Shame

Shame – the film about a New York sex addict who spirals down into his own obsession, leaving a trace of unfulfilled relationships along his way. The film is directed by Steve McQueen, the guy who in 2008 gave us the controversial film Hunger, and again his film stars Michael Fassbender, this time as the sex addict, Brandon Sullivan, who gets a surprise visit from his equally as disturbed sister, Sissy Sullivan, played by British actress Carey Mulligan.
Shame is an interestingly intrusive film which balances on the surface of a variety of subjects, but never seems to fully know where to direct its focus. The result is a story with an inconsistent flow, which makes it difficult to suspend your disbelief and be fully engaged in what is happening on screen.

The film starts out by introducing Brandon Sullivan as the successful businessman who balances his work life with that of his personal life as a sex addict. Every morning he wakes up with a new girl in his bed, he watches obsessive amounts of porn, and masturbates whenever he has got the chance. As the film progresses the boundaries between work and personal life starts to blur, and when his sister, Sissy, one night shows up in his apartment unannounced, persuading Brandon to let her stay, things quickly starts to escalate. With his sister around Brandon no longer has the freedom to pursue his sexual urges as freely as before, and this leads him to start realizing the extent of his problem, and soon he and Sissy’s relationship is put to the test when they both become aware of their mutual problems caused by their troubled family past. The questions then become: Are any of them strong enough to do something about it, and can you actually help someone if you yourself are troubled?

To a certain extent Shame resembles Mary Harron’s American Psycho with its emotionally detached portray of the main character, yet the difference between the two is that American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman feels no shame about his lifestyle, whereas Shame is about Brandon Sullivan and how he copes with his shame of being ‘different’ while still trying to maintain his facade of success.

Plot-wise Shame has several loose ends and the portrayal of Brandon’s obsession with sex might have been shown more clearly, since it is not until very late in the film you actually feel that Brandon might have a problem which is more severe than him just being an average guy who happens to enjoy sex a lot! The script is rather loose as well. For instance Brandon and Sissy’s background is only touched upon very briefly, something which gives the impression of a lazy scriptwriter. The background explanation should either have been completely left out or have been developed further, either of which would have given the film a stronger message. By completely leaving out any explanation of Brandon’s background a more contemporary portrayal would have been made, something which for instance American Psycho did with great success. By developing the background of the two siblings further on the other hand one would be more intrigued because you would get an idea of how why they have developed such extreme attitudes towards love and sex.

Besides the plot problems, there is a problem with the acting. The interaction between Brandon and Sissy seems rather forced and awkward; something I cannot figure out whether is done on purpose in order to reveal their uneasy relationship, or if it is a problem with the acting. No matter what, it never seems to fully convince me. The portrayal of Brandon as an individual is acceptable, but I do find that the mental aspects of Brandon’s addiction are not revealed in sufficient depth, neither through the plot nor through the close-ups of Brandon’s facial expressions.

Overall this is a reasonable film which does deserve a viewing, if not for plot and acting, then for the idea and the well framed images. However, this film is definitely not for the faint of heart. It is not for nothing that this film was rated 18. Extreme acts of nudity such as intercourse, masturbation and urinating are exhibited in Shame, and this daring attempt to reveal the decline of a sex addict does exactly that, and this is where the quality in the film lies – in the intrusiveness of the story and the picture. The title of the film reveals the layers this film has to offer: It wants to explore the shame Brandon feels, but at the same time the very graphic images this film consists of want to let the viewer explore its own shame, its own boundaries for what is acceptable and not – and to the people who walked out during the screening I guess this film was way beyond their boundaries!

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