Shame ★★★★½

"No. You trap me. You force me into a corner and you trap me. I've got nowhere else to go."

Just once, I want a girl to look at me the way that young lady looks at Michael Fassbender on the subway.

Director Steve McQueen's breakout film, Shame is a jarring look -- a long, hard look (okay okay no more jokes I promise) -- at a very particular addiction that is not usually treated with any seriousness in film: sex.

To be clear, there have been jokey movies about sex addicts. And there have been serious movies about lots of types of addiction, including very recently the pretty good film Beautiful Boy.

Brandon's sex addiction is more than just the act itself, although it is plentiful, pickups and prostitutes and trysts. Pornography, some for release and some just to pass the time; masturbation, in the bathroom stall at work and several times daily. It rules his life, and Shame is not ashamed to show it. He juggles this compulsion with a high stakes New York job and a sister with borderline personality disorder who grows to depend on him.

The gorgeous and methodically-paced (but never slow) film is driven by Fassbender's powerhouse performance as Brandon. I love stories with difficult or painful topics that show you and don't tell you. You see his ambitions shattered by addiction, his constant diversions from reality to shove away or indulge his appetite. Outwardly, he is handsome and successful and charming. Inwardly, it's a never-ending battle with these ugly demons. When several events threaten to turn his life upside-down, the consequences of his craven lifestyle careen into a climax.

The film earns its NC-17 rating, and rightly so, but it's about time that a filmmaker embraces the rating by not asking for any edits to turn down the steam. The movie of course features very adult sexual situations, but also shows naked emotions and raw humanity, in all its imperfections and mistakes. No one is beyond redemption, and though McQueen and Fassbender unfold a tale that finds rock bottom and then some, they leave room for hope amidst crushing despair.

A powerful goddamn film that you will not be able to turn away from.

Added to Steve McQueen ranked.
Added to My Subjective List of the Best Narrative Films.

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