First Hit: A deep and dark film about a very difficult subject.
The difficult subject is sexual addiction.
How does a director take on this subject and keep it R rated? Probably not and therefore this film does have a NC 17 rating.
The rating comes because of the sex acts and full frontal nudity. However, the sex isn’t arousing, or at least I didn’t find it so, I found it factual and clearly making sex the object of Brandon’s (played by Michael Fassbender) deep driving dependence.
Like other things people become dependent/obsessed/addicted to, sex is very difficult because it is linked directly with others. The addicted person often requires partners to fulfill their addition. Here we find Brandon, using the internet to masturbate to, picking up strangers, and his life is clearly being driven by where he is going to get-off next.
He’ll masturbate in the restroom at work, he’ll hire hookers to come to his house, and he’ll lure unsuspecting women into uncaring sex. To live with this, he has to be smart, calculating, unencumbered and it is best that he is all alone in the world.
He is all these except he has a sister Sissy (played Carey Mulligan) who, in an early scene where we hear her phone message, we can tell is also troubled. Brandon ignores her messages. Sissy shows up to stay with him for a few days because she has nowhere else to go.
Immediately the audience knows that there is painful shameful history between them. Either they know something about the other or there is personal intimacy (incest). We never really know.
We watch their interaction and it is touchy, intimate, explosive, and caring. She is a cutter, he has a sexual addiction, they both want a different life, they do the best to hide their shameful ways.
Fassbender is phenomenal as the intelligent, deeply troubled and addicted to a natural human act, man. His performance was fearless and powerful. Mulligan has fully graduated from playing young girls to showing some real range as Sissy, a confused, wounded, caring woman. Her version of "New York, New York" was haunting and felt as though it walked a very fine line of god awful and genius. Lucy Walters as a woman on the subway was amazingly entrancing. Nicole Beharie, as Brandon’s office mate Marianne, was perfect at drawing out Brandon into almost humanness. Abi Morgan and Steve McQueen wrote a powerful and intense script. Steve McQueen did an amazing job of presenting this very disturbing powerful subject.
Overall: This was a difficult to watch, emotionally deep and thoughtful film.