Home is where the Library Lives (College Edition)

[Content note: I have put Cat Pictures at the end of this post in a shameless attempt to get people to read the whole thing. Then again, you could just scroll to the bottom. My super-evil plans would then be FOILED]

I’ve always thought of myself as someone who doesn’t buy a lot of books.

Oh, sure, I read a lot. But I don’t buy that much. Most of what I read comes from libraries. I do feel quite guilty about that (although NK Jemisin argues I shouldn’t) – I know authors need book sales, and it’s important to me to contribute to the book publishing industry.

At the same time, I read a lot of books. Like, over 150 books a year. And if I bought over 150 books a year? Yeah, I wouldn’t…eat. I’m a college student; I don’t have that kind of disposable income. And I like eating. It keeps me alive.

So yes. In the interest of eating, I don’t buy that many books.

You can thus imagine my shock when I was packing to go home for the summer, and realized that there were books on every single wall of my college-home room.

Apparently I do buy a lot of books.

I blame the major. You can’t be a literature major without buying a lot of books. Five books per class minimum, multiply that by four to five classes a semester… mucho books. And I do resell a lot of mine, because I’m callous and I need the money, but I keep ones that I think will be useful.

Just so you know? I think all the books will be useful at some point.

In retrospect, I’m not sure why I was so surprised. I’ve always accumulated books one way or another, mostly because I’m terrified that I’m going to run out of things to read. When I visited my family in France as a kid, I developed a super-secret (and effective) method of lining my suitcases with books (as I recall, I mostly took Tamora Pierce novels. You can’t travel without Keladry of Mindelan. You just can’t). I usually take three to four books with me on plane trips, even if the trip itself only lasts three hours. I never go anywhere without a book or two in my backpack. I start freaking out whenever my to-read pile dips lower than four books. And when it was time to move to college, I insisted on sending two huge boxes of books across the US border so I could fill the bookshelves of my dorm library.

Small, portable, giant, unwieldy, literate, speculative, diverse or juvenile, I’ve always had some kind of library with me. If only because my greatest terror in life is running out of reading material.

Then again, at this point in my college home (not a dorm anymore, thank the Lords of Kobol), I’m starting to worry that we could just take out the walls of my room and replace them with my books.

Let’s examine the evidence, shall we?

Exhibit A: the printer

Printer Books

I used to have a printer. Now access to it is completely blocked off by these two piles of books. Can you see my printer? No.

My point exactly. Trust me, it’s there.

At a glance, I’m pretty sure they’re all books from last semester. A book of Chinese history, two collections by H.D., a film textbook and Ovid’s Metamorphoses… yep, definitely the fall semester. I’ll give a quick shoutout to the one book that wasn’t from the fall semester for my Hardy-obsessed friend, JYP – Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, hanging around the far left with price-tag still attached. This section isn’t even that bad – it used to be triple the size, but I had to bring all my research books back to the school library. Which is good, because now I can open my closet without tripping over Donna Haraway’s Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature.

Speaking of my closet…

Exhibit B: The Closet

Book closet

I deny everything

WHY ARE THERE BOOKS IN MY CLOSET?

And why is my window-spray container leaning on top of them?

Yeah, that I have no good answer for.

Returning to the original question: WHY ARE THERE BOOKS IN MY CLOSET?

Oh, wait, I know why. There isn’t room anywhere else. Especially not for my giant textbooks.

Yes, I’ve become the kind of person who hides books in her closet. I’m not proud. I’m even less proud of the fact that there might be an entire suitcase filled with old books hidden in the back of this closet. Might. Might. I didn’t check. I had… other things to do.

Like feel shame.

The bad news is that I’ll probably have to put even books in my closet, since I’m running out of other places to put them. That’s going to be a problem because, you know, my closet actually serves a purpose: keeping my clothes off the floor. I feel like “book stashing” and “clothes stashing” are eventually going to clash. There’s only enough real estate for so much.

Now this! This is a good use of real-estate.

Exhibit C: The Wall

19th century science fiction

This is the wall space between my bed and my closet. Correction: this used to be the wall space between my bed and my closet. Now it’s a miniature library. Hurrah!

