'Shame' Is Hard To Watch But You Can't Turn Away

A new film called Shame arrives in theaters with several honors, including the best actor award from the Venice Film Festival. It also arrives with a rare NC-17 rating. Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, a New Yorker who's addicted to sex.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And now let's talk about a shorter journey - one to your newest movie theater. A new film is arriving in theaters today having already received honors at the Venice Film Festival and having also received a rare NC-17 rating. Kenneth Turan has this review.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: "Shame" is a dispassionate treatment of a disturbing topic, and therein lies its power. This is a graphic, claustrophobic film that strips its characters bare, leaving them, and us, nowhere to hide. Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, a New Yorker we first see so exhausted in his rumpled, unmade bed he could almost be dead. Brandon is not much given to conversation, but he doesn't need to talk for viewers to figure out there's only one thing on his mind at all times: the compulsive pursuit of sex. Michael's actions include some of the most joyless exploits ever put on screen. It's the fixation of a tortured individual aghast at the self-destructiveness of his addiction but unable to change his actions or escape the shame they cause. Things get more complicated when Brandon's sister Sissy comes to New York for a visit and weasels her way into an open-ended stay at his apartment. Sissy, played by the gifted Carey Mulligan, turns out to be as over-emotional as Brandon is withholding. Her insistence on emotional connection presses all of Brandon's buttons and her presence in his life makes him feel that the walls are truly closing in.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SHAME")

CAREY MULLIGAN: (as Sissy) I'm trying to help you.

MICHAEL FASSBENDER: (as Brandon) How are you helping me, huh? You come in here and you're a weight on me. You're a burden.

TURAN: When Brandon attempts to go out on a conventional date, he doesn't know what to do with himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SHAME")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as character) Thank you very much, Brandon.

FASSBENDER: (as Brandon) Thank you very much, Maryanne. We should do this again.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: When?

FASSBENDER: So is that a yes?

TURAN: Smartly directed by British filmmaker Steve McQueen, "Shame" demands an intense, magnetic actor willing to completely reveal himself emotionally as well as physically. In Michael Fassbender the film has gotten exactly that. Fassbender has been seen this year in everything from "A Dangerous Method" and "Jane Eyre" to "X-Men: First Class." Here the desperation, hostility and despair he conveys make "Shame" a film that is difficult to watch but even harder to turn away from.

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and for the Los Angeles Times.

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