Steve McQueen’s Film Shame, Dissected.

The movies seems to show how emotionally disconnected he has been from the act of sex, that the release is more important to him than how, where or with whom he gets it.

TW: Graphic portrayal and mention of sex, sexual violence, incest, homophobia

Strangely, the movie is one that I can only describe as problematic.

It addresses multiple issues such as:

  • Unshackling sexual desire from shame
  • Loneliness and fear of intimacy
  • Immensely destructive self-loathing

Fassbender plays the character of Brandon, a handsome 30-year-old who lives in a bland New York apartment. It’s a gritty vision of the metropolis: dirty and riddled with graffiti, and refreshingly realistic; the city itself seems to reflect the character. His “modus vivendi” is being alone, an experience he does not wish for, or cannot resolve.

At his unspecified workplace, Brandon is successful and has an evidently thrilling night life. His one dark secret: his affliction of satyriasis a.k.a. hyperseuxality.

Brandon obsessively looks for one-night stands in the film. If all fails, he hires hookers. His work and home computers are filled with porn. Masturbation isn’t out of habit but out of necessity.

He is definitely controlled by his grave addiction to sex.

Incestuous sibling relationship

Brandon and his sister, Sissy, both had a troubled childhood. McQueen is not clear about the events. Their encounters seems to suggest an incestuous sexual tension:

  • their comfort with each other’s nudity (with Brandon even wrestling with Sissy in a semi-naked state);
  • long pauses and intense eye contact (during their talk on Brandon’s sofa when he tells Sissy to move out their faces are only inches apart)

Sissy, like Brandon, doesn’t hide her bits that are falling apart. He expresses his disgust for her actions such as when she sleeps with his boss, saying that she’s trapped him. He says, “actions count, not words.” This conversation reflects an inner monologue almost confrontational to his self; he is ashamed of.

Succumbing to his pangs

Brandon’s conversation with Sissy is epiphanic of the addiction he lives with. He likes the catch-and-release high he gets from chasing women. He is a slave to his addiction, which leads him into grief and darkness. Consequently, he gets beaten and spat at for flirting with someone’s girlfriend at a bar. This incident foretells a tide of lethal desire that washes over his soul along with feelings of disgust and shame.

In the next scene, he looks for a place for release. He is denied entry at a club.

The cold-paletted New York night seems gloomy and reflects his unending pangs. He frantically enters a gay club. The hue turns grimly red. Inside, there are men in booths indulging in sex and he is pulled in by one of them. They share a kiss and Brandon thrusts the guy to blow him.

The screen then turns blank, and cuts Brandon having a threesome with two female prostitutes. He cries while he comes. The hues are contrastingly warm, a tragedy.

What is Brandon’s sexuality?

There is no clear explanation about Brandon’s sexuality. According to me, he resorts to gay sex only at a low point, followed by a breakdown the following morning. This suggests addiction and may even indicate repressed sexuality.

The movies seems to show how emotionally disconnected he has been from the act of sex, that the release is more important to him than how, where or with whom he gets it. Personally, I believe that his addiction is so strong that he uses men and women as vessels to satisfy himself and escape the void he feels. Many reviewers have taken issue with the scene and while it may be controversial on its own, it made sense to me in the context of the film.

He loves no one, is drawn to no one, while only pursuing occasions for orgasm, regardless of whether alone or in company.

Brandon’s pathological roots might not need to be comprehended. In my theory, his addiction is grave and if he was gay or bisexual it would have manifested sooner into the story. The film’s climax portrays Brandon in the same cold light, flirting with a woman, silently with an unflinching gaze in the subway.

What do you feel about this theory?

About the author

thodasarum

I am an art dilettante, into bilingual poetry, learning to philosophize and comprehend spaces for differences to coexist.