I’m actually mildly impressed with how organized my books are (famous last words). I know exactly what’s in this book-section: 18th century British novels, post-war British novels and (American) civil war textbooks. The pile on the far right is made up of my giant cookbooks (it’s not a super-practical arrangement, because I keep needing to use said cookbooks and thus disturbing the entire stack). It also contains two European women’s history textbooks and a History of the Book Reader (which is a great textbook, by the way. Highly recommended. Very interesting). When you think about it, there’s some sort of meta-ironic-commentary being made by the fact that I shelved the women’s history textbooks and the cookbooks in the same place (because obviously all that women did during the medieval era was cook! Am I right, ladies? /sarcasm/).

That was totally planned, by the way. It wasn’t just that the women’s history books and the cookbooks were vaguely the same size. *cough*

On top of the deeply ironic women’s history/cookbook section, I’ve got my small but awesome collection of 19th century British Science Fiction, from one of my favorite literature courses. It’s telling that I haven’t resold any of the books from that class, despite the fact that I had to buy them all new (and with Canadian prices, even the paperbacks cost $15-$20). Well – that’s a lie. I managed to get a great used copy of M.P. Shiel’s The Purple Cloud. It’s from the 1950s; it’s got a buxom lady on the cover and a cigarette advertisement inside. I love it.

Now – here’s what’s interesting about the last three photos. All the books I’ve shown – excluding the cookbooks – were bought for class. Which, er, says something about the classes I’m taking, huh?

Oh, but you say. That’s not that many books (for school)! Only about fifty or so. And you’ve been in school three years now…

Fair point! Then let me show you…

Exhibit D: This Semester’s Books

Class Books Winter Semester

And that’s one semester’s worth of books

These are (almost) all the books I bought for this semester of college. ONE semester. My rough calculations say that I bought 28 books and checked out an additional five from the library (they were on the syllabus, but I was too cheap to buy them. Can you blame me?).

And yes, this is a pretty precarious bookshelf. In it’s defense, it’s not actually tilted – I was taking these photos with my computer’s photobooth (I don’t own a camera), and I couldn’t shoot an untilted photo without hanging upside down from teh ceiling. But I keep fearing that the poor shelf is going to collapse and send all of my school books crashing onto my desk. Which is why I never keep my computer at my desk.

Paranoia saves lives, people! (okay, it saves computer lives. Still)

A few times the books on the right have come unbalanced… and then they slide right into the trash can (I’m not even joking). It’s pretty hilarious. And sad.

Also, note the photo of Shakespeare right under the bookshelf. Hey, I’m a literature student. I have to have a photo of Shakespeare somewhere.

So yes. This is what one semester’s worth of class books looks like in my world (and yes, I did read all of them). My conclusion? Maybe I’m not a book-buying addict. Maybe my classes are trying to turn me into a book-buying addict.

And they say school is good for you.

The worst part is: what the hell am I going to do with these giant piles of books when I need this space for next semester’s books? There’s no more room in my room! GAAAH.

And I can’t sell all of them… they might come in handy at some point.

Maybe I should invest in another bookcase.

No! That’s just the crazy talking. Think of how many books I could buy with the money I would spend on a bookcase (even one of those cheap $30 IKEA bookcases). LOTS of books.

And I do, in fact, sometimes buy books that aren’t related to school. Case in point:

Exhibit E: The To-Read Pile (with an appearance by Mr. Calvin and Mr. Hobbes)

To-read pile

This is my to-read bookshelf (located right above my bed). Usually it’s a lot fuller, but since I was on the point of leaving my college home when I took these pictures, I returned all my library to-read books. Because stealing library books = not okay.

Anyways. The central pile? Those are the “Thank Maud I finished another semester of college without jumping off a building, now let’s go buy some science fiction and fantasy and pretend we never heard of “literature,” shall we?” books. All those books I’ve been eyeing for months, but couldn’t read because I had to finish Toni Morrison’s Jazz and Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park? Yeah, I… went a little crazy and bought most of them.

THERE WAS A SALE! It’s not my fault. Also, I’d just finished my last final, and I was in a really bizarre state. Nothing I did in those hours can be held against me.

