Shame sees its star Michael Fassbender and director Steve McQueen teaming up once again after they proved to be a cinematic force to be reckoned with back in 2008 with their IRA prison drama Hunger. Here, we see the focus has moved on from starvation and martyrdom to the complicated and relevant topic of sex addiction. Tough stuff once again!
Fassbender plays Brandon - a successful business man living alone in New York. On the surface he seems to have it all, great physicality, wealth, and personable too; the Brandon we follow behind closed doors however is far from perfect and leads a cold life devoid of any meaningful human relations. He has his life set up exactly as he needs to feed his addiction but when his troubled sister (Carey Mulligan) shows up unexpectedly, Brandon's life is sent into disarray.
The choice to take on material this controversial is a brave and honourable move, the 'illness' is ignored by the board of health and is often jeered and laughed at by the media which is unfortunately not helped by horny celebs who can't admit they've had a moment of weakness so wave the sex addict flag for a shot at sympathy. With this form of addiction it's all too easily scrutinised and mocked, it has the power to destroy lives like any other yet is so often not up for discussion and labeled a farce. With Shame we get up close and personal with a man who lives with this addiction day in day out and now sex addiction is up for discussion because of it - it has been crystallised and put up on screen as to create awareness and debate.
What the film does so well, is while giving sex addiction the time and space it deserves it works on a level that anyone with a compulsive disorder can relate to as well as study a man unable to develop relationships of any kind. We follow Brandon's routined life, we see his constant need for sexual release and the emptiness that follows. Brandon leads an unfulfilled and alienated life, a life most of us know nothing about or have experienced, a life with actions that we'd all too quickly condemn and comment on in disgust. Michael Fassbender's performance makes his Brandon so instantly likable with a gentile quality that we care for him instead of feeling distant which was always a risk with material such as this.
Shame never tries to explain how Brandon could have acquired such an addiction nor should it, after all Brandon was never meant to speak for the voiceless masses who suffer as he does - every individual is their own case. There are however subtle moments in the script that allude to a broken past shared by both Brandon and his sister Sissy; their relationship at its closest is touching yet unorthodox and of course due to Brandon it never remains close for long though It is clear that Sissy has her own demons and perhaps some not too far from her brother's.
Steve McQueen showcases the same fearless direction that made Hunger such an eye-opening spectacle; the shot of Brandon running to get away from his sister's trappings is one that stays etched in the mind - a perfect tracking shot that would have left Kubrick himself in awe. So far McQueen's direction is one of a subdued nature; a minimalist approach that causes little attention yet packs the vital ingredients to let the drama flourish. His cold resilience and fearlessness reminds almost of David Cronenberg in films such as Dead Ringers (1988) and Crash (1996) - McQueen also seems to share a focus on the body much like Cronenberg's famed career. In Hunger we see the gradual decline of the body through sacrifice and starvation, here we see a man who can only connect psychically and when emotion enters the mix the psychical aspect dies. He is using his body as a way to connect spiritually, a losing game.
Shame is both a showcase of a much neglected and debated illness, an examination of compulsive addictive tendencies in general, and a character study of a man who cannot emotionally connect with anyone, even his own family. The set design shows Brandon's apartment as a sterile and clinical space of existence, a home that has no proof of being lived in at any time, a space that looks for sale on the market, a perfect metaphor for Brandon's life.
The second uniting of McQueen and Fassbender serves another masterpiece that explores areas of life that so few would be brave enough to embark on. Fassbender puts everything on the line here and shows there are no limits to which he will go and no lines he won't cross, through this mentality it seems both he and McQueen are the perfect pairing and push each other to their artistic extremes. Shame is an emotionally devastating film but also a crutially relevant and important piece of filmmaking that must not be missed.
For Fans of:
Last Tango In Paris (1972), Taxi Driver (1976), Dead Ringers (1988), Crash (1996), Hunger (2008)