Shame (2011)

Addiction is a terrible thing. It can ruin relationships and destroy any sense of connection that one may have had with the world around them. And while not everyone will know the extent of one’s addiction, it becomes obvious that this intangible condition will change a person and not for the better. Some of these addicted people may be completely oblivious to how much danger they are in but others are fully aware of the situation yet – despite knowing how much destruction their addiction may cause both onto themselves and onto others – wholly embrace it long enough until they self-destruct or until others around them can’t handle it any longer.

Shame, the latest feature from Steve McQueen, sees the director teaming up once again with actor Michael Fassbender. As they previously accomplished in their last collaboration together in the brilliant film, Hunger, McQueen and Fassbender deliver a raw and unflinching character study which is anchored by a truly memorable performance by Fassbender and masterful direction by McQueen.

Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a handsome and successful 30-something living in New York who has built up a nice and comfortable life for himself within the city. Underneath this suave veneer is a man with a deep addiction for sex.

Society would say that Brandon is a sick and perverted individual who needs help. Brandon would say differently and would argue that he rather not be tied down in a relationship with just one person – why have fun with one person when you can fool around with many (especially when you live in “The City That Never Sleeps”)? But no, even fooling around with women most nights is not enough for him. The extent of Brandon’s sexual addiction ranges from masturbation to frequent one night stands to webcam shows. Brandon always has avenues to feed his addiction and it doesn’t matter how he gets it – if he doesn’t feel that high, that sudden rush of sexual euphoria, then the day won’t feel complete at all for him. And that’s what’s so distressing about this character. We’re presented with a character who is so far removed from any form of true social contact and is so far removed from any willingness to seek help that even when a woman just wants to make love to him – not have frantic sex – he can’t seem to respond accordingly. Even when his own sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan) tries to seek solace within him, he denies her simply because she’s an attractive woman and his “condition” won’t allow him to even become close to her – his addiction shields him from any form of vulnerability and it’s scary to see just how vulnerable a person, Brandon really is. McQueen is smart not to tell us how Brandon became how he is in the film and is also smart not to dabble into too much, if any, back story between Sissy and Brandon. He just presents the characters as they are, fragile and vulnerable.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a character quite like Brandon ever brought to screen with such veracity and emotion – it’s a testament both to McQueen and Fassbender for allowing Brandon to become fully realised throughout the course of the film. Fassbender delivers a powerhouse performance as Brandon, one that sees Fassbender give his complete devotion to the role – much like he did in Hunger. Fassbender’s bravery to commit to the role should be commended. Equally impressive is Carey Mulligan who, up until now, has played characters who were a little immaculate. As Sissy, Carey Mulligan is allowed to be much gaudier and is given the opportunity to play against-type which is something that’s always good to see in an actor.

Addiction is a tough subject matter to present both thoughtfully and tastefully. It’s probably even tougher to portray when it’s a sexual addiction. Shame is both mesmerising and haunting – need further proof? Seek out Carey Mulligan’s rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” from the film.