Dir. Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, and James Badge Dale
Shame is perhaps the most uncomfortable 101 minutes put to film in 2011. And yet this shouldn’t scare anyone away from hunting down Steve McQueen’s follow up to the 2008 IRA hunger strike film Hunger.
Like Hunger, Shame is a dialogue free, visually sumptuous yet visually empty, film that probes deep into Brandon Sullivan’s (Michael Fassbender) apparent sex addiction and ostensibly the shame that comes along with it.
While other filmmakers might load their film with heavy-handed symbolism and overbearing dialogue (see another 2011 British film, Weekend, for an example of that), Shame explores male sexuality quietly, unobtrusively and, over all, without judgment or editorial commentary. While other filmmakers might focus their camera on the relationship between individuals after sex, McQueen focuses on the act of sex itself and denies us any opportunity to look at the after-effects of sex.
Some might just call this pornography: we get to look at the sex but not the actual human experience that surrounds it. But what makes Shame different from your regular late-night soft-core porn is that the sex has a sense of reality and urgency to it. It isolates the shame that can occur with sex and exploits it, making the act of viewing sex a pleasurable one, but an uncomfortable one. It turns voyeurism and identification on its head and gives you just sex without the glossy lens.
Sure, it might be morally dubious to make sex an uncomfortable experience, but at least it’s at a higher level than your everyday teenage sex comedy.