Shame ★★★★

In Shame, Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, a helpless and hopeless sex addict. Brandon’s life is detached and impersonal, a calculated routine of resisting and giving in to urges. Everything is dictated by functionality rather than feeling; his conquests aren’t partners he shares a connection with but objects that fulfil his desire; his apartment isn’t homely but an almost empty space where he can live out his fantasies.

Brandon hides his shame behind coldness. He avoids attachment and feeling, floating through his day and night, as he roams the deplorable streets of New York. His shame boils deep inside and he feels targeted by those around him. Even when they don’t explicitly mention his addiction, he feels their words and looks burn his skin, and he runs and hides.

When his sister pays him an indefinite visit, everything he’s been trying to suppress engulfs him. His sister suffers as much as he does, but she doesn’t hide. She lets it wash over her and acts, throwing his routine into chaos. Her presence reminds him that it’s all right to feel, that he’s capable of feeling, and the cracks of what he’s considered fool-proof are starting to show.

Fassbender is as restrained as the role requires him to be, but there’s an intensity to him that shows the tragedy behind his habits. Though emotion betrays his lack of expression, Fassbender rarely bursts. A simple look of defeat can reveal all the hurt within him, as he and Steve McQueen use the distance between Brandon and the other characters, between him and the audience, to create a space where Brandon’s suffering can be felt fully and intensely.

Shame is a portrait of helplessness and desperation. Its central character is a vessel of desolation, caught in an unbreakable circle of desire, pleasure and shame that gives him the illusion of control. When control is taken away from him, he realizes how far he’s fallen and that suffering is part of being human.

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