This weekend I headed over the the theater to see the much-anticipated Shame, the new film from Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender about a man who has trouble dealing with his sexual urges and whose sister unexpectedly drops by for a visit. As you would think, the film is blatantly sexual and erotic. But what made me uncomfortable the most was not the sexual nature of the film, but the raw emotions that were conveyed in every aspect of the main character’s life. Set in Manhattan, this is a portrait of a man who is surrounded the swells of the city but yet is very much alone. He represents a great dichotomy of extremes - a man who is on one hand sexually obsessed and on the other totally ashamed of this obsession. Much of the credit should be given to the great cast and the director who set the tone and conveyed emotions through long shots, glances, pauses, measured words and body language. This film is the stuff of 200-paged theses as it has a revolving amount of themes from the relation of men to women, the fear of intimacy, and the complexities of sexuality, as well as a slight infusion of race relations. My Grade: A
SPOILERS. Brandon is a man who is uncomfortable with getting too close emotionally. He is fearful of intimacy of any kind which manifests itself into extreme loneliness. His Manhattan apartment is sterile and lacks warmth. He doesn’t enter into any meaningful relationships or have any real friendships not meant to benefit him professionally. Because of his addiction, he also has to continue to go to extremes to satisfy himself sexually. He is a man who is a slave to his desires, and we watch his struggle with it through encounters with strangers and navigation of everyday life. It is also interesting to note that he is a golden boy, this person that no one believes could be sexually perverse, illustrated by his boss believing it was someone else who clogs his computer with porn. He hides within himself; no one knows who he really is.
The brother-sister dynamic is also very paramount to the story and it is through this relationship that we come to understand Brandon’s character in depth. Carey Mulligan (Sissy) is great here as the sister whose unexpected visit puts Brandon on edge. She is herself a very lonely character riddled with her own problems and who forces Brandon’s own issues into the light. She represents an emotional relationship that he can never really detach himself from. This is only exacerbated by her neediness, not only in her need to be taken care of but also her physical need for his affection. He is scared that he can never have normal contact with a woman because of his addiction which often affects him getting close to his sister. She also is aware, at least in part, of his sexual obsessions, which also causes him another layer of shame. Though she is in alot of ways his opposite - open, carefree, affectionate - she has a recklessness and her own inappropriate sexual inclinations that Brandon recognizes in himself. A combination of these things often causes him to lash out at her in both a verbally and physically abusive manner. Just when we are left to wonder if he cares for her at all, his heartbreaking response to her suicide attempt shows us that he is more scared, ashamed, and lonely than he is apathetic.
The film has made me a believer. I have to admit that I have never really taken the idea of sex addiction too seriously. Now I think it is very real. Just like how meeting someone that is an alcoholic is needed to truly understand it to be a real disease, watching this film has made me come to a deeper understanding about the compulsive nature of it, the emotional struggles attached to it, and how the easy access of sex can play into it.