Victoria Jelinek


Professional Brandon (Michael Fassbender) lives in New York City and thinks he’s a normal guy with a robust sexual appetite. We see Brandon full of bravado at the beginning of the film, seeking out sexual encounters everywhere and with everyone. However, when his fragile and damaged sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) arrives unexpectedly for a long stay, he realizes he might have a problem and the façade of his life begins to fall away.

While it’s understood from reviews, taglines, and marketing copy that “Shame” is about the difficult subject of sex addiction, I felt as though I struggled to fill in the themes and a story: is it about the emotional cost (shame) of conforming or not conforming to ‘normalcy’? Certainly I left the cinema feeling sad, lonely and bleak, but did I look for hidden meaning and symbolism that wasn’t there? Other than hurt looks, some non-sequiteur conversations, and some sordid scenes, there was no real story or new insight. Brandon is uncomfortable, at moments tender, and sometimes seemingly remorseful with his sister, but why? She’s first introduced to us taking a shower, he walks in on her, and she continues to let him see her standing there naked – even seems to invite it; at another moment he’s wrestling with her with a towel around him that falls. Did she pin her hopes of sexual understanding, and he his, on each other? Is this the basis for his sexual proclivity? We’re meant to imagine the worst but other than a suggestion by Sissy that they ‘come from a bad place,’ this is never explored or explained – was there incest between them or within their family? Certainly in life story lines and characters aren’t always well-developed or resolved, but this is cinema, sure, cinema verging on an attempt at cinema verite, but it felt very much like a glossy student film, preoccupied with its own agenda rather than any desire to reach anyone else. Perhaps this is the point, that we wrestle with concepts introduced in this film, sans more information, going out feeling unsatisfied, and feeling the self-absorption and isolation that arguably reflects our modern world….

This is director Steve McQueen’s second film, and like his first, the IRA hunger strike drama about Bobby Sands aptly called “Hunger,” it is visually interesting, well-acted and promotes conversation. That said, I felt the same as a fellow filmgoer in front of me who said on his way out of the cinema to his friend “Well, I’ll never get that two hours back.”

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