Steve Mcqueen follows up his rousing debut film Hunger with “Shame” a contemplative look at sex-addiction and family obligation. Starring Michael Fassbender as Brandon, a fairly successful man who works high-up in a corporation, office, glass, him, but we are not directly told what he does. He lives a methodical existence we come to find out, though it is not highly constructive in the sense of reason; he is a raging sex-addict, who supplements through masturbating at work and at home, finding hookers and wowing girls at bars. But when his sister, Sissy, appears randomly in his apartment, he soon unwinds into chaotic desire, his foundation breaking with her annoyance. The point of the film is just that: to forget oneself for a second and understand others problems. Except, it seems to be a competition of errors between them, and in many different scenes they argue about how rough they have had it.
The film is genuine and realistic because of a top notch performance from Michael Fassbender. Though rated NC-17, it really lacks any passion in the sex, because McQueen works with the camera and actors in a sterile combination of need and obligation, the latter being what Brandon does not want with a woman. The film is not exciting, or filled with action, but mostly quiet scenes of emotional tension. The restaurant scene when Brandon takes a co-worker out is very memorable; she asks if he is nervous, but he is not: He just wants to get in and get out and to his apartment with her. He wants rich wine, and when the waiter says it is rich, he looks at him like he is really busting his balls. The topic of relationships is brought up, and in an honest moment Brandon says his longest relationship was four-months. How that could be a plan of seduction, he doesn’t know, but it certainly didn’t lighten her eyes up.
When Brandon goes to see his sister sing at a bar, his boss invites himself, and later does the same up to Brandon’s apartment. It is a challenge for Brandon: He tells Sissy that she cannot see his boss again. The brother-sister relationship is always strained for the sake of Brandon’s life, and he has as leverage that he lives a respectable one. Why do we need to be close If I didn’t choose for you to be alive, he says, and Fassbender displays here him almost alien-like vocal tones, raspy and filled with hatred. Shame is a tough journey through an adult man’s life, but one that is ultimately made with precision and focus.