DVD Review: Shame

The film industry doesn't shy away from the topic of addiction, so much so that movies about junkies and alcoholics feel a bit cliché at this point. However, Shame looks at the dark world of sex addiction, as Brandon's (Michael Fassbender) world falls apart when his younger sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), invades and it becomes increasingly difficult for him to get another fix.

Brandon's addiction isn't obvious. The smell of alcohol isn't always on his breath and track marks do not scar his arms. He's not doing physical damage to his body (assuming he's always using condoms) and wasting away. And he's not sinking his life savings into his problem. He simply cannot get enough of sex. And as much fun as that probably sounds to most, it is slowly ruining Brandon's life, damaging relationships and preventing new ones.

While we see Brandon powerless like any other addict, we are also asked "When does a sexual appetite cross the line?" It's not random happenstance that Brandon's good friend David (James Badge Dale) is a family man who has no qualms about cheating on his wife. However, when David informs Brandon that extreme amounts of porn were found on Brandon's office computer, David is downright disgusted. So how can Brandon's desires be worse than David's, when the happiness of others really isn't at stake, as Brandon only seems to be hurting himself?

This very shaded gray area makes Shame work, but it would still be nothing without Fassbender. Though it might have been easy to write Brandon off as nothing more than a pervert, Fassbender doesn't allow such shallow thoughts. His tormented portrayal of a man genuinely in trouble is what makes Brandon a sympathetic character and not a simply a man with an extensive porn collection and prostitutes on speed dial. There's never some obnoxiously well rehearsed speech about how Brandon wishes he weren't an addict. Fassbender just lets all the emotion play out effortlessly. It's the only subtle bit of a film where everything else is thrown in your face.

Despite the relentless sexual content and nudity, Shame isn't sexy, but it's certainly not meant to be. Seeing Brandon getting another fix is just as disturbing as watching Harry stick the needle in his rotting vein in Requiem for a Dream. It's not a perfect film, mainly due to the underdeveloped Sissy, who's more of plot point than a character most of the time, but with one of the year's best performances from Fassbender, it brings out a sadder side to what some might just look down on as a sick hobby.

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