The sexual compulsion of Shame – film review

The sexual compulsion of Shame – film review

Shame’s unabashed nauseating effect is, in its own right, beautiful and nonetheless daring. While current television and cinema currently push the sexual envelope, Shame seems to seal it, and then pass it through the paper shredder.

Michael Fassbender as Brandon Sullivan lives what one could call a simple yet sordid life in New York. None of his routines is altered within the pattern of his habitual everyday behavior. Routines that incidentally include a threesome, careless exhibition, an encounter with a hooker and sexually suggestive eye contact all before catching his train to work. Each act is emptier than the next, yet the complexities of such an empty life mirrored perfectly within the sexy, sad scope of Fassbender’s stare.

Alas, his performance was passed over for this year’s Oscar nominations, perhaps to allow for more crowd pleasing performances such as Brad Pitt in Moneyball aka ‘Eat Acting’ (where he spends most of the movie stuffing his mouth with food). Eliminate his talent with food, and the actor’s task is simplified; not to stray too far from the path.

Soon Fassbender’s soulless sexual routine is interrupted by the pleas of a younger and rather disturbed sister named Sissy. Leaving a trail of tears and trash, she follows hopelessly in her older brother’s footsteps. Sissy is fragile and dangling by thread, threatened by the wear and tear of what seems to be an unbearable existence. Playing Sissy, Carey Mulligan pulls off a graceful performance and always seems to find depth in her roles. Nicole Beharie brings a beautiful element to the cast, playing the nervous and fiery co-worker/sometime lover Marianne who forces Brandon to confront the realities of what taboo-less attraction entails.

While certainly too uncomfortable viewing to be deemed enjoyable, the film is beautifully executed by Brit director and co-writer Steve McQueen (fairly new to the scene) while his cinematographer, Sean Bobbitt, crafts a film shot to match the daring script that is chock full of invasive, languishing angles of ribcages and forlorn staring bouts that seem to last an eternity.  Shame reflects on images of a man we find hard to watch at times. This is a movie that asks you to confront your deepest darkest sexual guilt while questioning your faith in the familial bond.

Shame is not for the faint of heart, but a must see for avant garde movie lovers.

Running time is approximately 110 minutes.

Now playing in selected Los Angeles cinemas.

Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek is a Los Angeles-based arts enthusiast with twenty-five years' experience covering International Film Festivals and reviewing new Theatre, Film and Restaurants.


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