Director: Steve McQueen

This film is a beautiful and explicit depiction of a taboo subject in the same league as Requiem for a Dream. But of all films it most reminded me of American Psycho, except the damage is far more hidden and self-inflicted. Michael Fassbender is brilliant as Brandon, who appears to be a regular (if distant) New York yuppie, masking a fierce sex addiction and a complete refusal to emotionally connect with women. He would have some kind of miserable harmony in his life if it wasn’t for his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan), who turns up in his apartment with nowhere else to go, demanding his love and care.

The acting is magnificent. Fassbender’s expressions perfectly give the sense of a man who feels trapped in a life he knows is wrong. Mulligan’s fragile performance is the perfect foil, providing the personality to fill the spaces left by Brandon’s blankness. Between them they seem to carry the film, but simmering along with them is a quietly terrific plot, with a truly compelling finale.

More than anything else, the film lingers. The camera lingers with Brandon’s eyes on women in the train, Mulligan’s voice lingers on the notes of “New York, New York,” and ultimately it leaves a lingering power. This often makes the film difficult to watch (I squirmed in my seat during a very awkward date scene), but it also gives it the honesty the characters need. References to child abuse and the treatment of sex in contemporary society are drawn out of the characters’ interactions in an unforced manner, which makes for a compelling reflection on how people come to suffer emotional problems, and how they affect their ability to live normal social lives. I’d be surprised if a more emotionally powerful film is released this year.

– Alec Dawson
This article first appeared in Issue 3, 2012.
Posted 6:37pm Sunday 11th March 2012 by Alec Dawson.