With Steve McQueen’s second feature film, it’s hard to place any notion of a fault, in a drama that focuses on the idea of sexual addiction and the consequences it can have on human connection.
Set in modern-day New York, Brandon (played by my 2nd favourite actor) Michael Fassbender, is a City Executive for a large firm that deals with a crippling and debilitating psychological problem of sex addiction. He often masturbates at work and pays highly for live porn on his home laptop to relieve his “fix”. His sister Sissy, played by Carey Mulligan, arrives one day and asks to stay with Brandon for a few days whilst she performs a few gigs as a talented singer. This, in turn, sparks a series of events that explore the troubling relationship between the pair and ultimately to a quite compelling tale.
In Shame, both actors encompass a virtuoso-like performance as the audience gets to view their relationship (or lack of) more and more as time passes. And McQueen uses this time to establish a fine pace that not only builds the two central characters’ personalities and motivations but also grounds them in reality. Whilst the audience might not know how it is to live with anyone who has ever held sexual addiction, (which is probably why the rating system on this film was shamingly put up to an R-rating almost instantly), you truly get the sense you do so after having watched the wonderful performance by Fassbender who really does bring Brandon to life and also humanizes him in a lot of ways.
But whether it is the extremes of certain sex-related scenes or the simplicity of seeing him run in the streets for an extended period of time without a cut; McQueen purposely and cleverly uses each scene to dwell deeper into this psyche of Brandon. We get to see close-ups of the pain, grief, and anger on his face when having an orgasm or the sadness and solidarity in his eyes when the film’s opening shot depicts him awake in the morning, staring blankly into space before masturbating in the shower. Each shot used provides a sense of sadness involved in the life of Brandon but also that provocative and unsettling notion.
The love I have for this film and the talent behind those who made it is only matched with by a few other films that I would humbly call a 10/10. But of course, no film is truly recognized as a 10 out 10, as rating anything in life is subjective at best and we can merely seek to base our judgments on sound reasoning and logical way of thinking. Having said that, I almost feel compelled that Shame is one of those rare films in which the director and story have worked hand-in-hand to achieve such a great piece of work. This is by far McQueen’s best film to date, even though he later went on to make 12 Year’s A Slave, which at the very least nabbed him an Oscar and the recognition he deserved at both of these films are incredible.
But Shame took a topic and made something truly special from it, with many scenes from the film still stuck in my head today. This is a film that could be analyzed for days in length, and with many a word by pen or text, but ultimately, you need to watch this film when you get the chance. And it’s out of Netflix in the United States so now there are no excuses. See it.