In the last scene the words powerful, thoughtful, and relevant appear clearly in the background. I do not think that was an accident.
Steve McQueen’s Shame is a mesmerizing film about a man that has a severe addiction to sex who finds it impossible to have emotions around others. The film is dark and depressing with shame present in each of the characters eyes. But the true shame here is that the film will not be seen by most because of the NC-17 rating it received, a true shame.
The film starts off in a New York subway when Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) notices a woman on the train giving him flirty looks. A dramatic score builds up as she gets off the train at its next stop. We see a wedding ring on her finger but that does next stop him from chasing after her. He frantically looks all around the stop but she is nowhere in sight. In his mind, she was the one that “got away”.
At a glance Brandon seems to have everything going for him. He is a charming, handsome, and successful man. What you do not see the strong addiction he has to sex. He does not believe in marriage because he is incapable of emotionally connecting to people. The longest relationship he has ever had is four months and it was probably his longest by a landslide.
On any given night he brings a lady home from a bar, hires a prostitute or settles for internet pornography. He often watches pornography on his computer without pleasuring himself. It has gotten so bad that his work computer stopped working because of the amount of pornography and subsequently computer viruses that were on it.
He comes home one night to find music blaring in his apartment. Thinking he has walked in on some kind of criminal he quickly heads to the closest to get a bat. Then he bursts open the bathroom door only to find it is his sister, Sissy Sullivan (Carey Mulligan).
It would be just like Sissy to show up uninvited as that is the whimsical nature of her personality. She is a beautiful traveling singer but she is also not without her flaws. The first indication that she is suicidal is when she and Brandon are at the subway and she half-jokingly acts if she is going to step down to the tracks. Perhaps it was more of a reaction than a joke? The second time her suicidal tendencies comes up is at the dinner table when someone spots marks on her arms that she simply shrugs off by saying she was bored as a child.
Sissy just wants to stay in contact with her brother. She knows if she stops attempting to do so with him that she would never hear from him again. But he does not see it like that. Brandon looks at her as weight on his shoulders and a responsibility. She stands in his way of living the life he wishes to pursue.
Hinted along the way is the fact that their upbringing was rough, but it was never explained. It is not a bad thing that it was never explained as films often give out unnecessary details. Instead you will be thinking to yourself just exactly what it was that their parents did to thems growing up.
Michael Fassbender was simply stunning in his bravest and greatest performance to date. I agree with the many out there that say he was snubbed from an Oscar nomination, but it is not much of a mystery as to why. It had less to do with his performance in the film as it did with the rating of the film.
It is hard to believe that this marks only the second film that which Steve McQueen has directed. Shame was executed so well you think he would have been doing this his whole life. I have foolishly not seen his first film, Hunger, but after watching this one I will be sure to add it to my list.
The cinematography was very well done. In particular the scene where he is jogging down several blocks in downtown New York City. Shots of the city skyline are frequent throughout the film and a character in the film even says at one point, “Wow. I forget how beautiful this city is.” The colors in Shame are dark which works perfectly for its subject matter.
Ultimately, Shame is about the failure to connect emotionally with people. It is a passionate, perverse, and powerful film. But I suspect Steve McQueen knew this already. In the last scene of Shame the words powerful, thoughtful, and relevant appear clearly visible in the background. I do not think that was an accident.