A film that was on my blindspot list (and shame list, ironically) for too long, Shame (2011) is a confronting and emotionally raw masterpiece by director Steve McQueen. Brandon (Michael Fassbender) lives a very private existence in New York City, a carefully maintained lifestyle that allows him to indulge in his sex addiction. However this balance is upset when his turbulent sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) arrives to stay at his apartment with no indication of when she’ll leave.
I’m going to make this write-up extremely short, as I can only say one thing about Shame – it’s amazing. The performances by Fassbender and Mulligan are captivating, and increasingly so as their characters clash against one another’s personal boundaries over time. Fassbender in particular is so great in this film, with a minimal and raw performance that transcends pretty much all of his other performances I’ve seen. The story itself is also minimal, but because the runtime isn’t bloated and the conflict develops in an organic manner, it never feels like the story is forced. This is one of the most honest and well-executed films about sex addiction and impulsive behaviours I’ve seen. The direction, cinematography, and all creative elements are absolutely beautiful whilst displaying some of the most destructive behaviours and situations that our lead character gets himself into.
Some may find the film’s sex scenes really confronting, as there is quite a lot of nudity and some scenes that look borderline pornographic. What separates Shame‘s sex scenes from other films’, however, is the fact that Brandon’s addiction appears so unpleasant and pathological that pretty much all of the sex scenes are extremely clinical and un-sexy. Brandon’s relentless pursuit of sex is something he can’t really control, and McQueen’s portrayal of this impulsive behaviour is direct and unflinching.
Perhaps my favourite part of Shame was its ending – the ultimate cliffhanger, asking the age old question, will he or won’t he? I can honestly say that I’ve thought about this film almost every day since I saw it, especially about the line that Sissy says to Brandon, “We’re not bad people, we just come from a bad place”. I have so many questions about this film, and that’s a good thing; it is completely intriguing whilst being simultaneously repellent. Shame is a truly captivating, but definitely confronting, story about flawed and complex people, and if it’s on your watch list you should definitely see it as soon as possible. It can be difficult to watch, but it is so worth it.
Watch the trailer here.