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A 2011 movie directed by Steve McQueen.

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Portrait of a Sex Addict

  • Dec 3, 2011
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Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is an addict. His drug is not heroin, cocaine, meth, or alcohol, but sex. Although he can function in social scenarios, he’s hindered by uncontrollable urges, and his only fix is to have an orgasm. He needs this many times a day just to get back up to normal. Several shots of his face throughout the film make it clear that the sensation has long since stopped giving him pleasure. One near the end, for example, which captures the moment of climax, reveals despair and self-loathing. For him, sex has nothing to do with intimacy, love, or even physical satisfaction; it has become a burden that consumes his every waking moment. There’s no room left for anything else in his life, not even for something as ordinary as feeling emotions.
With Shame, director Steve McQueen makes no grand statements about sex addiction. He merely observes what the characters do. They reveal themselves primarily through their actions. When they do speak, there are no sermons that sound uncannily like a written monologue; there are only simple, direct conversations. Most are quiet, as when Brandon has dinner with an office employee named Marianne (Nicole Beharie). Why does he pursue her when he has access to prostitutes, who demand nothing from him other than payment? Perhaps he thought he could have a go at a conventional relationship. But he’s not wired that way. He isn’t all that interested in what she says, nor is he all that interested in saying things to her.

He makes a comfortable living in a Manhattan office building. His exact job title is never revealed, which is just as well because work is not foremost on his mind. Several times a day, he excuses himself to the men’s room so that he can masturbate. His chatty, energetic boss, David (James Badge Dale), is married and has a family, although that doesn’t stop him from barhopping and hitting on women with a slew of pickup lines. He usually brings Brandon along; he sits impassively saying barely a word, and yet women are more drawn to him, perhaps because David is simply trying too hard. The irony is, Brandon is not seeking their affections. Even amongst large groups of people, it’s obvious that he has nothing resembling a social life.
Into his life reenters his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), a wayward young woman who needs a place to stay. As of right now, she gets by as a lounge singer; we will eventually hear her sing what is arguably the saddest rendition of “New York, New York” ever, and indeed, a mostly uninterrupted shot of her face shows nothing but solemnity (when it cuts back to Brandon’s face, we see a tear rolling down his cheek). Her visit is jarring for Brandon, who has isolated himself with his addiction. He doesn’t want anyone to see the porn on his computer, or his hidden stash of dirty magazines, or his masturbation sessions in his bathroom. In other words, he doesn’t want anyone to see his shame. When she crawls into bed with him, he immediately screams at her to get out. He doesn’t care that she needs the support.

Scenes late in the film suggest the possibility that Brandon is inching closer towards human feeling, that he’s finally allowing himself to care about something. But the possibility of staying the way he is remains just as strong. At one point, he’s so desperate for a fix that he enters a gay night club. This has absolutely nothing to do with orientation; when your sole purpose in life is achieving orgasm, who you’re physically attracted to is not taken into consideration. His background is just as shrouded in mystery as Sissy’s, although hints at something dark are dropped along the way. Sissy will eventually deliver a key line: “We’re not bad people. We just come from a bad place.”
This year alone, Fassbender has appeared in films as diverse as Jane Eyre, X-Men: First Class, and A Dangerous Method. In all three, he gave great performances. But I think his appearance in Shame will be the one that stands out the most. Rather than project dramatically, he retreats to an inward, solitary place where emotions go to die. As Brandon, he’s walled off and yet extremely vulnerable. No matter how many people he’s surrounded by, his is a world of pain and loneliness. In one pivotal scene, he’s travelling by subway, staring at a woman who may be flirting with him; his eyes betray not malice intent but sad desperation, for he knows, even in the throes of his physical urges, that he has put himself into a repetitious cycle of destructive behavior. As to whether or not he’s doomed to stay in it, there are some things we’re never meant to know.


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December 04, 2011
well-written review! I could truly feel your enthusiasm, and it makes me quite frustrated that this isn't playing in my area yet. I will put this down in my TBW list, once it comes out on dvd...
December 04, 2011
Thanks for the compliment. You're right, I was indeed enthused by this film. Sorry to hear it's not playing where you live. I believe it's an awards contender, so perhaps it will be given a wide release sometime in January or February. We'll just have to wait and see.
More Shame (2011 movie) reviews
review by . June 15, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Courageous, Truthful and Mesmerizing Portrayal of Sex Addiction
Addiction has its many shapes and forms. I’ve always believed that no one wants to be an addict to hurt himself or to ruin his life--I believe that one becomes an addict for the promise of becoming better. Stronger. Smarter. Suaver. Cooler. Richer. Braver. The promise is always fulfilling but that promise is always a lie. It is a lesson that a lot of people have learned or are learning, if you never had to learn this agonizing human lesson then you are fortunate.      So, …
review by . December 01, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
'Shame' 'Two Jews On Film' Are Addicted To 'Steve McQueen's' Raw Voyage Into Sexual Addiction
         A goodlooking man in his thirties sits on a New York City subway starring intensely at a married woman seated across from him.  It's obvious to the viewer that he's hitting on her and it's just as obvious, that's she's enjoying it.      The man is Brandon (Michael Fassbender) and he is a sex addict.  Thanks to Steve McQueen's brilliant direction, we get to be a voyeur into Brandon's …
Quick Tip by . June 10, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Following up his intensely realistic drama “Hunger”, director Steve McQueen follows it up with a second collaboration with actor Michael Fassbender called “Shame”.      McQueen handles this film’s concept quite well and he seemed to have done his homework on his premise. Fassbender makes a very convincing, bold and daring portrayal of an office guy named Brandon, struggling with his sex addiction. Carey Mulligan is just as good lending him support …
review by . September 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Ain't No Shame
  SHAME Written and Directed by Steve McQueen Starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan   Brandon: Some people fuck up all the time.   Steve McQueen’s sophomore film, SHAME, begins with his returning star, Michael Fassbender, lying in bed, staring at the ceiling or into some far off space. He doesn’t move; he just lies there half covered by the blankets for some time. Something in his eyes suggests he can’t move just yet. He is trapped in those precious …
Quick Tip by . December 04, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Anyone interested in a little more insight into this fantastic film should check out my interview with star, Michael Fassbender ...    http://blacksheepreviews.blogspot.com/2011/12/aint-no-shame.html    Thanks for reading!
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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