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Shame

September 29, 2013

Shame (2011)
Director: Steve McQueen
Actors: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, Nicole Beharie

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Synopsis: Thirtysomething Manhattan office worker, Brandon (Michael Fassbender), lives alone and maintains a form of chronic sex addiction. His needy sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), turns up announced at his apartment, and puts an extra strain on Brandon’s desire for privacy.

Review: The real triumph of Shame is in giving credence to, and taking seriously, its main character’s chronic sex addiction. An issue frequently viewed with a degree of scepticism and even condescension, Steve McQueen’s film puts it in its correct context – as symptom of a much wider malaise: perhaps an attachment disorder, a by product of the alienating quality of life in some metropolises, or just maybe rooted in repression of a much deeper and darker past trauma. In sum, it’s a portrait of a man trapped in an existential depression, as opposed to a more classic bipolar one.

As ever with McQueen, a stark, arty, pictorial gaze is his modus operandi, and his show-stopping tracking shot that follows Brandon jogging through the streets of Manhattan echoes the Sands/Father dialogue scene from Hunger. Perhaps my only slight critique of McQueen is that his visual aesthetic is almost a touch too indulgent (“art for art’s sake”?) and opaque, almost one-dimensionally conceited in setting up this detached and clinical view of Brandon’s life. But what a conceit – and with Michael Fassbender’s wholly convincing performance grounding the narrative, it makes for an intriguing impression of a hitherto under-documented facet of contemporary psychological disorders. (September 2013)

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