Shame: The Review

By Ciji Singletary


Shame is a film about sexual addiction. Yes, there is a lot of nudity. And yes, there are more than a few sex scenes. But the most arresting parts of this film are the raw, emotional performances of the cast, not their explicit escapades.

This is the second film by the award winning British director Steve McQueen. It’s also the second time McQueen has chosen Micheal Fassbender for the lead role. Clearly, this was not a bad choice as Fassbender was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in Shame.

The film is set in New York and tells the story of a handsome, thirty-something sex addict named Brandon (Fassbender) who is careful to keep his private life private. He manages this so well that none of his co-workers suspect his problem. But Brandon’s sense of guilt is acute. We watch him during a meeting with his colleagues as his attention drifts during a lecture given by his boss to the group. At the word “disgusting” he looks up quickly as though he’s been personally addressed. His expression is deeply injured but unnoticed by his peers.

Brandon’s younger sister, brilliantly played by Carey Mulligan, complicates this attempt to keep his habits hidden by deciding to move in with him. The situation is made even more difficult by Sissy’s own self-destructive behaviour.

Although many scenes are explicit, Shame does not celebrate the rush of sexual conquest. Brandon’s sexual impulses are more than a want, they are a need. The film seeks to capture his sense of powerlessness to the routine and trappings that satisfies that need, and his frustration as it consumes more and more of his life. Intimacy is never complete for Brandon. There is no emotional connection.

Watching Brandon wandering around New York alone unable to escape himself and frantic to find some sort of release can be both haunting and uncomfortable. The city itself is a constant, visual reminder of his isolation. New York becomes especially striking at night in shades of dazzling blue. By choosing to show Brandon stalking both the stark, clean yuppie bars of Manhattan and the dark neglected back streets of the city for his next fix Shame lays bare the dual sides of both his addiction and our modernity. Go see it.


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