Michael Fassbender rocks out with his cock out.

Major spoilers for Shame, slightly less major for A Dangerous Method.

No, but he actually does! In Shame, his new art-house film that I saw Friday! It’s about a sex addict and it’s rated NC-17. He gets his cock out a lot, guys. A lot.

So this is a totally cliche film critic thing to say, but it’s true: 2011 has been Michael Fassbender’s year. Homeboy has five features in the can, all of which he starred in. He continued his pattern of mixing art-house staples with big-budget fare, and there’s nothing mixed about the reviews he’s getting. He’s been compared to De Niro, Brando, and, more than once, Daniel Day-Lewis. And guys, he did it all while looking like this …

hnnnnnng

… and this …

hominahomina

… and this:

gaaaaaah

He also does it while being totally naked in Shame, his second collaboration with English director Steve McQueen but the first in which he gets his cock out. Yeah. You know how I do.

We’ll talk about that in a minute, because Fassbender in fact has two art-house movies about sex out right now. In A Dangerous Method he plays Carl Jung to Viggo Mortensen’s Sigmund Freud and Keira Knightley’s masochistic psychoanalysis patient (and, later, groundbreaking analyst) Sabina Spielrein. With two guys this good-looking starring, Dangerous Method should have been a feast for the eyes, but period hair can ruin literally anything:

what is that on your faces, my bros

I saw both films this weekend, and I’d like to talk about them.

Also, Fassbender’s cock. We’re gonna come back to that, believe you me.

The genetics shared by Shame and McQueen’s debut-also-starring-fass-but-not-his-cock, Hunger, are clear. Both films have a penchant for long, lingering shots that reinvent everything you thought you knew about “show, don’t tell.” Both contain minimal dialogue (though Shame is less weird about it than Hunger, with its nearly silent first and third acts bookending the all-talk-few-edits twenty-minute second act). Both films take on complicated, controversial topics without moralizing or agenda. They don’t have storylines as such. Basically, they’re the kind of shit you either love or find completely stultifying, and I love it. Shame introduces us to Brandon (Fass/cock), a successful corporate bladibla with a fancypants Midtown apartment full of modern, sleek furniture and expensive clothes. He’s also a sex addict and a basket case, as you might expect. He sees hookers, picks up and bangs chicks from bars, watches lots of porn, jerks off, and uses webcam services. Every. Single. Day. He’s not a happy guy, but he’s making it work. His ability to do so is challenged dramatically when his equally, though differently, damaged sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) invites herself to crash out at his apartment for an indefinite period of time. Chaos ensues.

This sounds simpler, and more narrative, than it is. The narrative is the speed with which Brandon’s carefully constructed and maintained reality collapses in the face of a human who cares about him, but is as dysfunctional and broken as he is. The most we ever learn about Brandon and Sissy’s past is one line Sissy leaves on his voice mail – “We’re not bad people, we just come from a bad place” – but there are enough eyebrow-raising moments to leave a trail of bread crumbs. Sissy has a disturbing lack of physical boundaries, and Brandon is only bothered by this when she violates his. Brandon is burning with a barely contained violent rage that erupts with little warning. Sissy is the walking wounded; Brandon is practically mummified. In my view, the implication of severe childhood sexual abuse is clear. Others may have a different diagnosis.

Shame is rated NC-17. This is interesting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that Fox Searchlight apparently accepted McQueen’s final cut without any whining or requests to redit for an R. I have a suspicion about that, though, which is that it wouldn’t have been possible. You could cut out Fassbender’s cock, though why you would do such a thing is totally beyond my comprehension; you could cut out Mulligan’s pubic hair; you could edit the sex scenes themselves differently, using the same tricks a thousand editors before you have used to get R’s. But you can’t, you absolutely can’t – for example – take out the scene where Brandon reaches up a girl’s skirt in a crowded bar, tells her all the things he wants to do to her, and repeats and heavily embellishes them to her boyfriend moments later. We need the detail to see the lengths Brandon is willing to go to be punished for what he wants. (Unsurprisingly, the chick’s boyfriend kicks the shit out of him moments later.) And I’m sure it’s that scene, as much as the cock/pubis/sexsexsex, that’s responsible for the rating.

