In a place as free and glamourous as the streets of New York City depicts a life filled with nothing but sadness and trouble.
Directed by Steve McQueen, Michael Fassbender is the sex-crazed Brandon Sullivan, a working bachelor living in a swanky apartment.
By day, it appears he’s living the dream. He seems to be good at his job, and he appears to be able to attract the ladies with his good looks and charm. This of course, is only a mask to hide what he’s really suffering from. He’s unable to stay in a relationship, yet suave enough to ask a female co-worker out to dinner. As the audience pines for him to make it work, it’s clear he still isn’t able to make a connection. Not able to find any fulfillment in his life, it’s the lonely nights in his bachelor pad where he feeds his sexual addiction with pornography, masturbation and prostitutes.
It’s only when Brandon’s little sister Sissy shows up uninvited to his apartment that his carefully crafted lifestyle is suddenly disrupted. Sissy, who’s played by Carey Mulligan, is a lounge singer who sings what seems to be the longest rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York”. On the outside she is a beautiful woman, wearing glitter and fine vintage clothing. Yet, she is a mess. Self-loathing and miserable, she yearns to have a connection with her brother.
Both are clearly left dysfunctional by a troubled childhood and not much from the past is known. As Sissy only tells her brother, “We’re not bad people. We just come from a bad place.”
In a perfect world, one would hope the siblings could depend on each other to battle their own demons. But as the world sadly does not always end up that way, they’re unable to save each other.
In what seems to be a slow-moving drama leading to not much of a resolution by the end, it’s Fassbender and Mulligan who carry the film to its best. With Mulligan playing a smaller yet important role, her portrayal of a damaged, confrontational young woman feeds off of her quiet and avoidant brother who frequently ignores her calls.
However, it’s Fassbender (who has also worked with McQueen in 2008’s Hunger) who’s truly flawless in the film. As he stares blankly into the world, he accurately depicts a sex-addict yearning for a real connection in the seemingly anonymous atmosphere he lives in.
While Shame has garnered critical acclaim for Fassbender’s performance (most recently with a Golden Globe nomination), it’s not a film for everyone. With full-frontal nudity and vivid sex scenes, it’s easy to see why it can draw people away. But looking beyond the graphic images, Shame is a true depiction of some of the struggles people go through today as they long to make meaningful connections in the world.