Fearless portrayal of a sex addict rated NC-17 (No children under 17 admitted). Shame, taking place in about a week’s time, has our afflicted hero unraveling as his routines accelerate to the point of job negligence, but worse, puts his life in danger. Michael Fassbender, in one of the best performances of the year, connotes the right notes of careless insatiability as Brandon, a good-looking professional always peering at his surroundings for sexual opportunity (even if it’s just with himself in the men’s room). He’s about to implode. He is too consumed in sex, which varies between pleasure and degradation, to care genuinely for Sissy (Carey Mulligan) his sister or for his colleagues and contemporaries. That is not because he is not capable of such emotions, but that he is too conditioned in his own cycle to see that his life has become unmanageable. If you connect to it, “Shame” is a traumatizing masterpiece that once you get over the trauma you will begin to do some major self-reflection on yourself.
Brandon’s typical indulgence is watching porn on his laptop while eating dinner. For a high time, he has rendezvous with a chain of call girls who are at his disposal, seemingly each one represents a specific perk for him (although we don’t know what they are, but we understand each type of girl has her function). Talking is not a prerequisite for Brandon, and yet he is not socially incompetent. His boss (James Badge Dale) behaves like a ringmaster at the nightclub pick-up scene, while Brandon leans back politely – yet he has the magnetism to pull in good-looking professional women.
Daily routine for Brandon is interrupted when Sissy arrives to town to crash at his place. He does his requirement to conceal the porn, as well as his comings and goings while his sister is a guest. But Sissy is naturally nosy and enmeshing with her brother, and stumbles upon hints of what her brother does. She reserves her criticism, and yet the resentment is omnipresent in every one of their scenes. It’s interesting how Brandon masquerades his shame with pitiless annoyance with Sissy.
Together they sit on the couch watching television. The actors’ heads are in-focus, the television screen is not. Brandon is so saturated by his debauched erotic life and fantasy life that what is on television is quickly boring to him. While he soaks in his frustration, he combs for the most insulting words he can to provoke his sister to leave the house for good.
The explicit final half hour is effectively numbing – it transforms erotica into sheer sickness as Brandon goes on an all-day sex marathon, running through multiple partners heedlessly. As an ultima sex addiction picture that delivers with honesty, as well as with a fine naturalism, one cannot deny that writer-director Steve McQueen has done a brilliant job (co-written with Abi Morgan). Brandon by the end at least stalls, stirring in remorse for his actions, but he has not admitted helplessness to his addiction. And so I think he will chase that girl off the subway. You may need a shower afterwards, but you know at least that you have seen a socially important film that doesn’t bargain for cheap answers.
99 Minutes. Rated NC-17.
DARK DRAMA / ADULT ORIENTATION / WINTER DESPAIR
Film Cousins: “Carnal Knowledge” (1971); “Crash” (1996); “Lies” (1999, South Korea); “Auto Focus” (2002).