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Poster Lab: Shame

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Poster Lab: <em>Shame</em>

There’s minimalism, and then there’s a picture of a rumpled bed, which you are certainly intended to believe just witnessed the messy thrusting of Michael Fassbender’s sex addict, Brandon, into whichever conquest he finessed off the subway. The ultimate one sheet (aw, come on, there was no resisting that one), this decidedly unadorned beauty is going to make many billboards and building walls look alternately comfy and pathetic, and for New Yorkers who’ve seen the film, it’s going to make for quite the awkward moment when it’s the first thing viewed after stepping off the 1 train with a new date. “Have you seen that?” the date might ask, and the sudden relief that she hasn’t will wrap around you like a warm blanket.

As easy as it may be to cut this thing down for its near-Duchampian anti-artistry, it may just be the year’s most effective poster, wholly capturing the pitiful mood of the film in question, and taking on more shape and meaning as you look at it. What viewers should know is that it capitalizes on the very best shot of the film (the opening shot), which sees Brandon lying awake on this very bed, half-covered, looking so empty one might peer right through him to the linens. As the camera remains static, he gets up and opens the Venetians, shedding light on the sheets and revealing the film’s title as his daily grind (get it?) is recycled. More than offering the instant suggestion of sex, this image is all about ugly guilt, right down to the trivial, almost childish domestic no-no of failing to make the bed. Its color is as telling as anything else, as Brandon is one blue cat, and though the film isn’t as successful at establishing it, it’s clear here that his bed—or any bed, for that matter—is a hideous, odious villain.

This poster feels far more Steve McQueen-approved than the previous version, which featured an uncomfortably offset, sweaty hand that sloppily spoke to the film’s trademark window sex as well as a desperate reaching for connection. Here, there’s far more attention paid to both composition and connotation, and kudos to Fox Searchlight for having the gumption to go ahead with so unfussy a design (which, it should also be noted, takes advantage of the way wrinkled sheets can create all sorts of interesting shadows). Unfortunately, the poster also draws attention to the visual and narrative artfulness of which Shame falls short, a small tragedy considering the wondrous frames and sparing brilliance of McQueen’s Hunger. While surely boasting a wealth of virtues (Fassbender is wrenching and incredible), Shame is too often bewilderingly obvious and superficial in the telling, and the most shocking thing about it is not its explicit nature, but that something that strives to be so explicit and uncut would feel so frequently tainted by compromise.

Thus, in that sense, the poster is definitely promising something the film can’t quite deliver, making it part of an aura of self-importance this very good, but not great, movie doesn’t exactly warrant. Seeing it before seeing the film offers a different experience than seeing it after—a cool and crafty tease that’s bound to lead to something greater. The true shame comes post-screening, when you realize that, alas, it doesn’t.