Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Directed by: Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan
Psychological afflictions don’t come much more interesting than sex addiction. It’s a sad, fascinating and deeply damaging disease and one which has been washed over by dozens of over-sexed fading movie stars who have touted it as the reason for their sudden stint in rehab. As we raise our eyebrows at these less than sympathetic characters the reality of the affliction becomes little more than a joke to most people. But of course sex addiction does exist and it’s ugly, deadening and painful to watch.
Director Steve McQueen, the king of “horribly stark” takes us on a journey over the course of a few days with Brandon, a handsome yuppie living it up in downtown Manhattan. He is also a sex addict. For a while it’s all piercing stares and visual examination of his clearly carefully sculpted body but it soon becomes very clear that for Brandon, sex isn’t sexy. It is creepy and it is cold and his hunger for it is a constant distraction. Things really kick off when his sister Sissy invades his life and invites herself on to his couch for a few days. Brandon’s world is cold, clinical and ordered and when a frazzled, damaged Sissy enters it, all hell breaks loose.
If Brandon is a closed book, Cissy is his polar opposite. She wears her naïve heart on her sleeve and it is horrible to see how broken she is but even worse to know (or guess, I suppose) that this is a situation she gets herself in time and time again. As we follow Brandon through his series of encounters and a particularly upsetting date with a woman who is smart, beautiful and who he really feels for we experience the depths of his problems and his despair.
Fassbender plays this role to perfection. His sculpted body and square jaw give him enough cheesy appeal to ensure we believe he would rarely find it difficult to attract women but his steely, cold eyes give him the mystique to buy into the fact that there’s more going on behind the eyes than we think.
The relationship between he and his sister is not explored fully but enough is shown and hinted at to presume that they did not have a conventional childhood. Both seem to understand each other in that level of familiarity that only exists between people who grew up together but they are also worlds apart in so many ways that they almost challenge each other to understand the alien worlds they each live.
Shame is a success on many levels. It is engaging and atmospheric and shows many of the ways in which sex addiction is unglamorous. However, I was slightly disappointed with the film’s ability to bring anything new to the table. As it ended I came away feeling that I’d seen all this before and at the end of the day for all its nudity and lingering focus on its subjects it didn’t feel very intimate and felt almost conventional. As engaging as it was, there was nothing to mull over when the credits rolled and no new perspective to justify the time we spent in Brandon’s company. Maybe I’ve been desensitised by four seasons of Californication, a subtler but no less unsettling exploration of sex addiction but I didn’t feel that Shame gave me any new material to consider on the subject.
Shame is enjoyable and aesthetically pleasing but ultimately unrewarding, I can’t help feeling like this is a somewhat shallow representation of a misunderstood and underestimated disease. That being said, there’s much to admire in the film and it’d definitely worth seeing on the big screen.
- Charlene Lydon