Okay, I have no defense. I’m a horrible person. But look! Martha Wells’ The Cloud Roads! Seanan McGuire’s Discount Armageddon! More Seanan McGuire (A Local Habitation)! N.K. Jemisin’s The Killing Moon! Sooo many good booookssssssssssss…..

I admit it. I’m a horrible, no-good, bad book-buyer. I’m an addict. Something must be done.

I actually read all of the books in the central pile between the time the photo was taken and the time I wrote this blog post (about two weeks). Well, almost all of them. I still haven’t gotten around to A Clash of Kings. My friends keep assuring me it’s great; I enjoyed the first book in the ASoFAI series. Besides, I have to read it so that I can get to the rest of the series and vote appropriately for A Dance with Dragons in the Hugos. But for some reason, I really don’t want to read it. I blame the yellow cover.

This shelf also contains my knitting books and my collection of Calvin and Hobbes comics. And my Firefly DVDs. And a bouquet of dried flowers my Marat/Sade cast gave me for being a decent Assistant Stage Manager (because they are awesome). There’s clearly a link between all of these things. Who says my library isn’t organized? *cough*

There’s also another picture of Shakespeare somewhere, if you can spot it. Literature student!

(oh, and yes, I did blur one of the photos under the bookshelf. PARANOIA SAVES LIVES, people. Especially on the internet).

Ahem. Moving on.

(yes, there’s more. Told you I had a problem).

Finally! FINALLY, after showing you all of my “secondary” libraries and book-storage areas, I will get to the central culprit. The true locus of readership and literature.

My actual bookshelf.

Exhibit F: THE ACTUAL BOOKSHELF

Bookshelf bottom

I love my actual bookshelf. It’s wonderful. It also contains no class books whatsoever – all the books here are ones I shipped from my regular home back in Freshman year. They are my very favorite books in the universe (or at least, my very favorite books back when I was in high school). My entire collection of Tamora Pierce books. My entire collection of Tudor history books (most of which are by Allison Weir). The Abhorsen Trilogy. All my Libba Bray novels. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Karen Joy Fowler. The Sparrow. Jane Eyre, The Professor, Wuthering Heights and the Austen novels. Also, all the Young Adult novels that kept me floating throughout my horrid high school years – Born Confused, The Truth about Forever etc. And a bunch of books about US politics like The Nine and The Dark Side, because apparently, I find those fun.

I sent all of these books to my college because back when I was in high school, I didn’t read a lot of new books. I mostly re-read old favorites – and I expected I would continue this pattern when I arrived in college. So having 100 books I already liked that I could re-read was quite important to me.

I still do re-read now, occasionally. Mostly when the world is exploding all around me and I need some comfort. But I love having my old books around, even if I’m not reading them constantly like I used to.

The giant pile right by the bookshelf is yet another “book storage” area. These are my “read” books – the books I’ve finished. Every few weeks I do a purge and bring a bunch of those books back to the library, then freak out over where to put the other, non-library books. There’s no room left on my “for fun” bookshelf. No, seriously, I’m not kidding. Look.

Bookshelf top

Like I said. No room. I’m now stacking books on top of rows of other books, and I’ve still got tons of books in my “read” pile to store.

…I really have a problem, don’t I?

From this not-so-brief survey of my college room, I have concluded a few things:

1. I buy a lot more books than I think I do

2. WOW, I buy a lot of books for class

3. I am quickly running out of real-estate, and am going to need to find some kind of radical solution next year. Like selling books (NO) or buying a bookcase (maybe). Or getting rid of my bed to make room for more books (yes!)

And since you have made it to the end of the post, I shall reward you with some obligatory cat pictures.

Look! Cat!

Cat with Books

The Cat is Judging Me

The Cat has been sick, and as a result, she has been spending a lot of time in my room. I think it’s because I keep the temperature pretty high. The Cat is also a very, very black cat, so it’s hard to get a picture of her where she doesn’t look like a big black blob. She’s absolutely gorgeous in real life, and does not resemble a Big Black Blob. That’s the Photobooth’s fault.

The Cat was in no way amused by me frantically running around my room, taking pictures with my computer. She was particularly put out when I decided to step on the bed – the bed where she was sleeping, thank you very much  – to take a photo of my to-read bookshelf.

