Normally an NC-17 rating is the death knell for movies these days. However, director Steve McQueen, with the help of Fox Searchlight, has perhaps positioned himself as a person running towards the rating rather than away from it. This film is an industry challenger, and for that reason alone it is special.
The story revolves around a New Yorker named Brandon (Micheal Fassbender) who is by all accounts addicted to sex. His life is full of uncomfortable encounters with potential sexual partners on subways, high class restaurants, and grimy bars. The character of Brandon is very simple in nature: his animalistic need for sexual release is what drives him. Whether its his masturbatory habits at work or his appetite for prostitutes, Brandon approaches these as common place. This is exemplified in the early portions of the film with a running montage of him sleeping with women and going about his morning routine. No matter how foreign sexual addiction is to the viewing audience, to Brandon its just old hat.
Reminiscent of the character Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. Brandon has little to no connection with the rest of the world. He is a floater. Indulgence is what he lives for and in this case, it controls him. Life for Brandon gets turned upside down when his sister moves in with him she makes his routine impossible and plays as a mirror to his unhealthy lifestyle. Sissy (Carey Mulligan) is everything that Brandon is without the cool demeanor on top. Their relationship is constantly teetering on a incestuous cliff, and McQueen never lets you forget it. Brandon and Sissy suffer from a lack of normal sibling boundaries, making for some fairly uncomfortable scenes that force the audience to challenge their own notions of sexual appropriateness. What is not said, but can be clearly inferred, is the past emotional damage has caused Brandon to be who he is also has plagued Sissy. Brandon wants desperately to be a better man, but does he have the ability? This is shown in expert detail when Brandon decides to try and date a woman from his office. He doesn’t know what to do when challenged to be a regular guy.
This is not a film easily digestible by the masses. Director Steve McQueen is challenging you the entire time. He wants you off balance, uncomfortable, and full of pity for his characters. Moments in the film when Sissy crosses normal societal boundaries with her brother are some of the best performed. Carey Mulligan’s ability to portray a character so sad and enraging is amazing to watch. She really carries the weight of this role as opposed to her much lighter role in Drive earlier this year. Fassbender is perfect here. Watching him go from a smooth lady killer with serious emotional issues just under the surface to someone who can’t hide it anymore is nothing short of incredible. The control of the character’s sexual madness with glaring long stares and propositions to strange women in bars was really where Fassbener shined. I look forward to seeing what he does next. Quite impressive.
If you are thinking about going to see a “rom-com” or “shoot em up” action flick this isn’t for you. If you think that its some sort of excuse to see a bunch of people naked, this isn’t for you either. This is a film, not a movie. I make that distinction because some people use the term interchangeably. I don’t. Films, challenge your preconceived notions. Movies preach to the choir.
There are no choirs here.