Written by Steve McQueen and screenwriter Abi Morgan (who also wrote the script for The Iron Lady) Shame tells the story of Brandon Sullivan, played by Michael Fassbender, a typical New York businessman whose life is overshadowed by his sexual addiction.
The pre-production for McQueen’s second film begun in 2011 and after flying to New York with Morgan and interviewing experts in the field of sex addiction, McQueen was able to talk to people who either had the addiction or were recuperating from it. Shortly after this, he decided to shoot the film in the city that never sleeps. Its tall buildings and endless streets enhance its inexorable lack of warmth within the film. Further signified visually in Michael’s apartment; on the 15th floor, its huge windows are the only escape from a world of sex consumption overlooking even more tall, phallic buildings.
…between our moral take on what goes on the screen and our sympathy for the character’s trajectory.
McQueen has said in an interview that he finds how New Yorkers live fascinating, up in the sky and framed by the city. This is a characteristic that he captures very well but that by no means drives the film. New York just happens to be where Brandon lives and its grid structure just happens to resemble his quotidian life.
As the film progresses, we engage in an analysis of Brandon’s self-imposed humiliation and his inability to connect emotionally, not even to his clingy sister. We see, hear and feel the character’s struggle with his humanity, his instincts, with something so inherent yet so beyond himself. This is where we come into the equation; we are placed between our moral take on what goes on the screen and our sympathy for the character’s trajectory.
Brandon is relatable because he is any of us and none of us at the same time. We are all subject to social norms and they affect us in many different ways but we never cease to fight against what we consider contrary to our nature. We have all felt shame regarding certain things we have said or done and this film is about that particular struggle.
Shame is primarily a study on human behaviour; of the way in which we can become extremely devout to something entirely innate and how our surroundings dictate the way we are supposed to feel about it.