The Cat thinks this blog is a complete waste of time, particularly since it involves disturbing her bed (the fact that it’s also my bed is lost on her).  She thinks I should spend more time in worthwhile pursuits. Like petting her. Or acting as her pillow.

But for the record, The Cat also thinks I need a new bookshelf.

(those things are EXPENSIVE, The Cat. Even the cheap IKEA ones)

The Cat with Books

North America’s Next Top Cat Model

The Cat does not like me taking photos of her, because that takes time away from Petting. But she does think this is a satisfactory photo.

*sigh* I miss The Cat.

(I flew home – home home, as opposed to college home – last week. So I have not seen The Cat in a while).

I also miss my books. But the good news is, my home-home has libraries of its own. And I just made two trips to the city library. So I feel pretty good. I’ve got a pile of eight unread books… that should last me for a week, right? Right?

*starts to panic*

Related Posts:

France and The USA get something right in the Same Week! Celebration Ensues

A Letter to My Future Russian Bride

Eight Great Books of Science Fiction for Women

Reaction to the Hugo Nominations


Can Michael Fassbender Be On My Marathon Team? A Review of Shame

FINALS ARE OVER!

Oh Frack. There’s nothing I can do to change my grades.

Oh God. I think I’m going to throw up.

Veronica Mars Crying

I am not as awesome as Veronica Mars. But I agree with the sentiment.

Okay. Deep breaths. Deep breaths. It’s okay. Even if this semester goes down the tubes and my life plans are irrevocably destroyed, I can be a great bum

Yes. That is my plan B, and I shall stick to it.

Sadly, my time of stress is not yet completely over, since I have to come up with a brilliant honors essay proposal and an equally brilliant honors application in the next five days. So the blog posting will continue to be sporadic as I desperately try to learn everything about Feminist Science Fiction in the ’70s and ’80s, and then try to condense that knowledge into a 250 word proposal.

Also – again, if you’ve sent me an email in the past few weeks, I can almost PROMISE I haven’t gotten it (unless you know my real name and thus my main email address). But I will go back to that mailbox soon, and answer emails. (assuming I haven’t become a bum in the meantime).

And without further ado, I give you my review of Shame… and the only blog post of mine my mother has promised to read. Exciting! It’s also the last of my pre-written blog posts (yes, I stored some up for the finals madness), so…I’m actually going to have to write two/three posts a week now, instead of just editing them and putting them up.

****

I’ve been on a bit of a Michael Fassbender kick lately. I saw him for the first time this summer in X-Men: First Class, where he played Magneto. Because of his kick-ass acting of an equally kick-ass character (Nazi-hunter! Tortured soul! Wearer of Awesome Turtlenecks!) I immediately developed a (small) obsession.

Now, this obsession might not have made that much of a difference to my movie-watching routine, since I almost never go see movies during the academic semester. But after I went to see A Dangerous Method with my friends, one of them copied my example and fell into a mad obsession with Fassbender.

Michael Fassbender X-Men first class

It's the acting, I'm telling you.

I’m sorry, I got distracted. What?

Oh, yes. My friend, me, and Fassbender.

Given our mutual obsessions, we’re probably going to work our way through Fassbender’s entire back catalogue – which is fine by me. I’m looking forwards to re-watching X-Men – that should yield a good week’s worth of blog posts – and possibly seeing Hunger for the first time (hunger strikes being a fabulous way of boosting one’s post-essay depression). And we’re deeply disappointed that we won’t be in the same city when Prometheus comes out.

Prometheus the movie Ridley Scott

Already Obsessed

But, of course, Shame is still playing in Montreal. So as a reward for surviving our papers, my friend J. and I headed to the theater, planning to giggle wildly (I make no pretense to maturity).

I’m pretty sure everyone in the western hemisphere has heard the basic plot of Shame, but I will repeat it once more. Brandon (Fassbender) is a thirty-something New Yorker suffering from sex addiction. His life is thrown off-kilter when his sister Sissy (Carrie Mulligan) moves in with him. Not surprisingly, Sissy’s presence  prevents Brandon from relieving his addiction the usual ways – prostitutes, hook-ups, masturbation, sex-video-chat (is that what those things are called?) etc – and also brings up buried emotions.

