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11° & RAINY ON WEDNESDAY 26 JUNE IN SYDNEY
By Tom Glasson
February 12, 2012
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Shame

A provocative and uncompromising study of a man haunted by sexual addiction.
By Tom Glasson
February 12, 2012
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Male sex addiction’ sounds almost tautological. If you’re a man, research indicates you already turn your thoughts to sexual intercourse around 13 times a day (or 4,745 times a year). If you’re a teenager, that number is so much larger NASA hasn’t even invented it yet. But of course the key word is ‘addiction’. However often men think about sex, few have the time, ability or — in this case — compulsion to continuously act upon it, and those that do find tend to find themselves trapped in a debilitating, self-destructive spiral. Shame, directed by Steve McQueen (Hunger) and co-authored by Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady), gives us an insight into that cold and lonely world.

Michael Fassbender stars as Brandon, an affluent New York City suit (we never find out his actual job) epitomising success and self-assurance to the outside world. He's handsome, confident and irresistible to women — capable of enticing complete strangers into romantic trysts with little more than lingering stares on a crowded subway carriage. Yet there’s nothing even remotely romantic about Brandon's encounters. The motivation isn't companionship; it's sex, and when strangers aren't accommodating, prostitutes and masturbation take their place.

Allusions to American Psycho's Patrick Bateman are not unwarranted, particularly given the ordered and sterile apartments in which they both reside. Like Bateman, Brandon effectively ghosts his way through a thin and trifling existence, oscillating between observing those around him with marked curiosity and quiet indifference. His condition precipitates detachment: a joyless obsession rendering him an outsider within an exclusive elite. But while Bateman's hunger for sex and violence was propelled by the need to fill a void, Brandon's hunger is the void. His addiction consumes him, along with his time and money, and it's only the unexpected arrival of his impulsive sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), that seems capable of interrupting his paralysing routine.

Given its subject matter and tenor Shame would seem a curious film to describe as 'beautiful', yet there's simply no avoiding it. Between the performances, the cinematography and even the tragic plot, McQueen has crafted something sublime here. Both Fassbender and Mulligan are mesmerising as the troubled siblings condemned to lives of disappointment for reasons the film only ever hints at, and the supporting cast (led by James Badge Dale) shines around them. Shame deals with sex addiction without ever becoming a movie about sex addiction, and what we're left with is an intimate and uncompromising character study that lingers long beyond the credits.

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