Shame (2011) Dir. Steve McQueen

A voyeuristi pleasure.

What makes a person so emotionally detached that sex becomes a mundane activity? Brandon (Michael Fassbender) has everything served on a platter for him: money, women, success, good looks. It all comes easy for him and he doesn’t even care. The less he cares, the better he manages. He’s got an image of a successful business shark and lady’s man. That’s the surface. Deep down inside he is hollow and empty. Brandon’s life is filled with sex. Whenever he’s not with a woman (most of them are ladies of questionable morale), he satisfies himself. He also gets satisfaction from pornography. It’s become a norm for him. Calling for a prostitute is like ordering a pizza.

Brandon knows how to win a woman. He can get anyone he wants. When he exchanges glances and subtle smiles with a red-head girl on the subway, he is flirting not only with her, but with the audience. We realize immediately he will have her. Even more, we’re as much smitten with him as she is that we want her to succumb. However, we know he’s a sex maniac, not a lover. He has sex, but never makes love to a woman. When his date with a co-worker goes well and they go to a hotel room, we witness Brandon fail for the first time. He is unable to consummate their date. Although the woman barely scratches the surface, she evokes some feelings in him, the feelings he didn’t realize he had. He’s in panic to let them go so he prefers to shut them up (by screwing another call girl soon after his date leaves). He’s been masking his issues for so long that he managed to devoid himself of any feeling to the point he’s empty, almost mechanical like a machine rather than a human.

Sissy (Carey Mulligan) is the key. She’s both a problem and a solution. Their relationship borders on incest. As sexual creatures, they’re toxic. As brother and sister, they’re vulnerable. They’re inseparable because of their family history (the enigma hovering over them); yet, they can’t stand each other. Sissy makes Brandon feel broken. She reminds him of some trauma from their childhood. We don’t know the facts. We may only read between the lines. On the other hand, Sissy represents femininity. The singing bit she has is mind-blowing. She captivates with her performance of “New York, New York.” She hypnotizes both Brandon and us. At the same time, she brings sadness and chaos to the story. She is a disruption in Brandon’s empty, meaningless existence.

With its deserted streets, dark alleys and scarce dialogues, it transcends an usual film. Instead, it’s a look inside the dark corners of a hurt soul. Beware.

Long days, pleasant nights,

Veronica Bazydlo

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