There’s nothing sexy about Shame, and I think there’s a direct link between that and its rating. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that when media is given freedom to talk frankly about sex, titillation is reduced dramatically. It’s the mechanics involved in repressing and obscuring that create eroticism (think about Hayes-Code-era cinema). When we are free to look at things as they are, the only thing making them sexy or not is our own perception of what is and isn’t sexy. Shame is not euphemistic. There is very little clever editing, and when there is its purpose is not to sex up what’s on-screen. It’s not that the sex we see is cold or emotionless – Brandon is consistently represented as someone with consideration for his sex partners (guys who want to have lots of one-night stands should take notes, because this is how you make it work, my bros) – it’s that it’s not pretending to be anything else. This frankness permeates every level of the film, and I’m convinced that it, rather than the cock shots, was the instrumental turn towards NC-17. God forbid we be frank about sex around the kids.

A Dangerous Method, by contrast, is a fluffy costume drama hiding a gritty, sordid tale that, at the end of the day, comes much closer to being a fluffy costume drama. It is interested in two stories, that of the relationship between Freud and Jung and that of the relationship between Jung and Spielrein (and Freud, sort of), but it’s a 99 minute movie. It really only has time for one story. So we follow Jung and Spielrein, and get periodic updates on the state of Jung’s relationship with Freud that wind up feeling like telegrams from the script department. “Freud and Jung are arguing again! We just can’t get those two to talk to each other. That Jung, he’s too interested in this mysticism mumbo-jumbo.” I don’t know if the film expects its viewer to be basically conversant in Jungian analysis or what, because the only nod we get towards Jung’s less Freudian theories (other than these telegrams) is an incomprehensible scene where he tries to convince Freud that he’s developed a form of physically-rooted ESP. We basically get shown one story and told another, which doesn’t really work. It does, however, make Mortensen’s Freud totally hilarious. He wanders in, pontificates, talks about cocks, wanders out. Priceless.

There’s a lot of discussion of psychoanalytic theory, which is cool, but it consistently feels like the film is pushing for a depth it can’t attain when the reality is that it’s mostly interested in Knightley, Fassbender, and the moments where he beats her ass with a belt. I mean, it’s interested in psychoanalytic theory too, but mostly for its ability to bring together Knightley, Fassbender, and the belt. And that’s fine! I just wish it had made up its mind and told a better and more consistent story. In trying to tell two and bandying about a third (the psychoanalytic theory stuff) it throws its pacing totally off, so that when it ends we’re kind of like “Wait, what the hell?!”

All that said, Dangerous Method is incredibly entertaining. Knightley’s performance is histrionic, but so is her character. When she physically convulses while talking about her earliest experiences of masochism, her jaw practically unhinging like a boa constrictor of pathos, you see a woman so consumed by self-hatred and disgust that she literally can’t function; it has taken over her being. I think it’s pretty spectacular. Fassbender is excellent but hampered by the odd pacing; he has a gorgeous moment of breaking down in Knightley’s lap that has no antecedent and winds up making little sense. The two have an absolutely electric chemistry, which is a term I have trouble identifying even to myself until I see it on-screen. (Last time I saw it was between Ewan MacGregor and Jim Carrey in I Love You, Phillip Morris.)

I appreciate how this film, like Shame, isn’t concerned about perfect details. Jung and Spielrein bone while still in their clothes, and afterwards, Knightley’s totally falling out of her corset top. But, you know, of course she is, and of course she doesn’t fix it. I liked that. I also like that we finally get to see a woman come on camera. Which brings me to the biggest thing I liked about Dangerous Method, and the thing about it that frustrated me most: Spielrein herself. She is sexually confident, brilliant, high-achieving, and intensely honest. Total badass, basically. And it’s disturbing that the most sexually confident, outspoken, aggressive woman I’ve seen on film in ages is recovering from severe sexuality-based mental illness, not to mention living in the 1910s. I want to get more women like this, and I don’t want them to be historical relics.

These are cool movies and you should see them.

Advertisements

About Sara

I like to talk about media, food, and gender.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Michael Fassbender rocks out with his cock out.

  1. Darth Thulhu says:

    Shame introduces us to Brandon (Fass/cock)”

    I laughed.

    Good reviews. Not likely to see them in the theatre, but I enjoyed your analysis.

  2. kelsey says:

    WHERE CAN I SEE THESE.
    my friend here in london calls him “michael fassbendmeover” 🙂

    also very well-written and fun to read reviews ! x

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s