Addiction is a subject which has been the topic of many films before. Some films take the comedic route, while others play it out in a more dramatic fashion. Usually the protagonist realises they have an addiction after hitting “bottom”, and then we follow them as they seek help. Shame is not either of these films. Shame is not about redemption or seeking help. It’s about how addiction guts the lives of those trapped in its embrace, leaving them a cold and hollow existence.
Shame is centred on sex addict Brandon (Michael Fassbender) and his exhausting routine to feed his addiction. We see Brandon from first thing in the morning until late in the evening and quickly see the control his addiction has on him. From masturbating in the work bathrooms, to trying to pick up girls in the subway – his routine is intense and his addiction is clearly his master.
His routine is thrown into disarray with the arrival of his clearly disturbed sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan), who comes to stay with him for a few days. These two obviously had an interesting childhood, as their relationship is not what you could call healthy. The presence of Sissy unbalances his routine, and we follow Brandon as he finds himself losing control of his carefully constructed life.
This film is absolutely exquisitely shot and masterfully edited. The blue/grey muted palate of a New York winter adds to the cold and desperate atmosphere of the film. The camera operators and editors must be praised for their careful editing of some rather graphic sex scenes. They manage to keep the bits they need to off-screen without resorting to too many cut-away shots or fade-outs. Those who have seen director Steve McQueen’s first film Hunger, will notice the similarities in the cinematography in this film. McQueen again employs the use of several long-shots (including a very impressive tracking shot of Brandon running), and uses the whole shot very carefully to frame his subjects.
Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan must be given enormous praise for their impressive performances in these extremely raw and challenging roles. Fassbender conveys the pain and hollowness of addiction in a way which will leave you cold. Respect must be given for the large number of sex scenes he was in. These were at times harrowing scenes, and only an actor of the highest calibre could have pulled them off. Mulligan is outstanding as the emotional and unstable sister. Her performance of ‘New York New York’ which could have been cheesy, is in fact incredibly moving. Both actors give their all to these roles.
The sex scenes and full frontal nudity (both genders) may not be for everyone. They are graphic and at times uncomfortable. This is not a sexy film. This is a cold and hollow film which successfully portrays how addiction guts people to their very core, leaving them with nothing but pain and the need to find the next fix.
Director: Steve McQueen
Writer(s): Abi Morgan, Steve McQueen
Starring: Micahel Fassbender, Carey Mulligan
Runtime: 101 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: February 9th 2012; New Zealand: February 23rd 2012
(Note: this review was originally posted on my tumblr)