Steve McQueen’s Shame takes us on a raw journey through the troubled lives of a sex addict and his wayward sister. Are you sitting comfortably? You won’t be by the end.
“We’re not bad people. We’re just from a bad place,” Sissy tearfully explains to her brother Brandon. The audience never discovers what or where this ‘bad place’ is, but nonetheless, it has set the siblings on the troubled tracks towards addiction, obsession and self-destruction. Steve McQueen is best known for the hard-hitting drama Hunger, where a man imprisoned in Northern Ireland uses his body in a bid to obtain freedom for his country. Now he brings us Shame, the story of a man who seemingly has every freedom, yet his body has become his prison. Set in New York, Brandon, played by Michael Fassbender, tries to balance the success of his career and wealthy lifestyle with a crippling, all-consuming addiction to sex. Attempting to quench his desires in a city steeped in sin, Brandon seductively eyes up women on the subway, picks them up in bars, has orgies with prostitutes and constantly watches porn. Keeping meticulous control over his vices, his world is propelled into chaos by the arrival of his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan). Equally as self-destructive yet far more extroverted, Sissy is a character “without a safety net”, Mulligan tells i-D, who tries to depend on Brandon as she grapples with her own demons. The result of two damaged people mutually reliant on each other naturally leads to catastrophe, and the downward spiral of the duo, told from Brandon’s point of view, is disturbing yet compelling to watch.
The film’s third character is New York City. Portrayed by McQueen as soulless, oppressive, full of empty offices and dark corners, Manhattan traps the siblings and holds them prisoners. Brandon gorges himself sick on the NY’s sexual underbelly, while Sissy becomes lost in a landscape of fractured dreams and disappointment, most poignantly shown in the scene where she sings a beautifully melancholic rendition of New York, New York. It’s almost as if McQueen is asking his audience if they “want to be a part of it?” Judging by the plot, most likely they would not.
i-D caught a moment with leading lady Carey Mulligan to discuss taboo subjects, life on set and a recently unearthed talent for singing.
Shame is released in the UK on January 13th.
Text: Rose Poole