Film Review: Shame

(Published in Issue 6 of my publication In Retrospect)

Directed by Steve McQueen, Shame follows a successful man living in New York City who, behind closed doors, is living a carefully cultivated life as a sex addict. From picking up women with his charming persona in nightclubs, to paying for physical encounters with just about anyone, Brandon (Michael Fassbender) struggles on a day-to-day basis trying to find where his next night, or even minutes, of passion will come from. That is until his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) turns up to live with him indefinitely. Looking for only comfort, Sissy throws her brother’s life into a world of uncertainty as he must deal with each of their damaged lives, whilst also trying to hide and feed his own shameful appetite for sex.


Despite how disturbing the premise of this film is, Shame is a mesmerising and somewhat captivating drama that deals with its subject matter brilliantly. Whilst it is deeply informed, exploring the dark side of an illness that we don’t often get to see, it is also incredibly raunchy; not all the time, as it does well to show how such an illness can affect those around you, but enough to make you never want to take your eyes off the screen. Some scenes are so definitive that you had to question whether it was only just acting (not that I’m complaining), but again it was dealt with well enough that nothing reached the level of repulsiveness that can often be stretched to by addicts. Because that’s exactly what it is, an addiction; an obsession that needs constant attention, and scenes like that are not often so acceptable in a full-length film.

For a large part, we have Fassbender to thank for that, as he gives a strong lead performance that really draws you into the story (It’s hard not to turn all of this into one big pun!). It’s obvious that he and director Steve McQueen have a great connection together and it definitely shows, as Fassbender was his first and only choice for the role. Fassbender has become a big name over the past year and it is films like Shame that show us why.

Mulligan, too, is brilliant. She pulled in a lot of attention from her performance alongside Ryan Gosling in the highly acclaimed Drive last year, but her role here is much different. When singing in the club with her hair neatly curled we see the same spark that we have enjoyed from her acting before, but away from this scene, we see a much different side to her, as a completely needy girl who needs help. For this, she plays her role brilliantly.

Because of their amazing, if not slightly awkward, chemistry, it’s really easy to engage with what’s happening, despite how highly unrelatable it is for the majority of its audience. Their characters have suggestively gone through a painful upbringing that is never fully explained, as we see both of them deal with their circumstance in their own way. Whilst their relationship borders on questionable, the film is a lot less sinister than I expected it would be. Shame is actually a deep and honest look at the life of someone we wouldn’t usually be interested in.

One of my favourite moments in the film is when the two have a great bit of dialogue going on whilst sat watching a cartoon together: “We’re not bad people, we just come from a bad place.” I can’t get this quote out of my head at the minute, and it’s from having a deeper engagement like this filtered through the story that it is likely to have an impact on you in one way or another.

The score of a film isn’t something I would usually comment on, but it was an aspect of Shame that played in well throughout. With the inclusion of Mulligan’s rendition of ‘New York, New York’ as well, the use of subtle piano sequences of music helped to draw emotion to certain parts of the film, and occasionally even drew away from some of its explicitness.

However, whilst the film is almost irrefutable, a lot left to our imaginations. The scene where Sissy crawls into bed with her brother is questionable, and the fact that they see each other naked more than once without flinching is something of an absurdity. It makes you wonder how far his illness has taken him before, which only further highlights the film’s inconclusive and somewhat disappointing ending. Have the tragic incidents in the final few scenes meant that Brandon has learnt to deal with his addiction? Or, in the end, has nothing been achieved and he is left to roam the streets again?

That’s not a flaw, though, as the film is still a solid five-star film for me, and it will undoubtedly be one of the best films of 2012. So if you haven’t already, do not hesitate any longer to go and see this.

One thought on “Film Review: Shame

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  1. A great review of a great movie.

    I don’t think that I even noticed the score besides those times where It is shoved in our face – New York, New York and the jogging scene – though I think that sometimes that is a good thing. As much as I adore an experimental score by say Trent Reznor it’s nice sometimes to just have natural, unnoticeable music that still does its job.

    Everything else in the film was so equisitely handled that I’m sure each and every note was perfect. I’ll keep an eye, or an ear, out for it on the re-watch.


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