Shame, the sex addiction drama from director Steve McQueen that wowed audiences at the Telluride, Toronto, and New York Film Festivals (where we somehow managed to miss every single screening), has been officially branded with an NC-17 by the MPAA. The application of the rating, which prohibits anyone under the age of 17 from seeing the film (whether with an adult guardian or not), doesn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who has seen the picture; star Michael Fassbender reportedly spends a healthy percentage of the film’s running time in his birthday suit, and without the artful and careful coverage of his man-parts that is required to get the R. (Co-star Carey Mulligan goes full-frontal as well, but that, of course, is perfectly acceptable within the R rating, so hi double standard, how ya doin.)
Distributors Fox Searchlight were well aware of the potential ratings hassle when they picked up the film at Toronto; director McQueen (it’s weird that he didn’t modify his name, or go by Steven or something, right?) has final cut, and made it clear he wasn’t touching a frame of Shame.
So now the film has the scarlet letter/numbers of NC-17, which was intended, when created in 1990, to designate the kind of “for adults, but not porn” movies that its predecessor, the X, originally labeled — pictures like Last Tango in Paris and Midnight Cowboy. But the refusals of theatre chains to carry them, video stores to stock them, and newspapers and television to advertise them resulted in a rating that bore little difference, in terms of revenue or stigma, from the X. Occasionally, a film has come along (Requiem for a Dream, The Dreamers, Bad Education) that looked to challenge the conventional wisdom and ride its positive reviews into some genuine commercial viability for the rating, but those successes have been minor, few, and far between. Time will tell if Shame manages to buck the trend; meanwhile, you can check out the film’s trailer in the most recent edition of our weekly “Trailer Park” feature.