Shame DVD Review

Does talking about sex all day make you horny?

It seemed like a sensible enough enquiry to my admittedly sex addled mind, and the recipient of my probing offered a polite chuckle before forming a genuine response as if I was Jeremy Paxman on an off night.

As you may have already deduced from this snippet of illumination, I am not Jeremy Paxman on an off night.

Still, having been invited to a special screening of Steve McQueen’s critically acclaimed Shame ahead of its upcoming home entertainment release, it was probably fitting and even inevitable that my evening was laced with a sense of crushing humiliation.

Having just endured an office based health and safety training day, I found myself counting off the symptoms of every work related affliction covered on said course.

I’d started the day with a spring in my step, but was now convinced my self diagnosis of work place stress, back pain, RSI and some low level asbestosis was stalking my immune system’s every move.

And to top it off, I’d just asked a bona fide sex doctor something that made me feel like a fully fledged sex pest.

Dr Thadeous Birchard, a slight American man with the handshake of a coal miner, was in a rather more official attendance tonight; with his designated role for the night offering the assembled audience some further insight on this controversial film’s subject matter through a post coital discussion about sexual addiction.

Some familiar Catholic guilt, brought about by a generous helping of red wine from our hosts, swelled inside me as this seemed a little too much like life imitating art.

Fortunately I stopped short of asking Thad about how he handles the nymphomaniacs he presumably encounters on a daily basis, rescued by the late arrival of my unashamedly hairy friend and the start of our film.

Shame is a thought provoking and intense study of Brandon Sullivan, a successful businessman seeking refuge from his self-imposed emotional isolation.

McQueen’s visually descriptive direction from his debut feature Hunger, a dark comedy minus the humour, is pleasingly evident here too as scenes without dialogue take on a compulsive narrative.

Abi Morgan’s script is similarly well pitched, with the powerful scenes between Brandon and his impromptu lodger Sissy, played with typical vulnerability by Carey Mulligan, comprising the heart of Shame.

While Brandon’s profound irritation at his unwelcome guest hints at an unhappy past, Morgan and McQueen forego any back story and instead let the audience fill in the blanks for themselves.

Michael Fassbender is excellent as the afflicted Brandon, a man who has let sex and his pursuit of this take over his life.

He makes filthy eye contact with girls on the subway, silently observes his boss’ desperate attempts to hook up in bars before swooping in for the kill whilst maintaining an obsessive level of hygiene in his fastidiously composed apartment.

Even in seduction, Fassbender is a man of few words. But then he knows he has more than enough without them.

At no stage is the portrayal of addiction anything less than earnest and unapologetic. The consensus amongst our in house doctor’s for the night validated both the motivation of Shame’s leading lights and their addictions, further highlighting the research both McQueen and Morgan must have put into understanding their subject matter.

The only question I have is why a film scripted, directed and acted almost exclusively by British and Irish talent is set in New York?

So please accept my recommendation to catch Shame if you missed out on its cinema release.

Don’t take it from me though, listen to the good Dr Thad; a man so composed he can stand in a predominately female room and suppress any tittering when asked if sexual addiction is on the rise.

As well as fielding less than graceful questions from a recently diagnosed asbestos sufferer and sex pest.

Frank Gardiner

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Dates ‘n stuff

May 2012