Ever since it premiered in Venice, winning the critics prize and a best actor award for star Michael Fassbender, Steve McQueen’s new film “Shame” has been a must-see for critics and audiences here in Toronto. And based on McQueen’s powerful debut “Hunger” and the news coming out of Venice that this would be another uncompromising drama, I think many of us at the Sunday night premiere were well prepared. But then again, maybe not.
During the film’s climactic scene, a harrowing sequence shown without any diagetic sound, only the film’s score and some haunting images of helplessness and pain, I heard a man in front of me repeatedly calling the name of his female companion. Her eyes flittered, she kept going in an out of consciousness, strangely, just as Fassbender’s character was undergoing his own breakdown. I found my gaze swinging back and forth from the drama on the screen to the real-life drama unfolding in the seats in front of me. The woman was eventually taken out of the theater and laid down on the floor in the lobby, where she eventually regained her strength.
I feel sorry for the woman who was overwhelmed by the film, but that’s what I call an effective and affecting movie. McQueen has created a disturbing portrait of one man’s inability to have any sort of meaningful contact with another human body. And yet, his film has actually created a physical response in at least one viewer.
I can’t imagine Fox Searchlight, the company that announced its acquisition of the film over the weekend, were aware that the film could make viewers pass out. Let’s hope it doesn’t stop them from mounting a vigorous release of this stunning film.