The James Clayton Column: analysing the Michael Fassbender addiction

In this week’s column, James salutes the work of Michael Fassbender, from his remarkable turn in Hunger to this year’s Shame…

In the film Shame, Michael Fassbender plays a man who is slightly addicted to sex. In real life, I play a man who is slightly addicted to Michael Fassbender.

When I say ‘slightly’, what I mean is that Fassbender’s character Brandon’s entire life revolves around his desperate need to satisfy sexual urges. I’m not so deep in what overzealous medical specialists experts may diagnose as an obsession. I can go several weeks without watching a Fassbender flick or thinking about the Irish actor. Still, intense stress and a continued streak of excellent performances by the man himself may swing things and send me spiralling into hooked depravity.

Remember how Robert de Niro’s Rupert Pupkin kidnapped Jerry Lewis in The King of Comedy? I predict something similar happening if Fassbender carries on appearing in loads of films and insisting on being brilliant in them. As the movies keep coming and the alienating modern world carries on eating at my fragile mind and unravelling the frayed ends of sanity, I worry that such an outlandish, improbable scenario may come to pass.

I’m sure I’m not the only Fassbender fan out there always eager for a fix and if you have a similar enthusiasm, say hello and we’ll get together over drinks, maybe host a communal viewing of Centurion (Roman Fassbender!) and, if any of us are having ‘severe issues’, set up a Fassbenderaholics Anonymous group (though I guess we’ll all know each other, so it wouldn’t be anonymous).

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The truth is that the actor’s followers (who surely need a name like Fassbenderettes, Fassbitches, Fassbelievers or Fassolytes) are both blessed and cursed by the star and the movie industry who are combining to keep him on our screens being consistently outstanding in an eclectic array of movies.

He’s always worth watching, regardless of the character and quality of the material. He even emerges from the floptacularly messy D.C. Comics adaptation Jonah Hex unscathed. Moving to superior comics-based material, he’s ace in a supporting role in 300 and mercurially sublime as Magneto in X-Men: First Class. Exceptional as imprisoned IRA activist Bobby Downs in Steve McQueen’s Hunger and superb in Inglourious Basterds and Centurion to name a few more roles, Fassbender’s filmography makes for impressive reading.

All this work leads on to the bright present and future where his star has risen and rises onward, prominent parts everywhere and his presence well established. The momentum continues to build and alongside the raw, powerful leading performance in Shame this month he’s appearing in Steven Soderbergh’s action ensemble piece Haywire. Also incoming this year, Fassbender is playing Carl Jung in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method and starring in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, consequently implanting himself into the Alien franchise.

He’s crossed genres, collaborated with renowned directors and yet comes across as a refreshingly humble, ‘no frills’ figure. He’s a suave gentleman with a certain unassuming machismo and a steely edge who never fails to ground proceedings and provide potent gravity.

That’s probably enough to explain why I’m drawn to Fassbender and am always excited to see his name in the cast list. Nevertheless, concluding there wouldn’t be in keeping with the studies of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung who’d both urge a psychoanalytical approach, delving deeper beneath the surface to extract repressed truths. All wrapped up in anticipation for A Dangerous Method, I’m inspired to embrace psychological archaeology and scrutinise my Fassbender fandom further.

I’m lying back on a couch and thinking of the Shame star, bare naked with despair written onto his handsome features. Now, why do I like this actor so much?

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Superhuman Magnetism

Michael Fassbender is, after all, Magneto (or at least Magneto before he gets old and becomes Ian McKellen). Because I’m a really an android (a Blade Runner-style replicant with implanted memories, emotions and delusions of humanity) my insides are made of metal and are thus vulnerable to the influence of Erik Lensherr’s telekinetic powers.

It’s not just magnetism in the sense of the man’s physical presence and personality, then. Magneto has clearly moved around the cognitive cogs and manipulated my mind parts so I stand before him enthralled and impressed, obedient and loyal wherever he operates. This is why I sided with him in X-Men: First Class and why I follow his familiar through various movies with transfixed reverence. This will carry on until I undergo brain surgery and have a rubber brain transplanted into my bio-engineered body.

The Irish ConnectionJust like everyone else in the world, I have distant Irish ancestry. (Fact: there are more people clinging to spurious Irish roots in the world than there are actual Irish people) Experiencing Fassbender’s Irishness – most prominently on display in Hunger and at the end of X-Men: First Class where he gets really riled up and releases the accent – resonates with the very pith of my being and causes my blood to surge.

I feel a connection to the motherland and am once again in touch with my ancient relatives. In the actor there’s a wholesome hint of the Emerald Isle which returns me to my fake roots and realigns me with my identity and my destiny, to be sure, to be sure.

Sight of the Objectified Subject’s Sexual Apparatus at an Impressionable AgeWatching Hunger as a slightly younger man (less than five years ago), I caught glimpses of Fassbender’s private parts. This experience, obviously, traumatised my developing mind and had an adverse psychological impact upon me forming some sort of blockage or complex that will require free association therapy or prolonged exposure to other people’s genitalia. Any volunteers?

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Compassionate Sympathy for a Tormented IndividualActually, perhaps bearing witness to Fassbender’s bared man-bits isn’t the main issue. I saw the penises of Tom Hardy and Viggo Mortensen at a similar impressionable period of my life (in Bronson and Eastern Promises, respectively) and they didn’t have the same effect so perhaps this Freudian hypothesis is a red herring.

Perhaps the intense intimacy of Hunger and indeed Shame alongside the actor’s other roles have cumulatively combined to create an acute empathy. I felt the torment of X-Men (he’s a loner mutant who wants vengeance against the Nazis who killed his mother), I shared the slaughter and battle scars of Centurion and 300 and absorb all the onscreen pain and anguish he repeatedly projects so forcefully.

The upshot is that I’m invested in and care about Fassbender’s characters and the actor beneath them. I’m just glad he’s getting so much exposure (some of it full frontal exposure).

James’ previous column can be found here.

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