Director: Steve McQueen
Stars: Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan
Release Date: 2011
Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is an addict. He is addicted to sex, though he could have been addicted to anything. That director Steve McQueen chose sex as the addiction is a risky move. It is also one that earned the movie a NC-17 rating, something that many directors will go out of their way to avoid. Smartly, the film doesn’t explain why Brandon is an addict, he just is. How he got to this point isn’t relevant. Also, the film doesn’t shy away from the difficult task of showing the unsavory aspects of sex addiction. One of the most devastating aspects of any sort of addiction is its inevitable escalation.
Shame begins by showing Brandon with one of his frequent escorts. Soon escorts aren’t enough. He must pick up girls in bars. In one instance he attempts to do so knowing that the girl’s boyfriend is near. Brandon then flaunts his actions and gets beat up for it. Simultaneously, this scene also serves to show that Brandon feels the need to punish himself. The pain from his beat down curbs his addiction, but only briefly. Feeling unfulfilled, Brandon continues down the downward spiral of dependence. Yet, he remains unfulfilled to the point of showing signs of physical manifestations of emotional pain. It is here that Michael Fassbender is at his best. Without any words, he is able to portray the rawest emotion. Brandon hates what he has become, but feels powerless to change himself. It seems the point of this sequence of events is to show that Brandon must continually up the ante. Much like an alcoholic builds up a tolerance, so too, does Brandon; he needs more. Brandon’s addiction is also affecting his work as well. He shows up late and when he is at work, he has difficulty focusing on his responsibilities. Instead, he apparently fills his time looking at pornography on his work computer, which his employer discovers but then overlooks the issue.
In addition to escalation, the film skillfully shows Brandon’s dysfunction through his relationship with his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan). The two clearly have an abnormal relationship – again, the film doesn’t explain why. However, Sissy also appears to have relationship issues like her brother. Sissy sleeps with Brandon’s married boss shortly after meeting him for the first time. Sissy continuously pleads for help from Brandon, who ignores her. Brandon’s indifference toward his sister will later have significant consequences for Brandon, but he can’t see it coming. He is too focused on satiating his own desires. The final scene of the film is executed to perfection. It goes far enough, but without going too far.
Shame takes the viewer through the process of any type of addiction by brilliantly presenting the intensification of the addiction in order for the addict to feel a temporary satisfaction, the dysfunction of addiction and how it effects every aspect of the addict’s life; hating what you have become; and finally, feeling powerless to change it. This movie is a cinematic triumph! Michael Fassbender’s performance is uncanny. He showed no fear in opening himself up to the audience and proved that he is one of the great actors of our time.