Shame ***+

February 9, 2012 by James Berardinelli - Reelviews
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Spoiler warning: In discussing the movie, I have revealed more about the plot than I normally do, including a brief, oblique reference to the ending. Although Shame is not narrative-driven, those who want a “pure” experience may wish to read no further than the first paragraph before seeing the film.
Sexual addiction can be as debilitating a condition as any kind of dependence: drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc. Those afflicted by sexual addiction are compelled by the need to orgasm. It’s an all-consuming craving, one that blinds the sufferer to other concerns. For sex addicts, there is no pleasure in the act or its conclusion. They work, sometimes frantically, for the moment of release. Shortly thereafter, it begins anew. It’s neither glamorous nor erotic and director Steve McQueen has taken an unflinching and non-judgmental view of sexual addiction in Shame. This is sex without emotion, nudity without titillation, and climaxes without satisfaction. It illustrates how the concept of non-stop sex, a fantasy for many, can be a nightmare for those trapped in this reality.

Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) is a New York City yuppie who outwardly seems to have it all. His high paying job finances an upscale apartment and lavish nightlife. But he has a secret. For him, sex has become a driving compulsion. His daily routine consists of sneaking into the men’s room to masturbate, watching pornography on his work computer, interacting with cam girls on his home laptop, and paying upscale call girls to spend time helping him in his desperate, unending quest for orgasms. He wants no emotional attachment. In fact, he cannot abide it. Sex in a relationship is unthinkable, so he does not date. One night stands are fine, preferably with party girls or the married women with whom he makes eye contact on the subway. His urges are out-of-control but he is able to manage them, at least to the point where no one else is aware – until his needy, emotionally damaged sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), moves into his apartment when she has nowhere else to go. The baggage she brings causes Brandon to begin losing his grip.

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