My wife Rachelle wanted to see the movie Shame on Sunday.
“This looks good, we should see it,” she said on Saturday night as we watched a trailer for the movie on her laptop.
In this promo Fassbender sits on a subway with a crisp scarf knotted perfectly around his neck. He simmers, casting his penetrating sex eyes upon a pretty, married woman who beneath his steady, tactile gaze, is flattered, nervous, vulnerable and curious. It’s a piece of hypnosis, really, and it had entirely mesmerized my wife.
Trying to break the spell, I said, ” Fassbender looks good in a scarf, eh? You ever have somebody look at you like that on the subway?”
Rachelle did not respond, but replayed the trailer, watching it with as much concentration and intensity as I have ever seen in her. It was almost like she was solving a math problem, except that there was what looked like a little bit of spittle forming on the bottom left corner of her lip.
Me: “Did you hear what I said?”
Me: “You know, a woman tried to pick me up on the subway two years ago. I was wearing my cool shoes, you know the ones? The Steve Madden ones? She had a rather pronounced facial tic, though, and a bit of a stutter, so maybe it wasn’t a huge compliment..”
I gave Rachelle a push to the shoulder.
“Tomorrow,” she said, “tomorrow we go see this movie.”
I reminded her that we’d seen the director’s ( Steve McQueen III) first movie Hunger, and that she didn’t like it.
“Remember, it was about emaciated guys smearing fecal matter on the wall of a prison cell? Fassbender was one of those guys, you know? You thought he was gross.”
“It just shows what a brilliant actor he is.”
“Well, just keep in mind that you were disgusted and bored by what a brilliant actor he was. Why can’t we go see The Descendents instead? George Clooney! He’s winning!”
“You mean old,” Rachelle said coldly, looking at my grey hair.
And so the next day we went to a theatre in downtown Toronto to see the movie. As we took the elevator from the parking lot up to the cinema, I noticed that it was full of middle-aged women and a couple of gay men. I turned to everybody, “Are we all heading up to see Shame?”
The assembled group all mumbled and nodded their assent. A woman in a bright blue jacket suddenly blurt out, ” I so wanted him in Jane Eyre. I mean, I really wanted him!”
“Even when he was blind and had that hobo beard?” I asked her.
“Oh, sweet Jesus, even more, even more,” she said, closing her eyes and biting her lip.
The movie, like the elevator, was full of women and gay men. It didn’t take long for McQueen and Fassbender to make their point as the repetitive demystification of what Fassbender’s schlong looked like began in earnest. It looked pretty long to me. Maybe a little unnaturally so. I turned to Rachelle and asked, “Do you think he might have stimulated it a little bit before these scenes? I mean, it looks like it’s in a bit of an in between zone to me.”
Rachelle said nothing, but the older man sitting to my right responded, “It’s common practice,” he whispered, “they hire people to do it. They’re called Fluffers I tell you, I would be Michael Fassbender’s Fluffer for free.”
“What do they Fluff with?” I asked.
“A gloved hand.”
“Well, why wouldn’t Fassbender Fluff himself?”
“Oh child,” he said, “you’re so naive, it’s Hollywood!”
“Quiet!” Somebody shouted.
I noticed at this point that Rachelle had moved two rows away. I waved over at her but she was unresponsive. And so, for the rest of the movie this man and I kept a whispered dialogue running as we watched the movie.
It’s possible that Shame was the quietest movie I have ever seen in my life. Devoid of any emotional core it was little more than a carefully arranged series of set pieces, installations, really, animated by actors. As the sexual compulsions— ever-multiplying— paraded by, people started to walk out of the theatre.
I leaned over to the man sitting next to me.
“So, the idea is that McQueen, in depicting porn, is trying to make something as boring as porn, right?”
“Yes, but much better looking.”
I was quiet for a bit. I waved over at Rachelle but noticed that she’d actually nodded off and was asleep.
The man leaned over to me, “Your girlfriend has decided to sit somewhere else?”
“It annoys her when I talk during movies. Just drives her crazy, so often she’ll just find another spot to sit.”
The man nodded. About ten minutes passed and then he leaned over again, “The movie’s very formally, artfully constructed, but it’s lifeless, you know what I mean?”
I nodded, “I surely do!”
He continued, ” They’re making a boring movie in order to show us that addiction is boring and that addicts are by definition boring people. We pay to see how unpleasant and dull they are on the inside.”
“No,” I corrected, ” we pay to see how beautiful they are on the outside.”
The man laughed and shook his head in agreement, and then he looked over at me, thinking.
“Do you ever feel dead inside?” he asked.
There was a pause during which he shifted his body toward me. He put his hand on my knee.
“That’s my wife,” I said, pointing over to the sleeping Rachelle two rows forward.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “I’ve over-stepped my bounds,” and then he quickly got up and left the theatre— this moment, easily the saddest, most emotionally affecting of my afternoon cinema experience.