Addiction. It manifests itself in all forms; simple substances transcend their banal purposes and become lethal entrapments: alcohol, pills, food; the act of “shopping” , “acquiring” can lead to bankruptcy; gambling destroys the gambler and all he or she holds dear. “Anonymous” organizations claim a myriad of nameless, damaged, strangled spirits, seeking salvation.
“Shame”, shamelessly addresses the obsession, disease of sexual addiction; a wrenching, hypnotic portrait of a man who has lost his soul, his integrity, his mission, essence; viability revolves around constant sexual appeasement; a barren, passionless, heartless shell. Michael Fassbender’s performance as “Brandon” is brutal and brilliant; he is beautiful, sculpted, hollow; every waking second seeking gratification; the means secondary to the release: women, computer porn, self- flagellation. He lives in New York City where, with little effort or charm, all he desires is within his grasp; sad, but accurate commentary on twenty-first century mores. His limited, lustful vision is a fortress allowing not a fraction of warmth or beauty to distract his distorted, crippled psyche.
Brandon’s minimally moderate control of his urges is fractured with the invasion of his sister “Sissy”,( an unrecognizable Carey Mulligan gives a dazzling, assiduous portrayal of a wounded victim of circumstances; vague, murky “love” issues). Their relationship touches but never actually crosses the line of impropriety but their nudity dangerously flirts with the unsavory, lurid possibilities of incest.
The crowning scene in the film is Sissy’s singing “New York, New York” while Brandon and his boss “David” (annoying, cloying depiction by James Badge Dale) watch, mesmerized as each word, like taffy, is stretched to the cracking point. The camera lovingly covets the countenances of this tragic triangle; inhabiting a bleak world of their own molding.
Steve McQueen (English artist and director; won the Turner Prize in 1999) has torpedoed the “taboo” in “Shame”; this dark, hopeless morass of meaningless sex, explicit nudity reduces the viewer to voyeur; the genius lying in the lack of titillation, stimulation; mechanical intercourse, devoid of nuance, raped of romance, the vacuum never filled, just tortured emptiness, endless pain and shame.
This difficult, disturbing, discerning movie is not for the masses but those inquisitive individuals (euphuism for film addicts) who venture into its confines will be haunted for days, weeks to come.