DIR: Steve McQueen • WRI: Steve McQueen, Abi Morgan • PRO: Iain Canning, Emile Sherman • DOP: Sean Bobbitt • ED: Joe Walker • DES: Judy Becker • Cast: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale

Plagued by an insatiable desire for sexual gratification, Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is finding life a constant struggle. Burdened with the weight of this crippling addiction, he tries to maintain a functioning working and social life, while finding any means necessary to satisfy his urges. It is only when Brandon’s emotionally dependent and vulnerable younger sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) comes to stay with him in his New York apartment that the boundaries of his two existences begin to blur, causing him to lose a handle on his addiction. The fragile seams of his life start to split as he watches Sissy pick at her emotional wounds, forcing him to reluctantly reflect on his own tumultuous and tortured existence.

Steve McQueen’s unrelenting drama is as shocking as it is heartbreaking, laying bare the tragic reality of addiction and the destructive power it possesses. Grim scenes of New York City, coupled with a poignant soundtrack are a constant sensory reminder of Brandon’s plight. McQueen removes the taboo of sex addiction by depicting it like any other type of addiction, warts and all. All the pleasure and intimacy of sex is stripped down until it is nothing more than a stark, physical act. For Brandon, sex is a commodity, a means to an end, a relentless force that defines his actions and decisions and drags him unceremoniously through life.

Fassbender is outstanding, effortlessly making this depraved character both sympathetic and inherently likeable. Mulligan also proves she is an extremely talented and engaging actress, displaying an edge we have not seen in previous roles. We long to know what has driven these siblings to this point, as Sissy cryptically states, ‘We’re not bad people, we just come from a bad place.’

The plot of Shame is relatively basic; this is more a fleeting glimpse into the lives of others, than a complex narrative. The moments between Brandon and Sissy are remarkably fluid, their interaction and dialogue realistic and fuelled with a furious chemistry that can be unnerving to watch. Indeed, Shame is littered with scenes that take us well beyond our comfort zone, but herein lies strength of the movie ­– we are trapped with Brandon, unable to look away; we are both as compelled and as horrified as he is by what is happening.

This is an intelligent and deeply disturbing insight into addiction and all of its indignities. Shame may not be for the faint hearted but it is a remarkable and fascinating portrayal that is bound to provoke some healthy debates in the world of cinema.

Emma O’Donoghue

Rated 18 (see IFCO website for details)
Shame is released on 13th January 2012


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