Now, the reason everyone has heard of Shame is simple: it involves full frontal male nudity (hence why I was preparing for some highly mature giggling). There’s an interesting discussion to be had about why full frontal male nudity causes everyone to drop their tea tray, slap an NC-17 onto a movie and talk about an actor’s “bravery,” while the plethora of naked women in Hollywood barely merit a movie an R mention. I’m not going to have that conversation now, due to space constraints. But still. Interesting discussion. As one of my favorite professors would says “think about that.”

(I will note that none of the women who went full-frontal in Shame got a “bravery” stamp of approval)

There was no false advertising about Shame. The movie indeed contains a lot of nudity. A LOT of nudity.  The first time we see Brandon, he’s walking around his apartment, naked. In flashbacks, we see him with a woman – a prostitute – undressing. Later on, we see Sissy when she’s in the shower – Brandon thinks she’s a thief, and breaks down the door of the bathroom. Most of Brandon’s conquests (paid or unpaid) are shown with their clothes of, as is Brandon himself.

What’s striking about nudity in Shame is that it’s not artificial. In most movies, sex scenes involve lots of clever angles and artful cuts so that the audience can see tantalizing bits, but the film can retain a PG-13 rating. The actors are usually airbrushed to the point where you couldn’t find their real skin cells without a forensics team.

But not here. Like I said, two of the major moments of nudity take place outside of a sex scene – Brandon walking around his apartment, and Sissy yelling at Brandon for scaring her. All the actors look like real human beings – there is no special lighting or posing. The nudity, in other words, doesn’t seem like a performance. Unlike the self-conscious nude actors of Hollywood, these characters don’t seem aware of being watched.

It’s fascinating because, for all the sexualization of popular culture, this sort of unstaged nudity and un-artificial sex is still shocking. We’re cultural prudes: it’s okay to show sex, but only if the people are perfect. Only if they’re performing according to a pre-approved script. Which is why even the naked women in Shame are shocking – we’re so used to the artificialized Hollywood nudity that these “natural” naked women look completely alien.

The result is that the viewers feel like voyeurs. It’s quite discomfiting. The director, Steve McQueen, plays up the audience discomfort. In the one vaguely “romantic” sex  scene, the camera is perched at an odd angle vis Brandon and Marianne’s bodies, putting the audience in a bizarre viewing position. For three to four minutes of foreplay, the camera never moves. The camera never cuts. We become slowly aware that the actors, Fassbender and Nicole Behari, actually performed the entirety of the scene in one take. It wasn’t “okay, kiss, now cut,” then “now you lie down, now cut!” They actually made out for a good four minutes. Once again, I was struck by the difference between this scene, and our typical Hollywood fare, where sex scenes are designed to seduce and tantalize the audience. The lack of artificiality makes us feel uncomfortably like intruders. Like voyeurs. We cannot enjoy it.

Beyond the nudity, Shame is more a character study than an action-driven movie. It does have a core plot, but it doesn’t have a great deal of forward motion. Brandon moves through his life. We see him jogging, working, going out with colleagues, taking the metro, picking up women, reading porn.  His sister shows up to disturb his preciously-guarded peace, and he spirals out of control, but even this loss of control is low-key. Shame is a quiet movie in more ways than one. It’s telling that two of the movie’s climactic scenes – Brandon’s attempt to seduce a work-colleague, and his discovery of his sister at the end – are lacking in any kind of soundtrack; one of those scenes doesn’t have sound at all.

Character-driven movies like this one are successful based on two things: how interesting the character(s) are, and how good the acting is. Fortunately, Brandon is a complex, convoluted, knotty sort of character; he’s fascinating to watch. The movie works in large part because of the contrast between the subject matter – sex – and the person. Brandon is no happy-go-lucky party animal hosting orgy after orgy in his house. He is quiet, sad, pained. He seems to take no pleasure from sex. He just does it. There’s a fantastic scene right at the start when he makes eye contact with a woman in the subway. There’s a mutual attraction there, but while she smiles coyly, he is grave and sorrowful.

