Isn't love like energy in the universe? A quantity that cannot be created or destroyed, but which is converted from one state to another, kinetic to potential, romance to friendship, stored in the heart's star eminating light. The imperceptible change but undeniable gulf between them.
Strangely, yet appropriately disconnected and full of space, Steve McQueen‘s film about a sex addict was not the tumultuous story of raw emotion I expected, but for the most part possessed of the distant voyeurism of a video installation. We see snapshots of the emotionally sterile existence that Brandon (Michael Fassbender) has chosen, a life saturated in porn and sexual stimulation to the point where it has become his evening TV and work coffee break. His life to us is a routine of in-call hookers and web-cam sessions, outside of which he cruises through a nondescript white-collar job which we are told he excels at, and goes drinking with his married boss who hits on any women in any bar, including Brandon’s wayward and equally dysfunctional sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan).When the boss takes Sissy back to Brandon’s flat for sex, it becomes apparent that Brandon cannot cope with this – a sexual encounter that does not involve him. He is forced to hear his intoxicant being consumed by others. In later scenes he grapples with Sissy, naked as his towel falls away, his vice-like hand brutally gripping her jaw as what she first thinks is sibling playfulness becomes his expression of disgust at her neediness and wanton advances on men. An equally, emotional brutal exchange takes place between them in close-up as he verbally drills into her how much she revolts him, as an innocent child’s cartoon plays on the TV, mocking their broken relationship as he projects his self-contempt onto her. His dedication to the high is ultimately what makes him fail his sister and her desire to form a stable, familial bond. “We’re not bad people,” she says in voiceover, “we just come from a bad place.” Despite the copious amounts of naked flesh and sexual acts depicted in the film, it is somehow never erotic, never arousing, just a collective portrayal of disconnected sexual encounters which paints Brandon’s self-imposed isolation from love. On the one occasion when he brings a genuine date home and begins to undress her, he is unable to form the necessary emotional connection, (and erection) to make love to her, and so he is emasculated, muscles tensed and frozen in anger on the edge of the bathtub, like Rodin’s Thinker, while the lady makes her excuses and leaves him. One scene later, he is back on the high, banging, quite literally, a call girl against his glass bedroom wall. Shame is an interesting film that is worth a watch if you aren’t too prudish, but the price of the many night-time tracking shots on New York sidewalks is that there is no character arc, no redemption. I felt a dull sense, empty of empathy for Brandon. But perhaps that’s how he feels.