Christmas. It’s become an addiction of indulgence, one made acceptable because not only do masses of people take the hit, but they’re comfortable talking about it too. So long as they continue, we’ll be in tow supplying goods of our own grade, as we resume our Anti-Advent Calendar…
Before achieving widespread recognition with his Academy Award-winning historical drama 12 Years a Slave, writer/director Steve McQueen received critical acclaim for his second feature film, Shame. His absent reputation within dominant culture in 2011 was perhaps fitting for the film, which deals with sexual themes, imagery and the debatable phenomenon of sex addiction, issues raised as a commentary on the reluctance to discuss them outside of a medical or privatised context in wider culture.
McQueen and co-writer Abi Morgan centralise the film’s thematic focus on Brandon (Michael Fassbender), who feels afflicted and embarrassed of his relentless hypersexuality, which is worsened as his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) arrives without warning for an indefinite stay in his New York home, interrupting his concealed lifestyle.
In tandem with the New York backdrop, Sean Bobbitt’s beautiful cinematography boasts Shame as both psychologically and visually striking. Brandon’s loneliness despite living within one of the world’s most populous cities is brutally cathartic, emphasised by the film’s long takes which are so engrossingly powerful in their intensity that the film absorbs attention. It’s easy to lose track of shots in the film that almost appear to never end, including Brandon running through Manhattan, a dinner scene and a couch conversation with Sissy.
These shots capture the forlorn torment experienced by Brandon, as he feels incapable of expressing himself to a world that avoids openly talking about his desires, and as a consequence, he becomes disconnected in his pursuit of superficial sexual satisfaction to fulfill his urges whilst keeping them a secret.
Shame is an outstanding film. Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan’s brilliant performances, McQueen’s direction, Bobbitt’s artistry and the open discussion about a censored subject serve to sterilise a stigma that need not even exist.