Film review | Shame – Michael Fassbender bares all in McQueen’s searing tale of sex, lies and emotional pain

Shame - Michael Fassbender as Brandon

Following their critically acclaimed 2008 film Hunger about IRA prisoner Bobby Sands, actor Michael Fassbender and director Steve McQueen (no relation) reunite for a project that is almost as controversial – a fearless, unblinking, full-frontal portrait of a sex addict.

Fassbender plays 30-something New Yorker Brandon, an outwardly successful man whose existence as a corporate high-flier masks a compulsive addiction to sex. Each day, he is driven to seek out sexual encounters with strangers; and when he isn’t having joyless sex with casual pick-ups or prostitutes, he’s surfing the internet for porn. Yet when the possibility of a truly intimate relationship with an attractive co-worker (Nicole Beharie) arrives, he is unable to rise to the occasion.

Shame Carey Mulligan as Sissy

Even so, he appears to have the two sides of his life under control until his volatile younger sister, Carey Mulligan’s Sissy, turns up at his apartment begging for a place to stay. Unlike Brandon, the desperately needy Sissy doesn’t hide her emotional damage and her presence in his life untaps what he has clearly been trying to suppress – the siblings’ painful shared history – and pushes him over the edge.

Filmed with cold, steely control by McQueen, Shame is by no means easy to watch. But it is the naked emotions on display rather than the naked bodies that will make the viewer squirm most of all. Still, it takes enormous courage for Fassbender to expose so much of himself – in both senses – with Brandon’s face alone conveying the infernal depths of his rage, fear and self-disgust. Mulligan is no less brave, particularly in the revealing scene in which aspiring jazz singer Sissy sings ‘New York, New York’, a slowed-down version that strips the song of the brashness and bravado it had when sung by Frank Sinatra, turning it from an anthem of triumph into an admission of sadness and vulnerability.

On general release from Friday 13th January 2012.


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