The Shame of the Game

Last night I finally got around to seeing Steve McQueen’s devastating masterpiece ‘Shame’, and Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan gave two hypnotic and gut-wrenching performances. It was easily the best movie I’ve seen in a very long time, and it will haunt me for a while. Though my straight-date Skip ended up not going, I was lucky enough to be joined by my friend Vinny, so I didn’t have to go it alone. At the end, it turned out our friend Albert was in the theater as well.

That said, once it began, I sat mesmerized by the film, lulled in by its eerie quietness, and raw, often-literally, naked tone. It wasn’t always easy to watch, but you absolutely cannot stop. This is a harrowing view of modern-life, a seering, stark, unflinching glimpse at the way we live today.

Many of us – well, some of us – have been through what I affectionately term a “slutty” period. It happens for different reasons – some chalk it up to youth, others to pain, some to abandonment, others to abuse – for me it was a little of everything, coming at a time when I lost the first man I truly loved.

Going into the movie, and knowing a brief synopsis of its sex-addict plot, I feared a triggering of unhappy memories. No matter how far-removed we may be from our past, it’s really just right behind us, still in our heads, still in our hearts, waiting for the right moment to re-appear and daunt us again in its power to remind and resonate.


Yet ‘Shame’ is not at all a treatise on sex. None of the romps depicted here are the least bit erotic or enjoyable. None of the nudity is arousing. If you’re only going to ogle Mr. Fassbender’s admittedly impressive appendage, you’ll be sorely tricked into feeling things not in your nether regions, but in the deep recesses of any hurt or pain that you’ve ever experienced. ‘Shame’ brings up the emptiness of our dimmest souls, the ones who have been so damaged they’ve seemingly gone beyond the point of redemption.

That the protagonists of this film seem doomed to never forget their atrocious pasts is little consolation, yet the glimmer of hope may be in that very fact. The only path through this life is a painful one. We are foolish to think there is any other way. Faith, in its dwindling, limited supply, gives us little to go on, and love but a bond only waiting to unravel, to entrap.

The only way out is to stop feeling. The only way to survive is to calm the quivering heart, quell the firing synapses of the brain. When you can’t count on your own family, when you can’t count on love, what are we left? Or to paraphrase one hopeful character, Why are we here if we don’t mean anything to each other?

Yet even in the sad, awful, disturbing way we sexually conquer one another, in the sadistic, heartless, cruel manner in which we abuse ourselves, there is the slightest sliver of grace. It might come in the form of sadness and angst, sorrow and the absence of laughter, regret and loneliness, but it still comes.

It is a quiet grace, a stilled grace, a grace that weeps at the moment of ejaculation, a grace that cries silently into the rain. It haunts the heart and pierces the mind. It hurts like hell and then recedes into nothingness. It is the grace of being human, and being in this world. It is, I think, the saddest grace, and for that I will always be a little sorry. And thankful.

We’re not bad people. We just come from a bad place.”

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