I waited, as I read some of the reviews of Shame. I watched all of the major reviewers sort of dance around trying to figure out if they got what was going on, what this movie was really about. Watched for the two words: Sex addiction.
Sadly, I saw them nowhere.
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD READ THIS REVIEW ONLY AFTER YOU’VE SEEN SHAME. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD READ THIS REVIEW ONLY AFTER YOU’VE SEEN SHAME. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD READ THIS REVIEW ONLY AFTER YOU’VE SEEN SHAME. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD READ THIS REVIEW ONLY AFTER YOU’VE SEEN SHAME. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD READ THIS REVIEW ONLY AFTER YOU’VE SEEN SHAME. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD READ THIS REVIEW ONLY AFTER YOU’VE SEEN SHAME. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD READ THIS REVIEW ONLY AFTER YOU’VE SEEN SHAME.
But this movie is to Sex Addiction what Days of Wine and Roses is to alcoholism. Ever wanted to know the sordid details behind a sex addict’s mind? Here you go. The lies, the hidden pornography, the near-constant masturbation. The near destruction of one’s own life, while being in complete denial about it. All here.
What (also) isn’t talked about is how his (Michael Fassbender, as our protagonist) sister (Carey Mulligan) suffers from a concurrent love addiction. She bounds into his life from who knows where, and opens up a door on his behavior. Make no mistake, they are cut from the same cloth.
They are both from New Jersey. Brother dear now lives in NY. When sister arrives, she has somehow booked a singing gig at a club. She does a gut-wrenching version of “New York, New York” that also makes her otherwise unfeeling brother tear up.
It’s also interesting to me that the first time you see both of them completely naked, it’s not in a sexual way. He, because he’s taking a piss. She, because she’s in the shower.
Also, to director Steve McQueen’s immense credit (which also other reviewers seem to have missed), it’s incredibly hard to show all the sordidness of a sex addict’s life, and not make it seem sexy. He does this partly through the script, and partly through excellent camera work and editing.
Sex addiction, for those not savvy to it, makes every person a potential sex object. The sex addict is skilled, like a sexual viper, always able to conquer their prey. But it’s a nameless faceless game. Know as little about someone as possible. Give away as little of yourself as possible.
So when the phone starts ringing early on, I was puzzled. Not like a sex addict to give out their phone number. Of course, it turns out to be his sister.
Later, he meets someone and goes on an actual date. She asks him how long his longest relationship was, “Four months,” he says.
Being present is also a very difficult thing for any addict, but especially a sex addict. So when he asks his date what time period, past or future, she’d like to live in, she responds: “Right now.” He’s completely perplexed. But she is, indeed, very connected, very present, very in touch with her emotions.
You see this in another way. You’ve seen his addictive sex in many ways. But when he beds this gorgeous emotionally connected black woman, she touches his face, lovingly. He can’t go on. He knows nothing of this kind of sex.
But, his sex addiction fuse having been lit, it has to be finished. You see him, moments later, with someone that he picked up from somewhere. Doesn’t matter. It’s another drug, and he’s scored.
The purging that he does after that experience is equivalent to what anyone has to do when they get sober. Alcoholics pour their drink down the sink, drug addicts destroy their paraphernalia, sex addicts throw away all the morass of their secret stashes. Yes, even their computers.
He has his emotions opened up now. He has a big blowout fight with his sister. It’s quite compellingly shot from behind as they sit on a couch. Sex addict vs. love addict, mano a mano. It’s brutal, and painful.
He caps his words with a night of sex bingeing that gets quite ugly.
And, in the morning, he is sobbing on the beach. Someone on Twitter said, “Oh big deal, so he cries on the beach.” They missed the whole point. It IS a big deal that he was sobbing on the beach. The way for a sex addict to heal (or any addict) is to actually feel their feelings. And yes, that usually does initially involve a lot of crying.
I was hoping that it would all end with Brandon getting into recovery. But that’s probably too pat and predictable an ending.
The way it actually ended was with one of his sex toys on the train, a married woman who constantly flirts with him. Once he ran out of the train, following her and lost her. This time, she starts flirting, and he remains seated, not taking the bait.
I looked behind his head. In the shot, is a poster for a place called “The River NYC.” Not exactly a recovery place, but its website said this: “Our goal is to create a warm and welcoming space where we can develop a genuine spirituality.” Yep. Sounds like recovery to me. All you have to do is look around, and find it.
A much better ending.
ADDENDUM: Roger Ebert mentions it in his review.