Director: Steve McQueen
After his debut feature “Hunger” – an extraordinary depiction of the 1981 hunger strike in a Northern Irish prison – British director Steve McQueen returns to exploring the limits of what the human psyche can endure. In “Shame” he tackles the subject of sex addiction in a clinical, cold and disturbing film.
Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) leads a detached life that allows him to indulge his sex addiction which manifests itself in random one-night stands, regular visits to prostitutes and an overwhelming interest in pornography. But his carefully structured life starts to crumble when his sister Cissy (Carey Mullighan) drops by uninvited and begins to ask uncomfortable questions.
This is not an easy film both for its frank depiction of sex and for the fact that it rarely gives answers as to the reasons for Brandon’s addiction. Instead we’re given hints (including a slight allusion to abuse in his and Cissy’s past) that only allow us fragments of info. This conscious effort to deny the audience actually works well as a reflection of Brandon’s guarded nature but one could be forgiven for being frustrated by the distance created between audience and characters.
Indeed, the absolutely superb cinematography presents a side of New York usually not shown in films and gives us a world of expensive apartment buildings that seem white, clean and utterly bland. Once again the coldness of Brandon’s life is emphasized and again the film almost does it too well.
Fassbender is magnificent in the lead giving a nuanced yet stunning performance as he manages to give life to a character that is essentially a cipher, while Mullighan provides some excellent balance as the wild Cissy.
This is a powerful and emotive film but – by its very nature – a difficult work to enjoy. But it is an intense experience that broad minded audiences should not deny themselves.
“Shame” is released in Estonia this week with releases in Latvia and Lithuania to follow soon.