Film Review- Shame
This is not a film about sex.
This is a film that contains a lot of sex scenes, which deals with sexual addiction and which deals with sexual norms. But, it is not about sex.
This film is about Brandon, an Irish-American living in New York city. He has a good job, a nice apartment. He even has some friends. But it’s all sterile. His apartment is impersonal and silent. It gleams with cleanliness, a show-home. He spends his time at work looking at porn rather than engaging in work that he finds fulfilling.
Brandon compulsively seeks out sex. It’s a way for him to feel something. It is reassuring because there is routine. He picks up/pays for a woman, has sex, feels okay for a while. Feels something for a while. The fascinating thing about Brandon as a character is that we see him as vulnerable. He is good-looking and by all appearances a “macho” man but he gets into situations which show him as weak. This is so rare in films, where the default setting is vulnerable woman. The last time in film I can recall a male character being seen in this way is Edward Norton’s character in “American History X”.
Brandon’s life is structured and organised. He likes it that way. It is when his sister (Cissy) arrives looking for help that his carefully crafted existence is interrupted. She’s messy, in more ways than one. Her presence causes him to relive painful childhood memories which we are never told about explicitly.
“We’re not bad people, Brandon. We just come from a bad place”.
Cissy is an addict too, but not in the way Brandon is. We see the external reality of her turmoil. She is just as unhappy as he is. She stands too close to the edge on subway platforms; he gets into fights with jealous boyfriends.
This is an uncomfortable film. You will not leave the cinema with a smile on your face saying “I really enjoyed that”. But you may find it interesting. Once you get past all the sex, which is monotonous and occasionally desperate and sad rather than arousing, you see a brilliant character sketch of two siblings who have a push and pull relationship. She desperately wants her brother to love her, to take care of her. He is unable to form intimate relationships with anyone, and so pushes her away.
The two leads (Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan) are excellent and Director Steve McQueen shoots this beautifully. Our hands are not held during this film, we must come to our conclusions. We are responsible for our own ending, just like the characters.