In Shame, Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, a sex addict living an outwardly normal live. He lives in a nice apartment and has a good job which he does well. We never find out what he does at work but he’s good at it. He gets on well with his colleagues and customers. Outside of work though he frequently has sex with prostitutes and also seems to be addicted to pornography and masturbation.
When his estranged sister Sissy turns up (not exactly unannounced but he is in denial) and moves in she brings along her own issues and his life starts to spiral out of control. Sissy is played by Carey Mulligan who I recently wrote about in An Education. Here she is giving a strong performance as an emotionally damaged young woman who desperately needs some form of stability in her life and hopes to get it from her older brother. There is a scene that is strongly reminiscent of An Education where Sissy sings in a jazz club which seems to be how she makes her living.
Brandon and Sissy obviously have a troubled relationship and history. At first Brandon is not pleased to see his little sister and is not very welcoming. Sissy takes up residence in Brandon’s apartment and starts helping herself to his stuff. Starting with orange juice and quickly moving up to his friends and even his bed. After a while he gets more used to her but inevitably they start to annoy each other and very quickly end up fighting. Argument scenes between the two leads are pretty intense and can be quite uncomfortable and disturbing but are never gratuitous or over the top. The scenes are there to give you an insight into their relationship and personalities rather than to excite or entertain and they do their job well.
This is not a film that really goes out of the way to explain anything or wrap things up neatly. You never really find out what has caused these two characters to be the way they are or really anything about their pasts. There is no real closure at the end and it is left up to the viewer to decide for themselves whether things are going to turn out well or badly for either or both of the characters.
Fassbender and Mulliugan both excel at portraying vulnerable individuals. The film is well written and manages to avoid a lot of stereotypes that could easily have slipped in. It is messy and uncertain just like real life is and, just like real life it keeps you guessing in the end.
There’s not a lot to this film if you are expecting rich plot or deeply meaningful dialogue. The story and the interest is in the characters and in gradually finding out, not so much their history or their story but the way that they think, feel and behave. Brandon explaining his philosophy and experience of relationships to a date gives a great insight into his character.
A strange film and not one I’d necessarily be comfortable to recommend but quite enjoyable. And yes there is a lot of sex and nudity.