Similarly, in Brandon’s many late night jogs, he passes through space at a painful, glorious speed (seriously – Michael Fassbender’s got a career as a marathoner if this movie star thing doesn’t work out) – but he never engages with the city around him. Life, the city, sex – they’re just things to be gotten through. A duty he cannot avoid. Brandon is a man trapped in his own body, imprisoned by desires he neither wants nor receives any pleasure for.

Brandon Jogging Shame

Why is Brandon this way? He’s an interesting man, quietly likeable, a valued worker at his company – no one would suspect him of being a sex addict. In fact, even when his boss finds out Brandon’s hard drive is filled with porn, he doesn’t think Brandon had anything to do with it. What pushed Brandon into this life? Why can’t he survive without it? The movie (wisely) refuses to tell us. We are never given an explanation for why Brandon is the way he is. We get little insight into Brandon’s bizarre relationship with his sister. Nor does the movie offer any kind of commentary on Brandon’s actions, moral or otherwise. This lack of a moral imperative makes Shame one of the most even-handed portrayals of addiction I’ve ever seen. There is no judgment. There is no moralizing. Brandon’s addiction to sex is neither bad nor good. His decisions are neither praised nor punished. They simply are.

I should talk about Michael Fassbender’s acting. I should, but I’m afraid if I do, I’ll start ranting about the Academy’s complete lack of taste. How in the name of the Patron Saint of Justice and Truth did Fassbender NOT get an Oscar nomination for Shame? For that matter, why didn’t Fassbender WIN an Oscar for Shame?

Yes, he’s that good.

I’m not interested in calling Fassbender “brave” for the nude scenes, or for picking such a controversial character. I don’t think bravery should be rewarded in and of itself. Casey Abrams’ attempt to cover “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on American Idol was brave, but it didn’t make his performance any better (*shudder*). Fassbender need not rely on bravery to get him accolades – nude scenes or no nude scenes, he gave one of the, if not the, best performances of the year. He was in-fracking-credible.
Because Shame has so little explanation of Brandon’s addiction, the weight of the movie rests on Fassbender’s shoulders. He must make us care about a character that we do not, and by necessity cannot, understand. It takes a truly fantastic actor to make you feel for them when you are completely estranged from what they’re feeling. To make you care about a character that’s so alien to your experience.
There’s a scene where Brandon listens to his sister sing at a restaurant in New York. The camera closes in on his face, which is set in his typical impassive mask. The camera lingers. Slowly, his face shifts. His breath shifts minutely. A tear runs down his face. We do not know why Brandon reacts this way to the song. We should not care. But Fassbender makes us feel it nonetheless. He makes us care about Brandon. He makes us want him to conquer his addiction.

On another note, I thought Fassbender should get an oscar just for the way he fits in clothes – is there anything that looks bad on this guy? Seriously.

Michael Fassbender Shame Scarf

My friend J. would like it known that she does not approve of Brandon's scarf.

Sadly, the academy, as usual, does not listen to me. I don’t understand why – I shout loud enough for them to hear me!

One of the things I most enjoyed about Shame was its deconstruction of romantic comedy tropes. We are given several classic “meet-cute” scenarios. Brandon flirts with the girl in the subway. He goes out to a bar with his colleagues, and ends up attracting the woman his boss is trying to pick up. He tries to break his cycle of self-destruction by going out with a vivacious work-colleague. But the movie refuses to fall into the narrative of romance. This is no redemption tale – Brandon cannot be saved by a beautiful woman. Instead, all the encounters are tinged with desperation. Everything that could be romantic is exposed as nothing more than a routine exchange, a coming-together of disconnected people trying to feel something. Somehow, I think Shame’s portrayal of the dating (or hookup) scene is more accurate than usual romantic comedy fare.

Interestingly, most of the women Brandon tries to pick up with are “taken” in some way – they’re in other relationships, they’re prostitutes – and are thus not possible relationship partners. When the relationship could be something more – when it could actually be a moment of connection, or intimacy – Brandon backs away, terrified.

