Shame

What better way to begin a blog than with one the finest pieces of cinema to come out of the UK in 2011. Set in New York, Steve McQueen’s Shame is a fascinating look at the deeply desperate and disturbing sexual addiction of Brandon. (Michael Fassbender). Brandon is ‘that businessman type’ who has a job in advertising or something and lives in one of those lovely apartments that looks the same as that other apartment in the last film you saw about a business man in New York. This is not meant as a criticism at all- in fact, that’s the whole point.
He lives his life in just the way you would expect. He is a success with women- not through an overt or obvious charm or charisma- but mainly because he’s rather good-looking and wealthy, and his other friends are sleazy. He enjoys shagging and we enjoy watching him shag with escorts and girls in bars and the like. He revels in his indulgence like a pig in mud, the ritual of suggesting it, chasing it, undressing it and then doing it is all part of the deal- that is- until Sissy (Carey Mulligan), his issue-ridden sister arrives. Brandon in fact barges in on her whilst she’s in the shower. The greedy pleasure for the audience of seeing the naked female is quickly replaced by a revulsion at the realisation that this is his little sister. The presence of a female that he definitely doesn’t want to have sex with causes a whole host of problems.
It is from here on that we watch the strutting peacock losing his feathers- along with his perceived control. All that was sexy about sex is now an uncomfortable mish-mash of confusion, desperation and ultimately, unhappiness. It’s like watching Renton in Trainspotters shoving his hand into the worst toilet in Scotland to retrieve his prize- we feel pity for him, we find his behaviour disgusting.
Like Hunger, McQueen creates a physicality that is dominant throughout the film- the smells, the tastes, the touch is all there. Fassbender again gives a stirling performance as Brandon, with Mulligan also pulling off the ‘messed-up girl’ without being any more annoying than she’s meant to be. The film could have, as McQueen says, been set in London, or even Tokyo- it’s not about New York as such, it’s about big cities, filled with people but yet so lonely and empty, and having a sex addiction, a drug addiction or an anything else addiction is somehow an obvious answer to fill the nothingness, and it is perhaps our understanding of this that allows us not to be too judgemental of Brandon’s behaviour. When he does make an attempt to fill the nothingness with affection over sex.. well let’s just say it doesn’t go according to plan.
Yet McQueen, who co-wrote the script with the wonderful Abi Morgan, makes no attempt to explain away the reasons for his behaviour. Whilst Sissy vaguely touches on this in a fairly abstract voice-over, we don’t have to deal with the usual ‘I was bullied / abused in childhood and this is why’…..yawn. Nope, there is no excuse- that’s just the way it is.
To sum up, Shame is more than worth watching- its incredible. Just make sure you don’t watch it with a sibling.

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3 thoughts on “Shame

  1. Sam Inglis (@24FPSUK) says:

    Nia. Good opening piece, and another review that really makes me want to see Shame again, because I’m still not sure where I stand on it (the further I get from it the more I think it’s shallower than it appears).

    On the blog itself… I’d break the review text into more defined paragraphs (easier and more pleasurable to read) and consider using a picture, because at the moment it’s just a little blank looking. Content is excellent though and I look forward to deciding whether I agree with you.

  2. Kathryn says:

    I haven’t read much about Shame yet and, like with Hunger, I’m looking forward to it, apprehensively! Looking forward to reading more of your reviews and news on British cinema.

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