Thursday, August 15, 2013

Shame (2011) **1/2


Director Steve McQueen’s Shame (2011) is a taut drama about sex addiction. It rightly earned an NC-17 rating in the U.S. There is an abundance of full frontal nudity and a few pretty explicit sex scenes.  It won several film festival and critic’s awards but didn’t earn one Academy Award nomination.  Personally, I am conflicted about the film as a whole.  It goes without saying that both Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan give riveting performances, but something just didn’t click for me.  I expect this has a lot to do with my inability to connect with the characters and my complete distaste of weak people.

Brandon Sullivan (Fassbender) is a New York imageadvertising executive who is addicted to really smarmy sex.  You know you have a problem when it takes several trash bags to clean out your porn and sex toy collection.  He is literally thinking about sex every waking minute of his life. He’s a good looking guy, so he has no problems finding women willing to sleep with him, and that suits him fine. Yet, when he attempts to start a normal relationship with a co-worker (Nicole Beharie) he can’t conduct a sexual relationship with her because it’s not based on perversion.  Simply put, Brandon needs therapy.

Psychological issues obviously run in the family because Brandon’s sister, Sissy (Mulligan), is just as screwed up as he is.  I wonder what their parents were like?  A serial suicide attempter and a straight-up slut, Sissy is a depressed lounge singer.  583832-2011_shame_002You need only watch her raw, emotional rendition of “New York, New York” to know something just isn’t right with her.  Plus, she and Brandon have some strange, almost incestuous relationship that is extremely volatile.  While it is never said whether something sexual has ever transpired between them, it is somehow implied—McQueen leaves it up to the viewer to decide.

While both Mulligan and Fassbender give gripping performances, the pace of the film is painfully slow.  There are several long reflective scenes in Shame that make an hour and forty minute film seem much longer than its runtime.  Still, the way McQueen introduces just how depraved Brandon’s addiction is is done quite cleverly.  In the beginning it is just hinted at, but slowly as Brandon becomes engulfed in his depravity, the scenes become slowly more graphic until he hits bottom and goes on one of the longest sex sprees in cinematic history—even porn stars take a break!

While I was annoyed by the slow pacing of Shame, 02shamearticlelargev2what really kept me from loving it was that I couldn’t connect with either Brandon or Sissy.  They are such weak, needy people, that I couldn’t really feel any sympathy for either one of them.  I’m sure this says something about me as well, but I despise people and film characters who are weak-willed.  To me, it’s a form of self-absorption to allow oneself to be completely engulfed in anything that does harm to oneself.  I can find neither sympathy or empathy for Brandon and Sissy, and that takes a lot of the shine off Shame for me.


  1. I agree with you on not having any sympathy or empathy for him. I don't see his situation as an addiction, but as being self-indulgent.

    "You know you have a problem when it takes several trash bags to clean out your porn and sex toy collection."

    True story: I was talking with a friend when he mentioned the term "porn buddy" to me. A little leery, I asked him what that was. He said that it was someone who, if you died suddenly, would go clean your porn collection out of your house before your parents/siblings got there. He had seen it in a movie or TV show. I think he was only half joking and might have been leading somewhere with this for a follow-up question to me, so I cut him off. I immediately looked into the distance like I was thinking hard and said out loud, "Good idea. Now who do I know that owns a pickup truck?" His eyes bugged out a little as I kept a straight face for as long as I could. When he finally caught a clue that I was joking he had a good laugh. He never brought it up again, either. :-)

    1. That's a funny story, Chip. Still, a porn buddy sounds like a good idea for some people I know.

  2. Hi, Kim!
    I watched this after the Oscars that year just so I could say I saw every nominated film. ha ha
    I made it about half way through it which was about 40 minutes too long for me. I agree with you guys that I just did not care about the characters or the subject matter. I was bored to tears and wondering if I had lousy taste since it was such a critical darling. UGH!

    I'm glad you've provided a review here though Kim so I can vent about my experience with Shame and get your opinion. Now that I know I'm not alone I can enjoy the rest of my weekend. ha ha

    See ya later! : )