Speaking of “savior” women, I was pleased as punch to see that the one woman Brandon does try to date was African-American. I realize that this is not a big deal. Correction – it SHOULD not be a big deal. But it is. We get so few interracial relationships in mainstream movies that I had a big “Oh god” moment when I saw Brandon’s dinner partner, Marianne, played by the lovely Nicole Beharie. Here we have an African American woman portrayed as an attractive, intelligent, desirable life-partner –  she’s probably the sanest character in the entire movie. Nor is Behari’s race a plot device so that the movie can talk about the Very Important Subject of Interracial Dating. It’s such an exceptional state of affairs that I just have to give Steve McQueen a round of applause. Bravo, sir. And to the rest of Hollywood: take note. Learn. Follow McQueen’s lead. Make it so that well-rounded characters of color are so common in American movies that I never, ever have to comment on them again.

Beharie also does a great job – she’s only in the movie for fifteen minutes or so, and she was playing a relatively understated character, but she did such interesting things that I still remember her two months later. Honestly, I remember her character more than I remember Carey Mulligan’s character (who has much more screen time). I’m keeping an eye on her work – I hope we see a lot more from her.

Nicole Beharie Michael Fassbender Shame

I’m not the only one who has noticed Marianne as an exceptional character. Steve McQueen, the director of Shame, was very aware of Marianne’s status as a black woman in a Hollywood movie (McQueen himself is black, although he’s not African American). In an interview with Elvis Mitchell, McQueen says that when he wanted to cast Beharie as Marianne: “What was interesting was there was all kinds of  objections about this, of saying, “Oh, that wouldn’t happen there. That wouldn’t exist.” I said, “What, I don’t exist?” It was a very odd thing, having these conversations about having a love interest that was a Black woman with Brandon (…) But then, what also fascinates me is you have a lot of white American filmmakers who never cast a Black person in their movies and they made quite a few movies. How can you avoid that? That’s kind of weird. It’s like walking around with blindfolds on. How can you make movies in this country–and consistently make movies–and not cast Black characters in the main leads?”

I defer the rest of the discussion of race in Shame to Racialicious, which has a very interesting review of the film, and of Brandon’s relationship to Marianne – I fully purloined their link to McQueen’s interview with Mitchell: http://www.racialicious.com/2011/12/14/shame-the-interracial-relationship-the-casting-the-homophobia/

But while we’re on the subject of things the movie gets right with regard to representation, I should also mention what the movie gets wrong: homosexuality. I was actually pleasantly surprised that Brandon had a homosexual encounter in the film, and I will admit, I didn’t see it as problematic until I started reading the blogs. At the time, I thought it would have been worse NOT to have a homosexual encounter at all, in that it makes no sense for someone with a sex addiction to view male partners as any better or worse than female partners (since it has nothing to do with attraction or romance). If the movie hadn’t had the gay club scene, I would be complaining that “sure, it’s fine to have a sex addict paying for prostitutes, but we can’t possibly have a gay scene, because that’s just PERVERTED.” It would reinforce the idea that homosexuality is a particularly depraved sort of sexuality. Even sex addicts don’t have sex with people of the same gender. Putting the gay scene in, I thought, made gayness as normal an option in the sexual landscape as anything else the movie portrayed.

BUT, as many have pointed out, the gay scene does come when Brandon is at his absolute worse – which makes it possible to read homosexuality as the most perverted of sexual pleasures (right above threesomes). In the absence of another gay encounter when Brandon is not at “rock bottom,” the movie makes homosexuality “the film’s shorthand for “sexual depravity”” (to quote Andrea (AJ) Plaid, who wrote the racialicious article above). So I’m glad the gay scene is there, I think it could have been handled much, much better. If Brandon ahd had a gay encounter BEFORE he’d hit “rock bottom,” for example, this wouldn’t be problematic.

Despite the problematic portrayal of homosexuality, however, Shame is a fantastic movie. It’s sometimes painful to watch, but it’s well worth a trip to your theater. And not just because of how good Fassbender looks in clothes (and out).

I’m kind of hoping I see a bad movie soon, because these laudatory reviews are getting a bit boring. Maybe I should go watch The Help again, I’m sure that would yield a rant that lasts longer than one of Brandon’s jogging marathons.

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