he is unable to handle it. The question of shame is the difference between having sex and sharing sex.

Now, a lot of people have remarked that there is a hint of incest between Brandon and Sissy. I have to admit, I got that feeling too. Several times throughout the film there is clear sexual chemistry between them. In fact it’s so strong initially that when they first meet it’s hard to figure out that they’re actually siblings. Continuously they refer to something that’s happened in the past between them, both through words and body language.  It might be hard to accept, but I definitely think it’s there deliberately. It may give us clues as to why the two of them have so many social problems.

The narcissism Brandon has in his sexual life spills over into his relationship with Sissy. He cares too much about his own struggles, and is therefore unable to see hers. Sex and life, Brandon’s two halves, are mixing together into one.

It’s a very well made film. It portrays a main character that we all agree to denounce, but secretly sympathise with.  I therefore highly recommend it.

Shame (2011) Trailer

Final Score

8.5/10

“Great”

One final note:

You know what this film reminded me of more than anything?

Seriously!

Rant Over!

5 thoughts on “American Nympho

  1. Good points. You talked a lot about sex, and as you rightly put it – the film IS about sex – primarily. However, I found this film much more philosophical, psychological and much more emotional that you let your readers to believe it is, that’s just my opinion. Check out my review of the film if you like.

    • I didn’t mean to imply that the film wasn’t emotional or psychological. In fact that’s the very thing I’m saying, what’s more psychological and emotional than sex? The thing is that I found Brandon was distancing himself from the emotional components and by the end of the film we see what happens when he is forced to tackle it head on.
      I understand that the film is a character-piece primarily, and many see it as only that. For me, I see it as tackling something larger. It appears to have deep questions about human sexuality, one of the slipperiest aspects of human behaviour. It’s something we struggle with all the time as a species and it tends to involve a lot of judgement. That’s all I was saying, really. That theme was the outstanding factor for me, personally. I don’t want to imply, however, that the film is in anyway void of emotion or psychology. Quite the contrary, it’s riddled with it.

      I read your review, and agree wholeheartedly on every point. I was happy to see that you too felt the “American Psycho” vibe. Only you, and one other person I’ve talked to, has acknowledged that. Despite them being two totally different genres, the structure and setup felt remarkably similar.

      I’m curious, though. You didn’t mention anything about incest in your review. This seems to be something of a divide, some people say it’s there and other’s don’t. Did you not see any hints at a possible incestuous past between Brandon and Sissy. When she says that they come “…from a bad place”, I thought that might have been a direct reference to it. The scene where she crawls into his bed was certainly the most conclusive for me. Maybe I’m being too simplistic about it, but they seemed to have something more than a regular brother-sister relationship going on. I’d love to know what you think.

      • I think it is only too easy to presume such an incestuous relationship between Brandon and Sissy in the past. There ARE hints of it in the film, there is no doubt (e.g. Sissy seems to be at absolute ease in exposing herself to Brandon). However, you cannot say that for definite (Sissy crawls to Brandon’s bed seeking not sex, but affection (a warm brotherly hug perhaps). Taking into account all the film references, e.g. ‘bad place’ etc., I think it is much fairer to say that there was definitely some kind of tragedy, abuse: sexual or psychological/emotional, which happened in the past (maybe between Sissy and Brandon, but I think also involving other family members/or strangers), subsequently leading to the main characters developing their ‘dysfunctions’. That is just my personal view, but the characters in the film appear to me way more ‘damaged’ than if there was just some incestuous relationship between them in the past. I think the roots of their problems go much deeper than this. So, in my review, I ‘generalized’ and referred to their ‘past troubles.’ In this way, my review points do not rule out incest completely, but they do not confirm it 100 per cent either.

      • I agree, it’s incredibly vague. Still, I felt it was flagged up a lot. It’s more than just exposing herself and wanting affection. It’s bits like the scene where she jumps on his back in almost a flirty way, and the two of them talking in front of the TV had their faces almost inappropriately close. It might sound like a thin case, but it was one of the clearest messages for me about the film. You’re right, though, that the actual event in their past is hugely lacking in detail. So, we don’t know exactly what happened. Still, I have to say that I feel the incest played a big part in it.

  2. Pingback: Art is long, life is short. « cinemarant

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