Steve McQueen’s powerfully raw character study on one man’s sexual addiction is spearheaded by a truly exceptional performance by Michael Fassbender.
Dir. Steve McQueen
2011 | UK | Drama| 101 mins | 2.35:1 | English
R21 (passed clean) for some explicit sexual content
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan
Plot: Brandon’s carefully cultivated private life, which allows him to indulge in his sexual addiction, is disrupted when his sister Sissy arrives unannounced for an indefinite stay.
Awards: Won Best Actor and FIPRESCI Prize (Venice). Nom. for 1 Golden Globe – Best Leading Actor – Drama.
International Sales: HanWay Films
Subject Matter: Heavy
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed at the Singapore Film Society’s uncut screening – first published 17 Jan 2013)
The big hoo-hah, if you remember, was that the Board of Film Censors demanded a cut of a lengthy group sex scene before Shame could be passed with a R21 rating. Director Steve McQueen insisted that art shall prevail with integrity, hence the film became ‘banned’ in Singapore, and was not given a theatrical run. That is most unfortunate as Shame is an exceptional film, an involving character study of a man addicted to sex. That man is Brandon, who is effortlessly played by the indescribably talented Michael Fassbender.
Fassbender’s daring performance is one that the Academy snubbed big-time when the Oscar nominations for Best Actor were released early 2012. He is complemented by an excellent supporting turn by Carey Mulligan, who plays Brandon’s sister, Sissy. Brandon is a man who has a well-paying job, but leads a solitary life. He has one-night stands with a woman almost every night, until his sister disrupts his lifestyle by arriving unannounced into his apartment one day. The focus is still on Brandon, but the frayed relationship between the siblings as developed by writers McQueen and Abi Morgan help to add raw emotion and nuance to the film.
“We’re not bad people. We just come from a bad place.”
Like Hunger (2008), McQueen’s directorial debut featuring Fassbender in his breakout role, Shame is a tale of a man driven to the depths of despair. While Hunger focuses on the sociopolitical impact on a person, Shame is an introspective look at the impact of inner desire on a person. Does Brandon seek pleasure or solace in sex? When Sissy inexplicably enters his life, what does seeking for sex mean to him anymore? McQueen asks difficult questions on a theme rarely explored by filmmakers in such a delicate and humanistic way. The film does not eroticize the notion of sex, but probes us to respond to sex psychologically.
Shame does feature a number of explicit sex scenes that includes graphic nudity, but they are not meant to titillate. In fact, the group sex sequence that was judged to be too distasteful for Singaporean viewers acts as an important juncture in our understanding of Brandon’s character as it symbolizes a man at the lowest depths of despair – psychologically, emotionally, and even sexually.
Justin Chang of Variety says “few filmmakers have plumbed the soul-churning depths of sexual addiction as fearlessly as British director Steve McQueen has in Shame.” Shame is a challenging follow-up to Hunger, and consolidates McQueen’s position as one of the most talented British filmmakers to emerge in recent years. It also features an evocative score by Harry Escott that could have been inspired by Hans Zimmer’s work for Malick’s The Thin Red Line (1998).