Don't Go There
You'll probably know about studies that reveal how man thinks about sex every few seconds or so, and while there's probably some statistical truth in this, Steven McQueen deep dives into the world of a man's sexual obsession, a story about how such unhealthy fixation takes its toil into the daily functions of living, and ultimately stripping one of emotions and the ability to connect, with the unhealthy view of seeing the opposite sex as nothing but just another digit on the conquest list.
Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, a man who lives and breathes desire and sex, spending most of his hours with pornography in every conceivable form, and doing the deed with just about anything that moves, from strangers, acquaintances, colleagues, and those paid for. If all else fails, there's always self-gratification. And his introduction is nothing more than being pared down to his birthday suit, with a striking sequence of repetition to hammer that Brandon's life is nothing more than a repetition of an obsessive habit, in a sparsely decorated apartment, minimal and stark, to personify his lack of connection, feeling, and emotsex, animalistic and
With Fassbender carrying the film single-handedly most of the time, one does not doubt his perfect portrayal and performance of obsession in the flesh, that we're drawn into his world, and given allowance to feel for his lack of feeling, of a man trapped and finding it near impossible to get out of a self-created rut. His Brandon is a successful, and lucky at times, corporate executive on the outside, with a dark and hidden soul that he shuts off to anyone from the outside, even his sister Sissy, played by Carey Mulligan.
Fassbender portrays shame to the core, earning plenty of acting accolades from around the world through his powerhouse performance of gross addiction. And you can feel his struggle even without first hand experience, of someone ashamed to let closed ones into his life, and living one without getting emotionally attached to anything, since intimacy gets stripped to become something more primal, and raw. He moves through the story with plenty of opportunities to get together with the opposite sex, either physically, or attempts at emotional engagement, and you'd just feel pity for the chap when he's unable to break out of his habits. We may frown at his need to continue to find pleasure within his comfort zone, which is just about threatening to expose him professionally, where personally within the privacy of his home, we see just how far his addiction goes.
While there are those who can watch Fassbender gaze at a wall all day long, the rest of us would need a little more variety in the narrative, although writers McQueen and Abi Morgan don't make it easy with yet another troubled soul who enters the scene. Carey Mulligan's Sissy has her own personal demons to battle when it boils down to life and relationships, and gatecrashes into her brother's house, hooks up with his married boss, and is just about the train wreck she has a reputation for. In a way she mirrors the emotional troubles experienced by her brother, and between them their relationship is estranged and compromised, though the story is kind enough to throw in that little light at the end of the tunnel for these two siblings. Mulligan's soulful and depressing rendition of the song New York, New York, is her highlight, and is something not to be missed.
McQueen has both actors to thank for painting this portrait of the damaging ways obsession can bring. Harry Escott's music is hypnotically engaging, while I find Brandon's minimalist, stark white and bright apartment something that mirrors the owner's state of min and emotions, being plain, simple, and none too fussy with the need of having to share anything with anyone else, where relationships are transactional at best. The littlest of glimpses in his humanity that came through, ultimately made the story quite a winner.
It's a welcome surprise to have been able to watch this on the big screen uncut, and what more on 35mm, since the local censors had initially found issue with a prolonged threesome scene that required a snip to pass at R21, which the filmmakers obviously refused. But the Singapore Film Society managed to push through an appeal to have this screened uncut, and you can do so again on Sunday at The Arts House Screening Room. You can get more details about the second screening here.