Shame ★★★★½

March Across the World Challenge Film #11 - UK

When you hear the word addiction, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Personally, I tend to focus on anything I am familiar with or have some sort of connection to in reality. While I have no issues with alcoholism, I have seen the effects of such an illness on both family and friends. I smoked a boat load of pot in high school and consumed an even bigger supply of cookies and cupcakes as a result, but the joints never served as a gateway to the more harmful and extreme substances. Still though, acquaintances who sat in neighboring desks five days a week succumbed to needles, powders and pills, their bodies found by devastated parents, tears shed by those who lost a loved one far too young.

The normal reaction when one hears the words "sex addiction" is an eye roll and an expedited dismissal of it being a real affliction, a cop out for celebrity culture when a cheating spouse is caught in the act, but shouldn't we take a step back and reconsider this mentality? Why can't a person become addicted to the pleasure of a sexual release, the excitement of being wanted, the euphoric warmth of carnal companionship? The film Shame, directed by Steve McQueen who is now best known for crafting the Best Picture winning masterpiece 12 Years a Slave, follows a man named Brandon (Michael Fassbender) who is fighting a true addiction to sexual gratification, whether it be in bed with another person or in the restroom alone during a stressful day of work.

Shame is an emotionally draining and powerful film thanks to confident, assured direction and the absolutely brilliant performances from the two leads. I was already quite the fan of the work of Michael Fassbender, starting when I was introduced to his potential thanks to a perfect turn in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, but now I feel as if I honestly had no clue how incredible he truly is. Playing Brandon demanded an extraordinary level of nuance and authenticity and good golly did he deliver, in every way imaginable. I was charmed by his smile, intrigued by his stare and haunted by the anguish that spilled out at the moment he reached rock bottom.

If Carey Mulligan is in a film, I will be watching as I have always been a fan. So talented and beautiful, so perfectly suited for every role she is cast in and her work as Brandon's younger sister Sissy here is another prime example of this. As I was witnessing the tragic narrative of the film unfold, I never viewed Mulligan as an actress playing a part. She wasn't a familiar face that brought me back to other films in which I treasured her presence in them, like Drive, Never Let Me Go or Inside Llewyn Davis. Carey Mulligan completely embodied the character, a flawed and uneven human being dealing with an unsettling relationship with her brother. When she spoke, I absorbed every word. When she sang, I listened. When she cried, I felt the pain. When she bled, I broke apart and wished for her safety as if she was real, because that is exactly how she felt. Real.

Shame is an explicit, raw, and often times uncomfortable film that I can't imagine wanting to go back and revisit frequently, yet I know I would be willing to watch again down the road. When this level of talent is on display, both behind and in front of the camera, it's impossible to ignore, impossible to look away. It's a movie with so much power seeping from its pores that it may change what I think of when I hear the word addiction going forward. Sure, I will start with alcoholism and drugs and I doubt that will ever change, but it's unfair to label an addiction to sex as something that isn't real. Shame may be a work of fiction, but it's evident that a character like Brandon and his affliction are born from fact.

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