Shame puts to bed the ill-conceived notion of a glamorous side to sex addiction.
Steve McQueen’s first film since Hunger and only his second to date has all the hallmarks of a classic. He teams up once again with his muse Michael Fassbender to show the grimy trappings of an addiction to sex. Never one to muddy the water with banal dialogue McQueen begins with a montage of sorts to show how Brandon’s life is an endless roundabout of meaningless encounters and shallow games. Once his sister, played by the magnificent Carey Mulligan, turns up his whole secret life is in danger of being exposed for all the world to see.
One can’t help but have a raised eyebrow upon hearing about sex addiction however Fassbender is superb at conveying a man shackled to his urges to the point of destruction. There is nothing erotic about the graphic sex scenes, they merely show the rudimentary acts more akin to pornography than anything resembling real intimacy. When such an opportunity presents itself he is paralysed with fear unable to cope. It is quite the achievement to arouse sympathy for a man who seems to have it all, the job , the looks, the apartment and the women but Fassbender’s mastery has us in the palm of his hand crying out for him to seek help.
Help tries to come in the form of his sister but with hints of an un-happy childhood her presence only seems to push him further to the brink. The relationship between Carey and Michael is flawless. The humour, awkwardness and yearning for a familial connection are played with such genuine emotion it makes the scenes between the two all the more aching to watch. When Carey indulges the cringe-worthy advances from Michael’s boss the resulting scene of Michael’s near internal combustion are so raw you’d think the screen is going to burst into flames.
McQueen’s style of long drawn out scenes are everywhere to be seen with beautiful consequences most notably the single tracking shot of Michael jogging in an early morning New York city. Also a full on close up on Carey giving her jazz rendition of “New York, New York” is heartbreaking, where most directors would cut away he trusts you to have the intelligence to stick with it. I read that Scorsese in the early days loved the long take as it makes the audience take its time to figure out what is unfolding before their eyes. Harry Escott’s dazzlingly evocative score going hand in hand with the feeling of tragedy that the film exudes.
People may be annoyed by the climax of the film but I felt more than satisfied left only to wonder if 2012 has peaked too soon?
UK / Steve McQueen / Abi Morgan, Steve McQueen / Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan and James Badge Dales / 101 min / Drama / Release: 2 December 2011 (US/Canada), 13 January 2012 (UK/Irl)