SEXUAL addiction, a topic many feature films have left to the comedy genre of cinema. From Woody Allen’s sexually obsessed writer Harry Block, in Deconstructing Harry, to Will Ferrell’s, ice skater, Chazz Michael Michaels, in Blades Of Glory, who refers to his addiction as: “A real disease, with doctors, medicine and everything.”
British director, Steve McQueen takes a serious look at sexual addiction, in his powerful New York based Drama, Shame. The film stars Irish actor Michael Fassbender, reuniting with McQueen, after previously collaborating together on, Hunger. British actress Carrey Mulligan also stars.
Fassbender plays Brandon Sullivan, a good looking, successful individual, who has carefully cultivated out a lifestyle that allows him to indulge in his sexual addiction. In the opening scenes of the film, his character has remarkable similarities to American Psychos’, Patrick Bateman. At times he seems detached from reality simply waiting for his next sexual fix.
Brandon doesn’t fit the perceived cinematic cliché of sexual addicts, his character is fit, good-looking, cool, and calm and collected. Ironically, it’s Brandon’s Womanising boss, David Fisher, played by James Badge Dale that fits the tried and tested image of a sexual addict. A married man, who continues to womanise and flirt with women in bars, many of them more attracted to Fassbender’s quieter character.
When Brandon’s sister, Sissy, played by Carey Mulligan, arrives unannounced at his apartment, hoping for an indefinite stay, Brandon’s lifestyle is turned upside down. The two siblings have a complicated relationship, Brandon is a controlling individual, with clear intimacy issues, Sissy, the opposite, she is a vulnerable damaged young women, who desperately wishes to be loved. The relationship between the two has become damaged, the reason for which is never fully explored. Their relationship becomes increasingly awkward when Sissy begins an adulterous affair with Brandon’s boss, much to her brothers disgust.
Sissy’s encroachment upon Brandon’s private life means, that as his sexual addiction escalates, he is forced to find alternative ways to fulfil his urges, outside the privacy of his home, leading to some shocking incidents.
In a painfully awkward scene, he goes on a date with a beautiful co-worker. He awkwardly attempts flirtatious small talk over dinner. Telling his date, he doesn’t believe in monogamy and that his longest relationship lasted only four months. Brandon describes himself to her as: “A neanderthal amongst homo sapiens.” As their relationship develops, Brandon is unable to take things further. His addiction is not about the intimacy that sex brings, but more so the physical release and need for control. His regular use of prostitutes allows him to act out this fantasy.
McQueen’s film, remarkably shot in only 25 days is visually stunning. For only his second feature, already his work has such an accomplished cinematic feel to it. His previous film, Hunger, which dealt with the IRA hunger strikers, was heralded as a challenging visceral experience.
He was awarded the Caméra d’Or at the Cannes festival in 2008, an award given to the best debut director at the festival. On the evidence of his second feature there is evidence of great work to come from the British director.
Shame is a powerful and shocking feature, its graphic sex scenes may not be every viewers taste, but it is a thought provoking film that explores the nature of a sexual addict.
Neither the characters of Brandon or Sissy display thoughts of shame throughout the feature, viewers are left to wonder if the shame they feel is hidden in their pasts. As Sissy tells her brother: “We’re not bad people, we just come from a bad place.”