In review: Shame
It is safe to say for each and every one of us, the most awkward and uncomfortable of dinner table topics is sex. If your parents bring it up, you continue eating your meal politely. If they continue to pose questions, you simply excuse yourself and lock the door to your room until you’re 18 and move out. But with a film like Shame, you’re not simply hearing about sex, you’re delving into the atmosphere of sex addiction.
Shame, Steve McQueen’s directorial follow-up to Hunger, is thankfully not as uncomfortable as a discussion about the birds and the bees with your parents. It is an eye opener about how a crippling affliction that many of us fail to recognize, let alone acknowledge, because of the physical act around which it revolves, can deteriorate the life of a human being. In recent interviews, McQueen has been questioned about the nature of sex addiction, to which the director responded that sex addiction is a kind of mental prison and that’s why Shame needed to be made.
The reality of sex addiction is that not enough people truly believe it to be a real disease. According to Steve McQueen, Shame was a personal contribution towards altering opinions of the public concerning the issue of sex addiction.
In an interview with Jay Stone of the National Post, Shame writer-director McQueen admitted that he himself failed to treat sex addiction with the weight it deserved, until he learned more about the condition. By the time the production of Shame began, McQueen claimed to understand that “[…] you realize that a person cannot get through a day without having a certain amount of sexual encounters, and it ceases to be funny.”
McQueen said that with the film, featuring the lead Michael Fassbender (who plays the sex addicted protagonist Brandon Sullivan), aimed to treat sex not as a moment of passion and intimacy, but rather as a necessity that is debilitating to the point where it hinders Sullivan’s ability to function rationally and ultimately jeopardizes his career and relationships with those closest to him. This sympathetic portrayal of sex addiction is evident in a scene where Sullivan’s boss discovers that his hard-drive is cluttered with pornography and other mediums of sexual gratification; consequently provoking his boss to put his job on the line and changing his perception of Sullivan from model employee to sex maniac.
Ultimately, Shame is a film that presents polarizing views. Likely, some will scoff at the idea that sex addiction is prevalent in our modern society, while others may identify the film’s subject as an issue that requires further examination, and a disease that should be treated as a medical condition instead of a punch line to a joke about intercourse.