Every year, there are two or three movies that are almost universally praised that really don’t do it for me. I’m kind of left scratching me head, asking myself “Did I miss something?” Shame is one of those films. As the credits rolled I asked myself, “What were you trying to tell me, Film?” Not that every film has to say something about the world we live in, but given the accolades it’s received, I was expecting something more. Also, I know this is going to be controversial, but I don’t get the whole Michael Fassbender thing. He just doesn’t to it for me.
Brandon Sullivan (Fassbender) lives alone in New York City and, to put it lightly, has issues with sex. In the first act alone we see him masturbating in the office bathroom, receiving a prostitute, having sex with a stranger in a public spot, acting all predator towards a girl on the subway, and we see he likes online video sex chat sites. When his sister (Carey Mulligan), whose calls he had been ignoring, shows up and begs him to let her stay, his lifestyle is interrupted. He also takes out a girl from the office only to find that his outlook on life and relationships prevents them from connecting emotionally and later he cannot perform sexually with her, and must turn to a prostitute for release. When his sister tries to get him to the face his issues with her, he embarks on a sexual binge that includes a three-way and sex with a man in a gay club. While he is out, his sister has left several desperate voicemails for him and when he sees there has been a subway accident near his apartment, he assumes the worst, only to find his sister sitting in a pool of her own blood in his bathroom. She survives the suicide attempt but the experience apparently leaves Brandon a changed man.
My main issue with the film is, when it’s over, I don’t feel any different about the subject matter. Sex addition controls people, leaving their lives devoid of anything real, unable to connect with others, I get it. Maybe I’m expecting too much, but I would think a film should say a little bit more when approaching a subject matter like this. Also, Brandon gets off (pun not intended) relatively light, considering. He doesn’t get a disease or get anyone pregnant, his sister doesn’t even die! He gets a good scare but is that really enough to get him to change his ways.
The relationship between Brandon and his sister is epically screwed up. When Brandon comes home to find Sissy has let herself in, he walks in on her on the shower and the two just kind of stand there a little too long considering they’re siblings. Later, Sissy walks in on Brandon masturbating and laughs. Sissy also has an extremely dysfunctional love life, taking Brandon’s married boss home with her and crying on the phone with other lovers. It makes me wonder what the hell these people’s parents did to them.
There are interesting elements to the film. Watching Brandon squirm as his sister beats him at his own game is interesting. Another good scene is when he is on the date with his co-worker and he slowly realizes he cannot connect with a normal person and has nothing to offer as a partner. I think my biggest issue is that there are few surprises. I think I would find McQueen and Fassbender’s other collaboration Hunger interesting but this one didn’t draw me in.