Shame, or, I Saw an NC-17 Movie

12 Years a Slave was a massive triumph due in no small part to the brilliant eye of director Steve McQueen. Moved as I was by the film I sought out McQueen’s other feature efforts, which led me to the viewing of my first NC-17 rated movie, 2011’s Shame.



I remember the first time I found out there was a rating above R thinking it didn’t actually exist, or that, like Hell, it signified some grander, inconceivable notion of unimaginable horror and evil. After all, no film I’d ever heard of in my youth was ever NC-17, and I’d seen Titanic. It just didn’t have the ring to it that PG-13 or R did. Years later that rating stared me in the face as I eyed Shame.

The face-value synopsis of the film would be that Michael Fassbender is a sex addict. Couple that with an NC-17 rating and I certainly had my preconceptions of what the film would be. But when the credits rolled I was not only blown away by the film’s emotional impact, but surprised at how tame Shame turned out to be in comparison to the expectations I had conjured up in my head for an NC-17 movie.

There’s plenty of sex and nudity in Shame, some of it pretty raunchy, but none of it would have been out of place on HBO and compared to the more recent, notable R-Rated, Wolf of Wall Street, Shame’s sexuality wasn’t exactly shocking. Quite frankly, the only notable difference between the two movies is that while Leonard DiCaprio toyed with hanging dong in Wall Street, Fassbender full on commits to it in Shame.

Is that all it takes? An unsimulated flaccid dong? Does the stigma of shock and awe and horror associated with the NC-17 rating really only exist to shield viewers’ from genitals? Because I hate to break it to the MPAA, but viewers see genitals literally every day.

For dongs.

For dongs.

You know what I don’t see every day? Headshots. Stabbings. Torture. Staples of modern R-rated cinema. Pretty much everybody has sexual experiences in their life and pretty much nobody will spray someone’s brains across the pavement with a sawed off shotgun. And yet, for my money, it seems the MPAA is far more concerned with stigmatizing the former.

Is it a side-effect of lingering puritanism in Western culture?

Is it a secret illuminati plot to desensitize us to violence in preparation for World War III?

Is it the manifestation of the maniacal whims of an industry run by men who have no problem parading topless women across the screen but shudder at the thought of having to mentally measure themselves up to Michael Fassbender?

Shame is a fantastic movie and when it was over what I took away from it was Harry Escott’s gorgeous score and McQueen’s perfectly orchestrated and arranged shots.

Also Fassbender pees on screen.

Maybe that’s too much for you. Maybe you think that constitutes an NC-17 rating. But gun to my head (you know, like in a PG-13 movie) I’d much sooner show my kid Shame than Hostile.



1. Should a film be more severely rated for sex or violence?

2. Does nudity in film constitute sex, and therefore a harsher rating?

3. Did I use the word “dong” enough in this post?

4. Are you sure?



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