Shame, the successor to British artist turned director Steve McQueen’s acclaimed Hunger – and his second Fassbender collaboration – is another boundless portait of the extremes of human behaviour. Where Hunger gave us an unflinching view of iconic IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, Shame introduces us to attractive Manhattan corporate bachelor Brandon and his private world of pick-ups, prostitutes and pornography, often in succession, usually in the same afternoon.
Much has already been written about the movie’s ‘uneroticised’ sexual scenes and the accompanying Oscar-dooming US NC-17 certificate. The sex is graphic and there’s lots of it but complimentary critics seem at pains to point out that they weren’t aroused in the slightest by any of it, so that’s all very well then. ‘This is art, not porn’.
Film critics not finding Hollywood’s most handsome leading man attractive aside, it is not in fact the sexiness or unsexiness of the sex itself that is particularly worth speaking about, or even all that interesting. Rather, the illicit circumstances and addictive patterns that begin to show around it that are the most gripping. If anything, the sex scenes, for the audience as for Brandon, are a relief from the tense scenarios in which he finds it. Regardless, if you’re looking for a film where there’s just lots of sex with little emotional connection this season, there’s always American Pie: The Reunion. This certainly isn’t that, arguably it’s less a study in sex addiction than it is about the nature and isolation of male addictive behaviour.
The routine of Brandon’s, compulsive but controlled sex (with a capital S) life is interrupted by the arrival of his self-destructive
and self-harming ne’er do well sister, Sissy. Sissy is the visceral ying to Brandon’s emotionally absent yang. Her need for tactile
affection is suffocating to her estranged Brother and her insistence on addressing their relationship ultimately derails Brandon’s carnal
crisis towards a somewhat inevitable conclusion. She tells him “We’re not bad people, we just come from a bad place”.
The movie is nonetheless a achingly captivating, arrestingly shot by Sean Bobbitt, and as Brandon’s teetering stack of cards begins to crumble around him, the two leads deliver the most explicit performances of the film.
Shame is in cinemas on 13th January.