Variety reported last night that the Michael Fassbender drama “Shame” was given an NC-17 rating by the MPAA. It’s not a surprise given the prurient track record of the organization, nor the graphic subject matter of Steve McQueen’s powerhouse drama about a man whose sexual proclivities and insecurities send him into a downward spiral.
What will be surprising is how distributor Fox Searchlight — a division of 20th Century Fox, which is a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s recently beleaguered News Corp media empire — will handle a hot potato such as “Shame,” which shows Fassbender’s character venture into illicit underground sex clubs and experience one extremely disturbing orgasm. (I would have loved to have seen faces of the MPAA screening committee while watching the movie.)
in 2003, Fox Searchlight released Bernardo Bertolucci’s NC-17 rated “The Dreamers” without much controversy, and managed to make a tidy $15 million box-office gross. But the explicit sex in “The Dreamers” was sweet and seductive compared to the aggressive and dysfunctional display of fucking in “Shame.” Frankly, I can’t think of a specialized studio release as confrontational and powerful as “Shame.”
I’m not sure whether Searchlight’s acquisition of the film shows a loosening of the morality police mentality at major corporations–remember what befell Todd Solondz’s “Happiness” in 1998–or the fact that movie companies are doing everything they can to set themselves apart from home-viewing experiences. Whatever the reason, Searchlight has an unflinching, supremely crafted movie on their hands.
Searchlight president Steve Gilula told The Hollywood Reporter, “I think NC-17 is a badge of honor, not a scarlet letter. We believe it is time for the rating to become usable in a serious manner,” he said. “The sheer talent of the actors and the vision of the filmmaker are extraordinary. It’s not a film that everyone will take easily, but it certainly breaks through the clutter and is distinctive and original. It’s a game changer.”