Steve McQueen's critically applauded and culturally polarising film Shame that was released in the UK in January of this year, receives a DVD release this coming Monday (14th May).
Starring Michael Fassbender (in all his glory) as Brandon, a seemingly straight-laced young man who works in a healthy office environment yet harbours a dark addiction of sex-related stimulation. His laptop is full of porn, he masturbates at work and numerous times a day. He has unprotected sex with women he meets in bars, and never sees them again. Brandon is a sex addict.
Brandon is happy with his life, he has a routine. He works hard at work, to fund his addiction and his lust for sex. Yet he lacks a certain amount of intimacy with his day-to-day contacts due to his still exterior, yet inside he is awash with shame from his behaviour. Hence the title of the film.
Brandon's routine and level of comfort is turned upside down when his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) comes to visit. They are the only siblings from an Irish family, yet Sissy does not know of Brandon's addiction/problem and she feels compelled to help him or cement their relationship as stronger than it should be.
There is a real commitment by the two actors in their roles; Fassbender showed potential in McQueen's film debut Hunger, yet he goes further here with this performance; he appears in every scene of the film, and the arc of the character with its fair bit of dips and troughs must have been emotionally exhausting for the actor. It is a credit to the performer, that a really nasty piece of work is turned into a sympathetic character by the film's end.
Mulligan is the opposite of Fassbender; her character is extrovert and keeps a lot out there; whilst Brandon is an introvert until he becomes involved with a sexual act. Yet for such a small-ish role, she sparkles on screen and has a highlight when singing a stripped down version of 'New York, New York' which allows Brandon to have a moment of reflection and even well up at the sight of his sister singing.
A telling piece of the film is when Brandon attempts a date with Marianne (Nicole Behaire) from his office, there is a connection and chemistry between the two. And when they attempt to have intercourse, where they feel the moment and Brandon attempts tenderness he is unable to fulfil the act. The timidity and recklessness of the character is amplified when he then calls a hooker, and screws her in the window of his multi-story apartment. Brandon is in control with the hooker, whilst with someone he could care for he is not and so unable to commit.
Brandon's journey gets worse and it comes to a head when Sissy needs his help and he is unable to. By journey's end he is at the end of a dock and starts crying, the last scene revolves around a chance encounter with a girl Brandon saw at the film's beginning. These two scenes that bookend the film are intriguing; the first one shows Brandon as a sexual predator as simple eye-flirting becomes more for him, and less for her. The concluding scene has a certain sense of ambiguity to it, does Brandon smirk his Mona Lisa smile at the thought of being able to have sex with this woman finally, or the sight of her wearing a wedding ring mean his words to his sister about his boss feel hollow now.
Shame is a film that feels longer than it is, thanks in part to the installation pace of the work, the compelling hold the performances have on you and the message of the film will stay with you; and it is brave to film something about an addiction that is prevalent in this day and age of immediacy and emotional highs.
Shame is out on DVD from Momentum Pictures and Film4 on Monday