Shame is British Director Steve McQueen’s latest film, a powerfully bleak and unremitting film about sex addiction.
Brandon Sullivan played by (now award winning) Michael Fassbender is an Ad Man of Irish heritage, living and working in New York City. He is struggling with his secret of sex addiction and we follow his daily ritual facilitating his addiction through hookers, porn and casual sex. The arrival of his vulnerable singing and self-harming sister Sissy, played by Carey Mulligan, turns up out of the blue at his flat; disrupts his ritual and challenges his lifestyle.
It’s a film about sex that isn’t sexy, a tall order for any filmmaker. Gritty and somewhat lawless New York, creates a fast paced backdrop to his hectic lifestyle, which contrasts to the controlled pace of the cinematography. McQueen’s signature style of holding long shots, exposes you to scenes and sequences that may make you turn away before the camera cuts.
Brandon is unable to relate to someone he genuinely cares for – this is shown when he takes a colleague out on an uncomfortable dinner date, which anyone can somewhat relate to. They eat, drink and talk comfortably in one another’s company after an awkward start. It’s the following events of this impulse relationship that shows Brandon’s inability to relate with women in any way, other than sex and that he can’t have sex with anyone he has feelings for. He rectifies this with a quick call to a hooker to get his fix.
Meanwhile, Sissy starts to get gigs at midtown cocktail bars. Brandon and his cocky boss go to one of her performances one night. She sings a slow jazz version of ‘New York, New York’, ironically. Here McQueen exercises his long shots as we see the two siblings connect for the first time. The performance shows the vulnerability of his sister as she stands in front a large crowd. It’s the only time that you see any empathy and emotion from Brandon as he looks on at his sister, while a tear rolls down his face. However, this performance creates some common ground between the two. Brandon continues to spiral out of control as Sissy cries for help as she struggles psychologically.
Both McQueen and Abi Morgan, the co-writer (notable work of The Iron Lady and BBC 2’s The Hour) originally planned for the film to be set in London, but sex addiction wasn’t/isn’t medically recognised to the extent they required. They were unable to meet with diagnosed addicts in order to carry out the necessary research.
The American film licensing organisation gave Shame an NC-17 rating. It’s not a rap group but a classification of their x rated films. To say I enjoyed it would perhaps be the wrong word, due to context, not content. McQueen said ‘it’s like the blues, it hurts so good – it’s beautiful but sad’. This seems fair.
British filmmaking of the highest standard, go see it but not with the kids. Alternatively, Hugo 3D is playing in cinemas nationwide.