Film Review: Shame, plus Q&A with Steve McQueen

By Rachel More

It’s Glasgow’s pride and joy; the tallest cinema in the world, a movie fan’s fantasy, with 20 screens over six floors, situated in a city that loves ‘gaun tae the pictures’. It’s always refreshing when such an iconic attraction uses its facilities to not merely screen several daytime showings of the Chipmunks’ Chipwrecked and assign sickening numbers of its screens to Harry Potter – but also to show something interesting.

On 10th January, Cineworld Renfrew Street was one of the 68 cinemas across the UK and Ireland to screen an advance showing of Steve McQueen’s Shame, a boldly stylish yet bleak portrayal of sex addiction and depression. Following the film was a special Q&A with the director, along with co-writer Abi Morgan, beamed via satellite from the Curzon Mayfair in London.

It was a strange sort of static atmosphere in the cinema, as the Glasgow audience watched semi B-listers file into their seats from the other side of the country, heckling at a none-the-wiser Janet Street Porter. There was even a loud boo when the London-based presenter failed to mention Glasgow in a brief list of cinemas taking part.

Following a short and humble introduction from its director, the film began. Opening almost as a scrapbook, fleeting images from one area to another instantly introduce us to protagonist Brandon’s life – ignoring family phone calls; chasing women on the subway; masturbating in the shower; walking in circles; lying naked and vacant. Brandon is fearlessly played by Michael Fassbender, who commands the screen with his slick reservedness, which is juxtaposed in private by a destructive compulsive nature. As a successful white collar man, his double life alludes to that of Patrick Batemen, one of fiction’s biggest characterisations of the double life of the cool and affluent.

Working against Fassbender’s surliness is his vulnerable sister, played by Carey Mulligan. This family relationship often appears less than wholesome, but no sexual contact is ever explicitly implied. Nevertheless, McQueen instills uneasiness in the viewer as we struggle to trust the characters’ ability to behave as normal, healthy people.

As stated by McQueen in the following Q&A, the viewer can expect no ‘War Horse sunset’ at the end of Shame. The film closes without answers, throwing up instead the kind of questions that a worried mother may ask about her troubled child. This resonates with an audience which has just been exposed to the fact that for Brandon, the compulsive sex addict, there is no cure, only the need for some sort of control which he may never find.

Shame is a presentation of the veneer, of the totally together man’s man who is falling apart inside.

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