Shame (2011)

November 1st, 2021
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director. Steve McQueen/co-writer Abi Morgan | Cast. Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale | 106mins Cert 18

Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan give coruscating performances as emotionally damaged siblings in this second feature from Brit director Steve McQueen (Hunger).

Set in Manhatten, the action plays out in corporate offices, cocktail haunts and Brandon’s (Fassbender) plush penthouse. In the workplace he’s a slick executive, but personally there are issues as big as his dick: Those of an avoidant male sex addict. Out of hours he’s eyeing up some new potential pick-up or erupting angrily at his needy sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) who is reluctantly given bed and board.  Pretty soon both are fighting and feeding hungrily off each other’s obsession to fill an aching void. The nature of their broken past is not explored.

Visually alluring vanilla porn scenes swirl seductively before our eyes but never titillate nor distract from the gnawing emptiness of Brandon’s barren emotional landscape. Girls come and go never to return once souls are bared or feelings expressed. There’s a great vignette with Nicole Beharie as Marianne, a sparky contender for his heart who falls by the wayside when she tries to get too close.  Being in constant motion enables Brandon to avoid his feelings or any any semblance of realness. At one point the camera catches an expression of sheer desperation and we realise that there’s no real pleasure in this sexual conquest, and why Fassbender won best actor for this portrayal of emptiness.  James Badge Dale gives a convincing turn as Branden’s boss and side-kick on predatory evenings out. Divorced and desolate Brandon keeps on dating relentlessly without depth, because in this day and age, he can.  His brief interlude with Sissy is another telling insight into the life of lost souls.   Primal and urgent, voyeuristic and visceral with a taut and teasing score: this is McQueen making a great start. MT

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