Don’t be afraid to watch Shame. Yes, this film is rated NC-17, and yes, the film contains graphic acts of sexuality and nudity. But at the same time, the film is a genuine work of art. A raw labor of love for all of the craftsmen who poured their hearts into it. Shame is one of the best films of 2011 and was undeservedly snubbed at the Oscars.
Brandon (Michael Fassbender) lives a well-structured life. Unfortunately, the structure he has built has allowed him to feed his sex addiction, leaving it totally unchecked and out of control. Although he is socially adept and works a successful career in downtown New York City (doing exactly what? that is unimportant), Brandon’s sex life is overtaking him.
Enter Brandon’s sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan). When Sissy forces her way back into Brandon’s life by crashing in his apartment, an inevitable tension begins to rise. Sissy is emotionally needy and deals with her baggage by reaching out to others for help. Whereas Brandon has locked himself away in a private world of lust, pornography, and sex devoid of relationship, Sissy’s explosion of issues meet up with Brandon’s implosion, and that is one amazing set up for true drama.
Shame could easily have fallen apart in the execution. Obviously dealing with sex addiction is controversial and could have been handled in a tasteless manner. But writer/director Steve McQueen has written a relentlessly authentic script, and shot it with the eye of an auteur. Every shot matters. Every scene is meticulously constructed. Even the nudity and sexuality is all shown in service to the character study at hand.
As Brandon loses his control over his routine, he delves all the more deeply into his sexual compulsions. And while Sissy acts out in other unhealthy ways, it is clear that her presence in Brandon’s life will either bring him the redemption that he needs, or send him into an abyss of depravity from which he would probably never recover.
Amazingly, Shame ends with a certain sense of redemption, but also allows viewers to wonder at Brandon’s fate. Addiction is addiction after all. Will Brandon be able to find the accountability and community he needs to conquer this issue? Or will he simply live on with good intentions of change and simultaneously indulge in his addictive patterns?
As a believer in Christ, I obviously also believe that redemption can be found through the grace of an all-loving God. But after years of doing ministry, and many years of relationships with other believers, I also believe that deep accountability is needed for those overcoming addictive behaviors. Treatment, honesty, confrontation, and hard work are all significant parts of true redemption and freedom from the bondage of addiction.
The presence or absence of God is never really acknowledged in Shame. But the brokenness and isolation of addiction is portrayed with powerful sincerity. And Shame is a film filled to overflowing with profound truth. Brandon’s story ends before any of the real hard work of recovery begins, but that doesn’t dull the impact of this incisive tale.
As I mentioned from the start, don’t be afraid to watch Shame. If you personally struggle with sexual addiction, then the graphic nature of the film might be important to take note of before watching. But for those who seek out films which are truth-filled, masterfully crafted, and cutting edge, look no further than this graphic masterpiece of filmmaking.
Shame tells much of its story through the shot composition and masterful direction of Steve McQueen. The high-definition transfer of this film allows our actors to become the landscape of the film. Some of the close up shots of Mulligan and Fassbender are breathtaking in high-definition!
There are some insightful and brief featurrettes on the Blu-ray, but no director’s commentary. This is the definitive film on sexual addiction, in my opinion. I highly recommend it.