I’ve been struggling somewhat since I saw this film to figure out exactly what to write about it, so I am sorry if this review seems to read more like a stream of consciousness as I try to figure out what to say. The reason I’ve been finding it difficult to articulate my response to  Shame is because it is a film that really puts you through every emotion, a literal roller-coaster of emotions. It is at times rather hard to watch, as I’m sure you are aware of its explicit nature. It is an intense experience that certainly leaves you in a bewildered and rather strange place. Despite all this, it is a movie to be greatly admired, from the artful direction by Steve McQueen, to the blistering performances from its two leads; Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan.

The story follows Fassbender as Brandon Sullivan, a seemingly normal guy on the surface who is successful in his work, gets on well with his workmates, and lives a prosperous life. Nothing on the surface seems out of the ordinary. But his private life is much different. Brandon is a sex addict. Sex is on his mind 24/7, and he goes to great lengths to ensure that his addiction is satisfied, be it the internet, masturbation (both at home and at work) or ordering prostitutes. Brandon also has to contend with his over-bearing and needy sister Sissy (Mulligan) , a very talented yet incredibly troubled Singer, who comes to stay with Brandon during the course of the film. The tensions between the two only go to worsen their respective conditions, pushing both of them towards a path of self-destruction.

The narrative follows Brandon vicariously from a seemingly random moment in his life, in which by the end of it we hope he tries to find resolution to his problem (I’ll leave it to you to make your own mind up about the ending). The fact that we follow Brandon so intensely is what leads to what some may consider the film’s more uncomfortable moments. It must be said, the sex scenes are not designed to be erotic in the conventional Hollywood sense. They are made to feel uncomfortable and somewhat saddening, as we see Brandon continue to fall victim to his over-powering addiction. We are not entirely aware that he has a sexual addiction from the beginning of the movie, it is as we continue to follow his middle-class life, that we become aware of the extensiveness and the seriousness of his addiction. It is true to say that in this day and age if we have a desire we want fulfilled, we want it done quickly. And we have the means to do that, and this is reflected in Brandon’s addiction. The world supplies him with the services to fulfill his desires, through the internet mainly, yet the film also highlights that although we are following an individual, there are other people in the world with the same desire, and are willing to help Brandon fulfill it, and not just because they are making a profit from it, proving Brandon is not alone, which is somewhat of a scary thought. What makes the experience uncomfortable is the extent in which Brandon goes to in order to fulfill his desire. By the final act in which he goes on the ultimate spiral of self-destruction, we realise it isn’t just an addiction of desire, it is Brandon’s form of self-harm. He lives a rather closed off life, he is batting inner demons, demons which begin to come to the surface when his sister, who very much has her demons out on display for all to see, comes to stay, forcing him to confront his problems. Only, his way of confronting these problems is to push the boundaries of his addiction to shocking results.

The relationship between Brandon and Sissy is what drives the narrative and gives the film its emotional backbone. The topic of sex addiction threatens to make the film, and its lead character, a rather detached and cold experience, which is why having the family topic present adds depths to both character and story, no matter how bizarre the relationship may seem. I’d hate to see what Brandon and Sissy’s experience was growing up, as these two are seriously fucked up individuals. McQueen and Abi Morgan’s script makes subtle suggestions to their past; with Sissy stating that “we’re not bad people, we just come from a bad place,” but it is the allusiveness of their past which makes the relationship interesting. A particular stand-out sequence has the two siblings confronting each other in the living room, saying harmful things to each other, all the while a cartoon plays out of focus on the television in the background. It is a wonderfully inventive example of juxtaposition; you expect siblings to sit down together in front of the television when they are children and perhaps have a bit of a squabble, however in this context it is two very troubled adults having a discussion which will end up having rather disastrous results. The relationship may not have come across as layered and conflicted as it does if it weren’t for the performances of Fassbender and Mulligan. Fassbender is a force to be reckoned with at the moment, and he is on ferocious form in this movie. He can go from charming, to detestable to down-right frightening just like that, and you are utterly convinced by him. It is a brave and committed performance which drives the film through every moment. Mulligan portrays a very different character, much less reserved, a tornado of an individual who brings about destruction wherever she goes. This a completely different character for Mulligan and only goes to exemplify her range as an actress. Compare this performance to, lets say Drive, and you wouldn’t think it was the same actress. She works perfectly against Fassbender as an over-bearing, yet wholly tragic character (even though it lasts too long, try not getting chills during her rendition of New York, New York).

Steve McQueen has followed up his debut film Hunger (which also features a fantastic performance from Fassbender) with an even braver movie, something which I didn’t think was possible. His direction is incredibly natural, he always relies on the lighting of the environment, letting shadows fall where they may within the New York setting, a city which is as full of mystery as it is glamour. He really has a knack for making his movies feel raw and real; there are moments in Brandon’s life which you can surprisingly relate to (all of us have had that date with the awkward waiter). Sex scenes have certainly never been shot in such a way, reflecting Brandon’s impersonal attitude to something which, in a perfect world, you share with someone you care about, but that isn’t the case sometimes. Some people may find it slightly irritating that some loose ends aren’t tied up, but as McQueen himself said, that is life, sometimes the loose ends aren’t tied up. Shame reflects how we really don’t know what goes on behind close doors, how a person you may think you know may lead a dark life. I’d like to think none of my friends are sex addicts in their own time, but the film does bring that question to light; how well do you really know the people in your life? And it does so in a bold and profound way. In short; it’s art.

5/5- Intense, artistic and undeniably brave. It may be hard to watch at times, but it is a fascinating character study featuring two stunning performances from Fassbender and Mulligan.

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