Shame (Steve McQueen, 2012)

What's it about? Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a sex addict, whose entire life revolves around achieving his next orgasm. When his unhappy sister (Carey Mulligan) comes to stay with him, his emotionally detached lifestyle is disrupted. Not one to watch with Great-Auntie Maisie. (unless she's into that sort of thing, of course).


Is it any good? So, masturbation, threesomes, casual sex with strangers, prostitutes, internet porn - where's the shame in that? Therein lies the challenge for McQueen in making this film. Can he treat seriously a subject many laughingly dismiss as (a) a condition made up by celebs who get caught philandering and/or (b) not the worst addiction in the world to have? So, does he pull it off? (pause for cheap laugh). Well, not completely. The film is cleanly, stylishly assembled and it does do a fair job of showing how sexual fantasy can become sexual obsession and desperation, with the clinically executed sex scenes stripped of any intimacy or eroticism. (Notably, the one sex scene with any sensuality is the one time Brandon cannot perform.) Fassbender is excellent in portraying Brandon's internal anguish in a role that is traditionally labelled brave (ie naked), whilst fans of his turn in X-Men: First Class will be delighted to consider Magneto's purple helmet in a whole new light (pause for cheap laugh). Mulligan is 'brave' too, albeit in a role that is annoying rather than sympathetic. So, there's no doubting the earnest intentions behind the film - it's not simply an excuse for porn-as-art.

However, since the film simply presents Brandon's situation and only hints at, but never really explores, the reasons for his addiction, it lacks a narrative drive and therefore struggles to hold the attention. The lack of closure or character development isn't necessarily a problem, but the lack of interesting story is. Also, the ease with which Brandon can pick up willing (and inevitably beautiful) partners runs dangerously close to glamourising him, even as it depicts the negative effect it has on him. Is it easy for him because he is a sex addict? Or the other way round? Would it not have been more interesting to see the reaction of a similar character who couldn't get sex so easily? Or the experiences of a less obviously attractive sex-addict? As it is, would a girl really allow Brandon to finger her at a public bar as part of his chat-up routine? Is that really likely? And if so, where exactly is this bar? (pause for cheap laugh). In presenting Brandon as it does, it risks inviting that eye-rolling attitude to sex addiction it presumably wanted to avoid, where viewers end up thinking "yeah, count yourself lucky, mate - try being ugly for a while".  Also, doesn't anyone close their curtains in New York? All in all, the film ends up like the life it is presenting; minimalist and stylish, but emotionally detached and rather empty. Shame.

Anything else I should know? So, sex addiction. Real or not? In this article, five people who consider themselves sex-addicts give their views on the film. Which is interesting. But more entertaining is the comments sections underneath it, in which readers give a full range of viewpoints on this topic, from sympathetic, to rational, to sceptical, to downright abusive. Maybe not as high-brow as the film, but more fun.

What does the Fonz think? Er, my hands are a bit full at the minute. Can't spare any thumbs, I'm afraid.





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