Shame is a powerful film about addiction. Oh, okay – about sex addiction.
Brandon (Michael Fassbender) lives in isolation in New York. He shuns all intimacy or genuine connection with women, while privately struggling with sex addiction. His affliction barely seems to affect his life, but when his troubled younger sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) comes to stay, his carefully controlled existence begins to unravel.
Much of the media hype surrounding Shame has been focused on the fact that, yes, you get to see Michael Fassbender’s penis. A lot. But this film has much more to offer than excessive nudity. Indeed, even Fassbender’s admittedly aesthetically pleasing form fails to tantalise or titillate, in the context of his life of loneliness. It is Fassbender’s performance that really makes the film. The fact that he was snubbed for an Oscar nomination says more about the stuffy values of the institution, than how convincing he is in the role.
Director Steve McQueen – who incidentally gave Fassbender his big break in Hunger – has created a taut, beautifully crafted film, which is at times harrowing and haunting. The cinematography is infused with soft, warm light that entrances the audience, even as you wish you could look away.
Shame is not a plot-heavy film, and it runs perhaps slightly overlong, but it’s a thoughtful, subtle character drama. Its strengths lie not where it is explicit; but rather, where the character development is implicit.