Man is inherently doomed to never fully understand each other, and so the biggest shame in Steve McQueen’s second directorial outing, is the failure of lead protagonist Brandon (Michael Fassbender) to build or maintain a worthy relationship.
Brandon is a successful businessman in thriving New York. He has everything he wants; everything he needs, and the majority of it is just a click of a button on his laptop away. With the arrival of his sister Sissy, played by the incredible Carey Mulligan, his real wants and needs are thrown into doubt. Like Brandon, we never really get to see what Sissy needs, and herein lies the problem for both Brandon and us, as the viewer. For we, both, never really get to know Sissy or care too much for her, and as such our sympathies lie with Brandon, despite the sordid activities that he cannot steal himself away from.
The film is not so much about the perils of sex addiction, but the dangers of wanting too much from life, and how that can lead to losing what you have already got. Brandon is guilty of discarding everyone who can help him, which leads to a fear of getting too close to anybody in every sense, but literal.
The subject of sexual addiction, although constant throughout, does not envelop the film, and never really feels as though it is offering a great deal of moral condemnation, much to the films benefit.
Of course, this is a depiction of a man suffering, and battling with the contortions of the human psyche, but there is no ethical pedestal for us to sit on, even when we suspect extracurricular activities taking place on Brandon’s work computer.
Despite the unique stance on human emotions, Shame does gravitate to familiar territory at times, and parallels can be made with recent one-man-character-portrayal pieces like The Wrestler (2008) and Crazy Heart (2009).
Shame is not as stylish as McQueens previous outing Hunger (2008), but its subject matter lends itself well to a grimier backdrop. Fassbender once again sparkles, as does Carey Mulligan, but the film loses a certain humanity amongst the squalor and immorality.
A well-told story about life and habits that are seldom seen, but contrary to Brandon’s date, who proclaims that couples in restaurants are so well connected that they don’t need to speak to each other, the lack of emotion never really allows us to connect with the people who are most important.
This is not a crying shame, because we still have a film that is worthy of much praise, even though it feels as if an opportunity may have been missed.