If you were wondering (or worrying) whether Steve McQueen could follow up the brilliance of Hunger with another stunning piece of work, set your mind at rest. He has produced a second superb film, equally challenging, beautiful and original.
It bears only two similarities to the first film. It stars Michael Fassbender, and the title is a single word. The setting is New York today (not Ireland 30 years ago), and Fassbender's character, Brandon, is in the grip of an obsessive sexual addiction. It takes various shapes, but mainly masturbation, and picking up women on the subway. His working life is high powered and successful, he lives (alone) in a swanky apartment, and he avoids any kind of intimacy. Into this screwed-up life comes his screwed-up sister Cissy (Carey Mulligan) whose disorders are more obviously self-destructive. Brandon doesn't want her around, but she's harder to prise loose than a limpet with a tube of superglue. Given that they are the products of a clearly acutely dysfunctional family (though no details are offered), she figures they may as well cling tight to each other. Brandon prefers to drown on his own.
One of McQueen's most striking talents is his artist's eye. Many directors come from a background of theatre, acting, editing, or cinematography. McQueen did of course win the Turner Prize some years ago, and film is his second career, which he appears to have take to as if to the manner born. It helps to have actors of the calibre of Fassbender and Mulligan at the heart of the film, though the subject matter is as unrelentingly tough as it was in Hunger. You feel sympathy for these people, who seem unable to shake off the ghosts that compel them to behave in this way, as well as a kind of exasperation that despite being blessed with beauty and material wealth they are living without love. If you have an empathic soul, you may even find a kind of identification with such extreme behaviour, which is, after all, only a deep fear of intimacy which many of us can relate to.
You can see that it's the kind of film that inspires self-exploration, and for that, as well as for the skill, beauty and subtlety that McQueen brings to his work, we should all be grateful.
Content kindly supplied by Phil Raby from the excellent
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