Director: Steve McQueen
Cinematographer: Sean Bobbit
Writers: Steve McQueen, Abi Morgan
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan
Steve McQueen released two ultra fascinating character studies starring Michael Fassbender in the late 2000’s and one of those pictures was “Shame”
Shame is the story of a sex addict, Brandon (Michael Fassbender), who had cultivated a lifestyle completely hidden from his day-to-day life. The story of Shame is the world finding subtle hints of his addiction, and his Sissy (Carey Mulligan) coming to live with him as she unravels the fortress of his sex-fueled life. The focus on the constant need for instant physical gratification and how he interferes with every aspect of his personal life. It’s a film centered around the shame that Brandon is feeling at all times.
McQueen made a simple film. There’s nothing particular about the filmmaking that sticks out (outside of smart editing), but that in turn shows the raw nature of Brandon’s shame and a realistic viewpoint of someone dealing with the baggage of his lifestyle. The film wants us to experience the irrationality of Brandon’s addiction and how any situation can turn sideways if someone breaks into his impenetrable fortress of solitude. This is what makes his Sissy’s presence so unbelievably awkward.
Fassbender, who was phenomenal in McQueen’s other character-study, “Hunger,” puts on an even more incredible performance here. His portrayal of a tough exterior perfectly encapsulates the pure shallowness that he holds deep within his characters subconscious. The way in which he wallows about his apartment or how quickly he moves out of any serious relationship is telling. The dinner scene with Marianne (Nicole Beharie) and the conversation about setting down is so real. Fassbender’s body language in that scene tells its own story, and the interaction is so real and relatable.
However, the character shifts coincide with his Sissy’s presence, as she’s the anti-Brandon. Open, free, and yet even more troubled than Brandon. Both characters bring a certain dynamic to each scene, and with them being opposites personality wise, the interactions are tense and distasteful. The sibling love slowly deteriorates as his addiction rises to the surface with her living there. This plays a role in the ending of the story.
As for the writing, it’s a wonderful balancing act and accurately depicts the subtle deception addicts do in every social interaction. Conversations aren’t surface layer in Shame. It’s deep, meaningful conversations that do a great job at explaining this character. The juxtaposition of what Brandon says as opposed to what he does is also drastic and telling. McQueen executed for the dialogue to say one thing while the characters actions display something else entirely.
Shame is slow, toned down stylistically, and drab with its visuals, but it’s a film layered in characterization. It’s arguably one of the most realistic depictions of shame ever put on film. It all feels organic, which is a strong suit from McQueen’s direction, and what makes this dive into the pains of letting people into our secrets and home.
Shame improved on most of the aspects of Hunger that left me wanting more. There were no 15-minute conversations, and the editing improved dramatically. It’s also Fassbender’s best career performance showing a vulnerable side to his lost character.
Certainly no masterpiece like “12 Years a Slave,” but this film offers enough interest in this type of addiction that rarely gets discussed and is engaging the entire time. It’s another McQueen film with excellent writing, cast, and delivers an emotional punch that hits, unlike most films because of the subject of the story. It’s absolutely worth a watch.