Watching Shame — Steve McQueen’s elliptical sophomore effort about sex-addict Michael Fassbender fassbending every last woman in New York City — in an audience comprised almost entirely of AARP members was an experience I was not expecting. Seriously, the median age in my theater was hovering somewhere around 68, which made the whole thing a bit like watching the heavily sexual NC-17 film not just with my parents, but with an entire roomful of parents. It was a bit awkward at first, until the awesome old Jewish man to my left replaced embarrassment with hilarity by leaning over to his wife after yet another of the protagonist’s many conquests and whispering in an amused voice, “He’s shtupping everybody!” That phrase has now joined “I’m going to church, yo!” (yelled by a man running full-speed out of Paranormal Activity) as one of my favorite things I’ve ever overheard in a cinema.
Usually my typical reaction to explicit sex scenes in a public setting is to furrow my brow, stroke my chin, and essentially try to look like I couldn’t possibly be thinking about anything other than the metaphorical implications of the director’s staging or his choice of lighting. But Shame actually manages to make that reaction true, because there are few things less sexy than Fassbender’s continuous dead-eyed, mechanical shtupping. He’s like his X-Men: First Class character Magneto, except replace metal with sex partners.
I’d imagine that those going to Shame solely with the purpose of catching a glimpse of a nude Fassbender in an NC-17 flick will be a bit surprised to realize that there’s a whole lot more crippling emotional suffering to be had than titillation. But still, if this coming holiday, your mother innocently suggests that you and the family all go see “that new movie with the X-Man,” you should probably try to steer her toward something a little more upbeat and a little less sexual and soul-deadening. Like, say, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Oh wait…