The idea of sex addiction is still a concept that is met with too little understanding. A sophomoric look at it would be that it’s not a disease at all, but it is addiction just like anything else. After teaming up to show the raw intensity of a Irish hunger strike in “Hunger,” writer/director Steve McQueen and actor Michael Fassbender returned to tackle this difficult subject matter.
Employing the same contradictory tactics as anti-violence or anti-war films, “Shame” needs to show a lot of sex to get its point across. The strength of McQueen’s filmmaking is how he’s able to film sequences where two beautiful people are sleeping with each other in a nice light but not make it gratuitous or erotic.
Like all addiction, Brandon Sullivan’s life is seen through a painful lens. He can’t stop himself from getting physical satisfaction even when it puts him in danger with his high-paying job and his relationship with his sister (Carey Mulligan). As if he was trying to be Don Draper, Brandon removes himself emotionally at any moment he can. He almost resembles a robot more than Fassbender’s upcoming role in “Prometheus.” Through this, the only time he ever shows anything is when he’s having sex or being denied sex.
Aside from those instances, the movie has an unnerving stillness. It’s hard to tell where a scene is going to go or how much the characters will hurt themselves. As a polar opposite to Brandon, his sister Sissy displays all of her pain and frustration whenever she can. Brandon seems to judge her for this and her lifestyle, except for when she sings a heartbreaking version of “New York New York.” It seems that at that point he understands the idea of hidden pain more than any other form of expression.
So much of the film relies on Fassbender and Mulligan to deliver on these difficult characters, and this is yet another example of why they are some of the best actors working today. Fassbender is able to balance sympathy with an intense personality, and Mulligan steps out of her comfort zone by relieving her proper British persona.
I’m sure this won’t be the definitive movie about sex addiction, but it’s an important first one. Everything is done respectfully and in a haunting manner.
The DVD and Blu-ray have a number of featurettes about the film that focus on McQueen, Fassbender and the story itself. All of them are too short and never probing, with most of the few minutes spent on clips from the movie. This has been a typical and dull trend on DVDs lately. With this movie, it can be so simple: Just get McQueen and Fassbender in a room together. Maybe let Elvis Mitchell interview them. Just give us something that can add to the experience of the movie.
Film: 4.5 Yaps
Extras: 3 Yaps