Shame: an unabashed review

It seems strange to admit that I loved director Steve McQueen’s Shame, but I did. Shame is unnerving, disheartening and at times downright difficult to watch, but more importantly, the film is a brutally honest and intimate portrayal of human depravity, impeccably depicted by a talented cast and gifted director.

Shame tells the story of Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender), a thirty-something successful businessman living in New York City. On the surface, Brandon seems to be well put together; he’s attractive, holds a good job, lives in a nice apartment, has friends, etc. But underneath his demure exterior and seemingly introverted personality, Brandon has an unrelenting appetite for sex and porn, a hunger that consumes most of his life and renders him incapable of maintaining meaningful intimate relationships. Still, Brandon seems to have his life and addiction by the reigns, that is until his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) arrives needing a place to stay – indefinitely. No longer able to maintain the privacy he depends on, Brandon’s life slowly unravels revealing the extent to which he is a slave of his own perversion and the subsequent pain with which he exists.

Shame is unequivocally raw and equally brilliant. The film touches upon the darkest areas of the human soul and exposes them in a manner that is simultaneously relatable and detestable. It is a film worth watching, however challenging the experience.

**Please discontinue reading at this point if you would like to see the film without knowing significant plot elements beforehand***

What I found most intriguing about Shame was the relationship between Michael and Sissy. In each scene they share, the pain of this brother and sister  is palpable. Their familial love cannot overcome their unquenchable desires and burdens them both to the breaking point.

Brandon and Sissy seem to epitomize the idea of “lost souls” and are textbook cases of adults living with unresolved child abuse (although the film is mostly silent in regards to the Irish upbringing they left behind). In my opinion it is in their relationship that the true tragedy of Shame is revealed; the corrupted love of their childhood manifests itself into a warped pursuit for love and acceptance in adulthood.

Brandon’s sex and porn addiction (his replacements for meaningful love) explodes out of control when he loses the privacy of his apartment (as Sissy moves in) and he must venture outside to fulfill his desires. His quest and desperation lead him from high-end clubs, to bars, to gay clubs, to the streets and whorehouses. Brandon falls prey to his addiction and becomes so disillusioned that he neglects to hear the one person he cares about, Sissy, screaming for help.

Alternatively Sissy’s need for love blinds her from all else. Turned out by her boyfriend, Sissy lands on the doorstep of the only person she knows cares for her (her brother) and moves in – uninvited. Her inability to be alone consumes her as she invades Brandon’s life in ways that destroy him; infringing on his privacy, sleeping with his boss, etc.

Their inability to fill each other’s voids nearly destroys them – Sissy in attempted suicide, Brandon with a breakdown. We see the two helped somewhat by the force of reality bringing them back – Sissy wakes up in the hospital, while Brandon wakes up in the rain. Although there is a glimmer of hope again for these two, the final scene of the film illustrates just how easy the fall back into addiction can be.

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Comments
2 Responses to “Shame: an unabashed review”
  1. I felt the last scene of the film showed that he has become stronger and can fight off his addiction. He doesn’t go after the girl on the subway again, though I do think it’s still ambiguous as to how okay he is. Great review, love the blog!

    • psychcine says:

      To be honest, I love the ambiguous ending – I think I’m just more cynical than you are in my interpretation, but certainly appreciate your optimistic outlook. Thanks also for the compliment, I look forward to reading about your film endeavors as well!

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