Synopsis: In New York City, Brandon’s carefully cultivated private life — which allows him to indulge his sexual addiction — is disrupted when his sister arrives unannounced for an indefinite stay.
Steve McQueen’s follow up to his 2008 debut Hunger, is as daring and provocative a piece of cinema that I have seen since Hard Candy. Tackling the seedy subject of sex addiction, a fairly modern phenomenon which has hit the headlines in recent years with some high profile sufferers, McQueen gets a performance from Michael Fassbender which appears at times to be eating him alive.
In the wrong hands Shame could easily have been a sleazy skin flick about unlikeable characters whinging about an affliction that most see as an excuse mustered up by people who get caught with their pants around their ankles. In the capable and careful hands of McQueen though what you get is a thought provoking and at times harrowing look at not only the impact of the addiction, but the social changes that have, if not caused, then at least exacerbated sex addiction.
Fassbender is Brandon, the slick handsome and charming Irish/New York advertising executive, with ease of access to everything in New York at his fingertips. His easy charm and good looks allow him to pick up any woman with consummate ease; when he’s done he watches online porn in his barren soulless flat. Not masterbating, just watching. Anything to feel that high which gets harder to reach with every climax. His hard drive at work is full of terrible images and videos. But for all of the physical interaction he is incapable of making an emotional connection of note. Not one part of his life isn’t touched by his need to feel the rush of endorphins. And when he binges the results are harrowing to witness.
But for all of his complexity he manages, like so many high functioning addicts, to hide his darker side from the world through careful management and self awareness. That is until the untimely arrival of his equally messed up sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan). The relationship between Brandon and Sissy is mutually destructive and although never fully explained, transcends the normal boundaries of a sibling relationship. Evidently a dark and underlying secret drives both of their lives for the worse.
Never afraid to tackle difficult subject matter McQueen’s next release is the brilliant looking 12 Years A Slave, again teaming up with Fassbender, as well as a sterling cast of Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Quvenzhané Wallis, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Scoot McNairy. Early buzz is it might clean up come February in LA.
Conclusion: Dark, harrowing and by no means an easy watch at times. It also raises some important questions about whether sex addiction is symptomatic of an age in which sex is at our fingertips whenever we choose to access it. Fassbender and Mulligan should have both been Oscar nommed for their performances.
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale