"Forgive me, but I don't want to give you a Warhorse sunset. I hope there's hope but there's not always a resolution." - Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen's latest work Shame, another collaboration with favourite leading man Michael Fassbender (the two also worked together on 2008's Hunger), takes a look at the life of Brandon (Fassbender), an alienated sex-addict living in New York. Brandon is a handsome successful businessman in his late thirties. Dogged by his secret affliction, he performs joylessly compulsive sexual acts at every opportunity. One day, a surprise visit from his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) disrupts the solitary world he has created for himself in his luxury apartment high above the city.
New York itself becomes a major factor in the film; the streets and buildings are Brandon's bleak concrete playground, witness to the repetitive futility of his addiction. This is interesting considering that McQueen originally intended to shoot the film in Britain (McQueen, his co-writer and both of his lead actors are all from the UK or Ireland) but ended up in New York almost by accident due to the presence there of sex addicts who were actually willing to speak out about their situation (I guess all the British addicts must have been a little too British about the whole thing). But, McQueen makes incredibly good use of the city, even though he never intended to be there. Brandon is constantly barhopping or taking solitary picturesque night jogs, and Sissy, who works as a nightclub entertainer, sings a slow bluesy rendition of 'New York New York' while he looks on teary-eyed, his strained relationship with her forgotten while he listens to her sing.
The narrative of Shame is very far from the spoon-fed stylings of your average flick; rather than setting us up with situation, problem, gradual overcoming of problem, and resolution, McQueen simply drops his film into Brandon's life for an allotted period of time, before suddenly taking it away again. Whatever happens in between does not feel plotted out or formulaic, it feels 'captured', as though it just happened to happen during the filming period. Real lives don't have neatly arranged ups and downs and nicely rounded out resolutions. With many films, you will have no sense of the characters actually having existed before the camera started to roll, and no sense of them continuing their lives once it has stopped; the characters and their lives are only there because the film is. With Shame, the film is there because the characters are.
While Brandon is constantly surrounding himself with people, his isolation is palpable; he is the embodiment of the classic 'solitary man in the city'; hidden in plain view like a tree in a forest. Any other film about sex addiction would have Brandon recognise his problem, come to terms with it, and eventually redeem himself - but not Shame. Brandon does make an attempt to forge a 'normal' relationship with one of his co-workers, but this fails miserably, pushing him straight back into his addiction with even more destructive force than before. Brandon isn't trying to 'fix' himself, or at least not very hard; this film isn't about that. It's about modern malaise and greed, the bust after the boom, the incredibly destructive power of addiction, and the shame that comes with the fulfilment of a worthless desire.
Shame is a KINOLENS Film of the Moment and is on general release in the UK.