Movie Review: “Shame”

Written by Melissa MacAulay January 15, 2012

An honest look at sex, desire, fulfilment, and – of course – Shame.

I certainly wouldn’t advise you to go see this film with your parents, your aunties, with another couple, your boss, or with your parish priest – basically, with anyone that you feel uncomfortable watching porn with. That being said, Steve McQueen’s Shame is definitely worth a watch. While it isn’t necessarily my favourite film to come out of 2011, it was most definitely a welcome late addition.

Taking my cue from the film, allow me to get this out of the way as early as possible: Michael Fassbender’s penis. There it is, in all its glory, within the first few minutes of the film. It even takes a pee. While the naked female form has become common place in films about sex (and, let’s face it, just about any other kind of film), the appearance of a penis – particularly one that lasts for more than a brief second – is enough to make an entire room full of adults, men and women alike, feel like a bunch of bewildered adolescents. This, of course, will change once you’ve seen more of the film. The slew of sex that follows ultimately leaves the audience completely desensitized to the sight of naked body parts.

Just like Fassbender, Carey Mulligan appears fully nude in her very first scene of the movie. Sissy (Muligan) surprises her brother Brandon (Fassbender) by showing up unexpectedly at his apartment. Apparently having some personal difficulties of her own, Sissy arrives looking not only for a place to stay, but also looking to make an emotional connection with her brother. Brandon, a successful thirty-something sexaholic, is clearly uncomfortable with his sister’s presence, perhaps because it impedes upon his routine of sex, sex, and more sex. Prostitutes, masturbation, encounters on the subway, at bars, in the streets, on the internet… It becomes clear that sex is Brandon’s only method of interpersonal interaction.

It is this difference between the two characters that drives the film forward. While Sissy longs for affection and closeness, Brandon is uncomfortable with this and instead focuses more and more on satisfying his sex addiction. The film follows Brandon as he struggles with his need for sex, and with his sister’s need for emotional fulfilment.

A particularly memorable scene from this film is Muligan’s unique rendition of “New York, New York.” After begging her brother to come see her sing at a club, we see Sissy perform an incredibly slow, sad, drawn-out version of the tune, captured more or less in a single close-up shot. Seeing as Sissy has just made the journey to New York in an attempt to leave some sad situation behind, the lyrics are particularly apt: These little town blues, are melting away, I’m gonna make a brand new start of it, New York, New York.

Of course, it is possible that much of the memorable-ness of this film is due to the many sex scenes, some of which are shockingly explicit. In particular, a scene involving Brandon and (I’m assuming) two prostitutes left the entire audience in shock by depicting certain sex acts that are generally off-limits for even the raciest mainstream films.

In fact, the sex depicted in Shame becomes increasingly more explicit and outrageous throughout the film. Interestingly, this seems to mirror Brandon’s sex addiction; in order to satisfy his ever-growing desire for sex, his sexual encounters must become more and more intense, risky, exhibitionist, etc. The sex in this film, however, is portrayed in the most un-sexy fashion possible: associated with regret, humiliation, and sadness. As I said above, by the end of the film, the enormous amounts of sex serve to desensitize the audience, and to show how truly un-sexy sex can be. For this reason, I take Shame to be a truly commendable film. Rather than use sex as a gimmick to draw in viewers, it provides an honest and unforgiving insight into how cheap sex can truly be.

And if nothing else, you still get to see Michael Fassbender’s penis.

So, if you think you can handle it, round up your partner, your best friend, or even your hip-to-it aunty, and go see Shame.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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About Melissa MacAulay

Melissa is a PhD student in philosophy. When she is not busy publishing wildly successful books and making earth-shattering contributions to her field, she enjoys travelling, eating chocolate, playing with pugs, and writing film reviews.

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