Shame ★★★★★

"Eventually the cynicism is turning into awe."

The bravery it must take actors to appear nude on screen. It's not something we always pay too much attention to, or give enough credit to, but even for a seasoned veteran it must be something that gives them pause. Within the first few minutes of Shame, we are given a full frontal view of Michael Fassbender in the nude, and the rest of the movie is no less extreme.

The film follows Fassbender, as Brandon Sullivan, and we observe his life as a New York City executive and long-term bachelor. It is instantly clear that he is a sex addict; he frequently has sex with prostitutes, masturbates several times daily, and at a few points can be seen viewing pornography on his work computer (early on, one has to be thrown out on account of it contracting a virus). Into his isolated world comes his sister, Sissy (played by Carey Mulligan, from The Great Gatsby, Brothers and Inside Llewyn Davis), a singer who has a few gigs in the city and asks to stay in his flat. Brandon agrees, but doesn't exactly seem happy about it.

Shame is one of the early films from director Steve McQueen (it's actually his sophomore feature, if you can believe it). McQueen, of course, would follow it up with 12 Years a Slave, winning the well-deserved Oscar in the process. I admittedly haven't seen Hunger, but I have to imagine that it's a masterpiece too. Shame is the work of a born filmmaker; the first 10 minutes are this almost hypnotic collage of sight and sound, as the camerawork, lighting, music, and of course Fassbender's acting provide a window into Brandon's lonely, tortured little world.

Steve McQueen walks several fine tightropes throughout Shame, but for my money, the most impressive one is the tightrope between "passionate" and "sterile". This is a movie with sex - lots and lots of it - and yet the most striking images are the ones of our characters, fully clothed, sitting alone in completely empty rooms, surrounded by so much nothing. Shame so extraordinarily captures that sense of profound alienation, that sense of desperate yearning for human contact, and the utter pain of never achieving it.

It sounds almost cliche to say it now, but really, it must be said; Michael Fassbender is perfect. Carey Mulligan is perfect. Their performances are nothing less than utterly extraordinarily, and McQueen's all-seeing camera captures every aspect of their lives in this movie without missing a beat. I can now safely add "New York, New York" to the ever-growing list of songs I will never be able to listen to the same way again, all thanks to this film.

Shame is a movie about sex addiction, so in some ways, I guess it's a message movie, with the message being: sex addiction is real, and exactly as terrifying and life-destroying as other forms of addiction. In that sense, it worked; I felt Fassbender's pain throughout. What I like, though, is the utter lack of preachiness or "message-movie-isms"; really, this could easily be seen as one messed up guy's character struggle.

Steve McQueen is a true filmmaker, and Shame is a great piece of filmmaking. Bolstered by two of the best performances to ever be put to film, this is one for the ages.