Shame, The Hunter & Sleeping Beauty

Reviews of three films about alienation, exploitation and redemption.

Shame is directed by Steve McQueen (no, the Bullitt guy died in 1980) and stars Michael Fassbender as a NY executive with a serious problem of sex addiction, manifested in his use of prostitutes, masturbation at work, constant pornography use and fleeting relationships. His sister’s arrival upsets his grim routines, as she moves in temporarily and stays. Although confronting and shocking, the story is more nuanced as we get hints of their disturbed family history and conflicted characters. The bleak portrayal of executive work and social life rings true. The audience is challenged (or complicit?) as we are also voyeurs in a story centrally about voyeurism, and the egocentric alienation of our age fuelled by increasing sexualisation. The anti-hero has a brutal epiphany and promise of redemption. Gird your loins (ha!) for R-ratedness and you may be entertained.

The Hunter is based on a Julia Leigh story. A ‘gun for hire’ is sent into Tasmanian wilderness by an unscrupulous foreign hi-tech biology company to find, kill and bring back the last reported Tasmanian Tiger, so it can extract its genetic material and make lots of moolah. Willem Dafoe is ok as the hunter, but the Hollywood-clichéd script is unsubtle, particularly the stereotypical portrayal of conflict between timber town rednecks and tree-hugging greenies. Sam Neill plays a bush character, like he’s wandered over from the Jurassic Park movie lot. The loner amoral hero is redeemed in a final act of courage. The film needed more editing to reduce repetitious car-driving, trap-setting and moody landscape shots. It’s a trite variation on a theme stretching back to King Solomon’s Mines, with Tassie bush decor instead of African jungle.

Sleeping Beauty is Julia Leigh’s own first film as director. The central character is a young woman, with an ethereal beauty, who can’t make enough money waitressing to pay for her uni studies and rent. She accepts work as a silver service waitress cum escort for frustrated wealthy clients, with a special role as ‘sleeping beauty’. Alienation meets the commerce of aged erotic yearnings. The mood is bleak, sex is mechanistic; and like Shame, estranged relationships and survival in our strange world are on display. But the heroine’s feelings are not, so we can’t empathise with her inner world and are left unengaged with her fate. A formal dinner with naked waitresses is eerily similar to a scene in ‘L’Apollonide: Souvenirs de la Maison Close’ (House of Tolerance). Leigh’s slow cinematography is also reminiscent of the ‘Nouvelle Vague’ style of Robbe-Grillet. Sleeping Beauty’s unredeemed world left me cold and flat.

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