Every once in a while a film comes along that just begs the question “WHY?” This is such a film. It is a miserable, downbeat, overlong and at times gross approximation of a sex addict living in New York made it which runs agonizing long.
The protagonist, a high functioning scumbag who uses women shamelessly and tosses his ill sister out on the street, is my idea of a someone I’d cross the street to avoid, not spend two hours watching, for money. He is intensely unsympathetic and if that was the intent, so be it. If it is meant to put people off sex, they’ve done it and the terrorists win.
Steve McQueen made Hunger, a stunning film about IRA members incarcerated in a Dublin prison, and it was transcendent, a sensational debut that promised great things. Instead we get this deflating story about a tawdry, depressing character and two hours of disappointment.
It’s in your face in the most aggressive manner, causing audience members at a screening I attended to turn away at the constant parade of close-up privates before them. If you want to see every inch of Michael Fassbender on an endless reel, here you go. In fact you’ll be able to see every inch of a lot of people.
And then there is Carey Mulligan, who plays the sister, a singer with severe emotional problems who lands on her brother’s doorstep when her world collapses, which is all the time, btw. Full frontal only, unlike our hero. She is uncomfortably close to him and needy and he rejects her, as he does most women. Interestingly, the only woman he seems to care for among his dozens caused him some deflation.
There is more flesh here than in XXX films. If the score was cheesy seventies music, this would be porn. The actual score is classical which makes it, of course, art. It might as well be porn for all the connection we make with the characters.
They are at an arm’s length and just close enough that we see all their warts and wounds, not how they got there or if they were overcome, just warts and wounds. We see them having sex and getting ready to have sex, but we don’t see them connect.
This film is clearly meant to provoke but was it meant to gross out? What has a filmmaker gained when people look away for the screen? What has he gained when people come out of the theatre angry and annoyed? What did they see? A man in pain, swallowed up by his appetites and is anguished afterwards, and yet can’t stop doing what he’s doing and doing it ever more intensely?
Visually, it’s a cold film, with a bluish pallor, lots of darkness and stark white and lots of rain. These are cold people, who live cold lives and for whom sex just makes the feel worse about it all.
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Written by Abi Morgan and Steve McQueen
Directed by Steve McQueen