Brandon’s got it made. He has a great job, a beautiful Manhattan apartment. He’s successful, handsome … and a complete mess. Brandon is a sex addict, he’s incapable of having a romantic relationship, and his addiction is a bottomless pit of anger and self-abuse.
As brilliantly portrayed by rising star Michael Fassbender, Brandon is the main focus of stunning 2011 drama Shame. The film got plenty of attention for the wrong reasons: its sexual content (yes, you do see the full-frontal Fassbender), its taboo subject, and its frank handling of that subject. But Shame is about so much more. As the title implies, titillation is the last thing on British director Steve McQueen’s (make of Hunger, no relation to the famous actor) mind. This movie is more about the price of sexual addiction—how it messes up Brandon’s life—than the pleasure of his proclivities.
The main relationship here is between Brandon and his equally dysfunctional sister Sissy (the excellent Carey Mulligan). She shows up at his apartment and quickly puts his life in turmoil—if it wasn’t bad enough already. While it’s never said, there is heavily implied bad history between the two. It seems clear that something really, really bad happened in their collective pasts that messed these two up something fierce. And it’s also hinted that perhaps their relationship went beyond being just siblings. Ew.
Shame is, obviously, not for all viewers. It’s a harsh story that ends with a question mark, an ambiguous conclusion that will lead to discussion with whomever you’ve watched it with about what it meant. The film is not pretty, and the things that happen in it certainly aren’t. But it’s a dark journey well worth seeing for those open to it, thanks to a tight, intelligent script. Even seemingly banal scenes, such as Brandon’s easygoing dinner date with a sweet-natured co-worker, have thought-provoking context (in that case, his inability to really connect with anyone).
McQueen directs with an assured hand—long, uncut tracking shots through the streets of Manhattan bring into Brandon’s mind, showing you how he sees things through the haze of his addiction and problems.
And Fassbender? Wow, what a performance. The material may have been too dark and un-PC to be an Oscar contender, but he turns in award-winning work here in my book. Same for Mulligan, who pulls off some very challenging stuff, such as her singing debut scene in a nightclub, in which McQueen puts the camera tight on her face as she delivers a heartbreaking, slow rendition of “New York, New York” that tells you everything you need to know about her character.
This film really delivers the goods in high-definition, showing every seamy element of New York at night, as well as the contrasting brightness and color of the world Brandon inhabits but never really fits into. You may not want to watch it over and over, but Shame is a powerful, haunting film that you won’t soon forget.Buy Shame (Blu-ray/ DVD + Digital Copy) on Amazon