Director: Steve McQueen
Writers: Abu Morgan and Steve McQueen
Stars: Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan
Never has sex been depicted with such lack of emotion. Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) is a sex addict. And like other addicts he succumbs to his vice not out of pleasure but out of desperation. The film begins with the depiction of his daily routine: wake up, check messages, pee, go to work, find a nameless companion for the night, have sex, and repeat. But in this daily routine we are introduced to the voice of Sissy (Carey Mulligan) on the answering machine. Is she the voice of a past girlfriend, a spurned one-night stand hoping for more? We don’t initially know. Brandon’s work routine also becomes disrupted; his computer has become infected with a virus picked-up from a porn internet site he frequents while at the office. And when he can’t find the pleasure of a person he pleasures himself to on-line sex chats at home.
But then chaos enters Brandon’s life when Sissy arrives, and we still don’t know who she is. Their relationship is not easy to understand, it follows no norms that we can identify. They are intimate & familiar with each other, and also cruel. Eventually you realize Sissy is Brandon’s sister, and just as damaged as he is. Never is this more apparent than her rendition of “New York, New York” at the lounge where she performs, and where Brandon has taken his boss. Carey Mulligan gives perhaps the slowest and most emotionally painful version of this song I have ever heard. The camera almost stays on her throughout; only cutting away to a crumbling Brandon. And the reward for Sissy’s raw emotion? Casual sex with Brandon’s boss. Their relationship–already tenuous as is–cracks, and both their lives spiral out of control.
The film is shot in shades of blue & grey, with a lot of scenes at night and in the rain. Steve McQueen, the director, fully realized Brandon’s world and the people who populate it. He is also not afraid of showing us the raw and desperate side of addiction, and how low someone will go to feed it. But like the characters in the story, the film feels empty. I believe what the characters are going through, but I do not identify with them. In the end, do they learn anything or grow? No.
As for the acting, it is the film’s strength. Fassbender and Mulligan do have a dangerous chemistry together. From the first time they are in the same scene you feel the spark between them, and at the same time know it is wrong. Fassbender excels as the man barely holding it together and eventually laid low. Mulligan, though good, is not quite up to his league.
Overall the movie deserves the praise it has gotten for acting, but not for its story. I left feeling ambivalent. It neither moved or angered me. It was just there.
Grade = B-