Shame: A Steve McQueen Film (2011)

Posted: May 27, 2012 in Drama

Brandon, a successful businessman on the outside, has a dark, dirty secret. As a sex addict, he struggles to get through the day without giving into his urges, no matter the place they arise. Because he lives in New York City, he is able to hide his issues fairly well and ignore most of the outside world in the process. When his sister crashes in his apartment, his private life takes a seriously destructive turn. He no longer feels able to hide his private life and struggles with his rocky relationship with his sister. While she does not seem to judge him and his personal activities, her actions seem to continue to frustrate Brandon to no end, causing the two to argue on numerous occasions and feel that their tensions have risen to an unmanageable level.

Starring: Michael Fassbender (Brandon), Carey Mulligan (Sissy), Nicole Beharie (Marianne), Elizabeth Masucci (Elizabeth), Alex Manette (Steven), James Badge Dale (David), Mari-Ange Ramirez (Alexa)

This extremely provocative film takes its actors to places they have not previously gone. Michael Fassbender may be best know for action films like 300 and X-Men: First Class but his character in this film is more about inner pain and challenges than it is about his outward actions. The artistic style of the direction allows for Fassbender to act more with his long stares, minimal dialogue and periodic outbursts in reaction to his sister. Sissy, played by Carey Mulligan, is a volatile young woman and a wonderful musical talent. In a scene soon after her character’s introduction, she sings a slow rendition of New York, New York that is soulful and has a beautiful sorrowful edge to it. James Badge Dale plays the overeager friend of Fassbender, who struggles with a craving for beautiful women but does not appear to have the same addictive issue as his friend. Nicole Beharie seems to represent a woman who is a counterpoint to Fassbender’s depraved existence, seemingly wanting something more than simply a physical relationship. Also important to the story is a woman who engages Fassbender during the subway scene (Lucy Walters) because of her involvement in the public temptations for his addiction.


Along with his theme of dark dramas, Steve McQueen has chosen to explore the life of a sex addict, through all of the pain and unbeatable urges. From the start of the film, it appears that Brandon is a man stuck on autopilot. He is a victim of his urges, forcing him to seek out sex from whatever source he can find it, although he appears to be able to attract beautiful women regardless of the intensity of his urges. His sister’s arrival only disrupts his ability to succumb to his urges as they arise but not eliminate his opportunities to attempt to find release. While his sister simply appears to be a wild card in his life, she has her own problems as well. Where Brandon uses sex as a relief of his urges, Sissy’s hidden issue happens to be cutting to have a feeling of control over her life. Her cutting habits attempt to hide her significant inner pain, even though it is not clear how troubled her background truly is.


Though it could be easy to highlight how the provocative focus and amount of nudity takes away from the enjoyment of the film, McQueen is all about intense imagery and strong emotions to highlight his meaning behind the story. The subway scenes are some of the most telling scenes in the film, highlighting a longing to act on his urges but the restrictive elements of the public nature of the subway car and the fact that the woman is taken. McQueen goes to an even more intense place when he shows Brandon wandering in to a gay club and allowing to give himself to another man, while then following up the experience with another pair of women. What McQueen and Fassbender are so successfully able to project is the absolute sorrow that Brandon feels virtually every minute of his existence. What they are a little less successful with is giving a better understanding for Sissy’s problems and how she ended up having her own addiction.

This film certainly does not work for most people due to its intensity and its artistic nature. There are a lot of emotional elements that are truly inspired and the music truly helps to increase the emotions and passion of the scenes.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5


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