Starring Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, and Nicole Beharie
Directed by Steve McQueen
The story itself is fairly simple. As stated above, the film focuses on Brandon Sullivan, a thirtysomething low-level executive in Manhattan who outwardly seems to have everything together, but inwardly finds himself ravaged by his addiction to sex. Whether it be looking at porn on the internet, hiring a prostitute to fulfill his needs, or simply not being able to make it through the workday without heading into the bathroom to pleasure himself, Brandon has a problem. And he's well aware of it. Sex isn't about a "connection" for him...it's about a release that he hopes will be fulfilling, but is always completely empty.
Brandon's not a bad guy, though. He's good looking and could do seemingly well with women if he wanted, but he is a bit shy which is evident in a lusciously filmed scene about halfway through the movie when Brandon and his co-worker Marianne (a delightful and sexy Nicole Beharie) sit down at a restaurant for a first date. In a continuous take, we see the two simply talking about the typical "first date" stuff, but we begin to see for the inner workings of Brandon's mind as he explains to Marianne how he never wants to get married and doesn't understand the meaning of monogamy. It's starting to crystallize in the audience's mind that Brandon, despite his need for sex, is ultimately unable to connect with someone. His addiction has robbed him from being able to love...yes, that's perhaps an oversimplification of a much larger psychological issue, but that's Brandon's problem at its core.
And not only does this affect Brandon's life sexually, but this inability to love and connect with others also plays a huge role in his relationship with his family including his troubled sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) who, despite Brandon's best efforts, moves into his small, sterile apartment in NYC after a falling-out with her boyfriend. Sissy herself (whose odd story arc and relationship with Brandon is the one minor problem with the film) isn't without her share of pain (much of it seemingly self-inflicted), but she brings out the worst in Brandon...she makes him feel shameful of his way of life and it ends up spiraling him out of control in ways that I really never saw coming. Towards the end of the film, Brandon's addiction leads him to places that may shock and appall the audience, but they never once rang untrue or felt unrealistic.
The more I think about Shame, the more I grow to be thoroughly fascinated with what I saw onscreen. I imagine several scenes will pop up in the "Best Scene" category of the "RyMickey Awards" (coming in June) and I'm sure this film will make an appearance in many other categories including Best Actor for Michael Fassbender. Admittedly, I went into this without many expectations. I expected to be bored by the story and bombarded by "shocking moments" simply there to provide unnecessary provocation and titillation. That wasn't the case in the slightest and that's a huge credit to Mr. Fassbender and director Steve McQueen.
Together, they have crafted a movie that doesn't necessarily provide answers or tie things up in pretty bows, but they have created an intimate character study about a man who knows his faults, attempts to correct them (fully realized in a riveting and heartbreaking scene with the aforementioned Nicole Beharie shortly after their characters' first date), but ultimately doesn't succeed. Towards the end of the film, Brandon finds himself in the midst of a threesome (which he paid to be a part of) and after focusing initially on the writhing bodies, McQueen plants his camera squarely on Fassbender's face...and in his face and in this moment, we see everything that Brandon is and everything he wishes he could be. This menage a trois is the furthest thing from a pleasurable experience. To him, an orgasm is full of pain, anguish, and ultimately self-inflicted shame.
The RyMickey Rating: A-