'Shame' - Movie Review

Updated on May 10, 2019
Sam Shepards profile image

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interest is science fiction and zombie movies. Pessimistic and survival films I also enjoy a lot.

Shame opens with the two most recurrent elements of its history. Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender), lying naked in his bed, savoring his daily dose of casual sex. When he gets up to clean up, the title of the film appears on the empty bed, almost like a conservative accusation.

At first glance, Brandon's life is great. Not only does he look like Michael Fassbender, but he also has a beautiful apartment in New York and a stable job that seems to pay very well. Brandon also has an undisputed sexual magnetism, which allows him to have sex with beautiful women on a daily basis. We even see him almost achieve a sexual dream encounter with a beautiful unknown married woman in the subway, before she decides to literally flee from the temptation. That's how strong his magnetism is.

But when we begin to see his life more in detail, something starts to feel off. Brandon is successful with women, but that doesn't stop him from constantly spending money on prostitutes. For someone who is a master of the flirting arts, that's a suspicious practice.

Brandon also does not skimp on filling the rest of his free time in sexual activities. He masturbates in his office's bathroom regularly, all his computers are full of pornography and the closets of his house are literally crammed with magazines, movies, and sex toys. It seems like nothing else fits in Brandon's life but the mechanical act of stimulating his penis.

His most complicated relationship, and perhaps the only one with some depth, is the one he has with his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan), the only woman he cannot even consider fornicating and the one he can't sexually control or objectify.

And that is exactly why Brandon actively flees from any interaction with her. Sissy doesn't stop trying to contact him, but Brandon never answers.

Because in addition to the frightening prospect of having to deal emotionally with a woman, the presence of Sissy also confronts him with his addiction, not allowing him to freely use his space for his constant sessions of masturbation, casual sex, sex with prostitutes and sexual video chats. It's a kind of forced withdrawal.

In addition, Sissy is a permanent reminder of the feminine side (or a simply emotional one, let's not be gender-biased on this one) that Brandon obsessively despises or actively ignores. Sissy seems to be very emotionally dependent on their love partners, to the point of making them embarrassing phone calls in tears, begging for love.

That's why when Sissy makes a surprise appearance in his apartment for a few days, Brandon begins to lose even more control of his addiction.

Shame is not dedicated to showing exclusively the dark side of the addiction. The women Brandon has sex with are spectacularly beautiful. You just have to look at Nicole Beharie, Amy Hargreaves or Elizabeth Masucci to understand, for example, his aversion to marriage.

It's a cheap movie trick, but an effective and real one. Director Steve McQueen masterfully shows the sexual tension and allows the viewer to feel a little of Brandon's thrill of fornicating new beautiful females. Yes, Shame is incredibly decadent, but it also manages to be incredibly sexy.

So, is not all this too melodramatic? Is not Steve McQueen slut-shaming his main character just because he has an obsession with pleasure?

No. Shame is not a conservative accusing finger that uses its stage to establish a pro-monogamy, pro-marriage institution message.

Brandon has an addiction, not because of the technicality of wanting to ejaculate several times a day. Brandon has an addiction because that casual sex obsession without feelings is denting his personal and professional life.

The presence of his sister is disturbing him in many ways. He is ashamed of the man he is and at the same time is frustrated by not being able to be at ease in the confines of his house.

His sexual frustration leads him to be a bit more aggressive in his conquest tactics, which brings negative and violent consequences of jealous men.

But most important of all is that his addiction is not allowing him to have real sentimental relationships.

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A sexual animal in any other situation, Brandon is even unable to get an erection at the slightest prospect of involving feelings in the sex act, which is exactly what happens when he tries the "normal" path and have a date with a co-worker. Minutes later, in the same place, Brandon unloads his frustration wildly pumping a prostitute with whom he has no emotional connection.

Shame almost culminates in a perhaps too-tragic way to better illustrate Brandon's level of detachment with his sister, apparently motivated by a traumatic childhood of which there is not much mention.

But McQueen prefers to close this great movie with temptation, the main enemy of any addiction. The unknown and married subway girl, the biggest object of Brandon's desire, seems willing to the flirtation this time. The last thing we see is poor Brandon, just before making the decision we know he will make.

If you want a lighter look at our modern issues with sex and pornography addiction you should check out Don Jon.

Movie Details

Title: Shame

Release Year: 2011

Director(s): Steve McQueen

Actors: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan a.o.

4 stars for Shame

© 2019 Sam Shepards

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    • Sam Shepards profile imageAUTHOR

      Sam Shepards 

      7 months ago from Europe

      Thanks for the comment. Yes the movie as some of that atmospheric city at night melancholia. It's a strong movie with a subject that can easily be done the wrong way.

    • Stanley Johnston profile image

      Stan Johnston 

      7 months ago from New Brunswick, Canada

      Powerful, artistic, and bold film. Enjoyed the music and the city at night.

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