Shame (2011)


Director: Steve Mcqueen

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale

Steve Mcqueen has nothing to be ashamed of here

Shame took me by surprise. I thought it would be good, but I didn’t expect it to be as good as it was. Steve Mcqueen made a striking directional debut with Hunger, a film which I thought looked great but left a lot to be desired over the screenplay. I of course saw 12 Years a Slave before Shame and was completely bowled over by it. Shame isn’t quite the masterpiece which 12 Years a Slave is, but it is nevertheless a brilliant film and is well above average in pretty much every department.


Steve Mcqueen has absolutely nothing to be ashamed of in the directing department. Visually, Shame is flawless right from the opening where we see Michael Fassbender, stark bullock naked and staring into space on his bed. In fact, the wordless opening 10 minutes is one of the best moments in the film. There’s a beautifully realised moment where Michael is eyeing up a woman on the tube and it just goes to show how powerful actions can be. During this moment we also get to see how Michael goes through his days using prostitutes, watching porn and masturbating all to a fantastically emotive score. Right from the opening, you know that you’re in good hands.

Michael Fassbender gives a fantastic performance as the sex addict. His American accent is extremely off, but thankfully this is brushed off as his character explains how he emigrated to New York. He’s very convincing and there are plenty of powerful acting moments. I was also really impressed with Carey Mulligan who normally plays cute mousy types to match her childlike features. Here she plays a loudmouth wannabe singer who’s far clingier than her brother. I found the undertones of incest very interesting too. The film hints that they’ve had quite a horrific past, but we’re never let in on it.


There are plenty of uncomfortable moments in Shame. At times it makes you feel intrusive as we explicitly see private moments played out regularly and in long takes. Whilst the film is full of sex, it is never sexy. In fact, I barely had a semi-bone throughout! Instead you feel sorry for the poor man as he never uses sex for pleasure, more like a coping mechanism.

Shame isn’t just about sex though, it’s full of brilliant drama which makes you feel involved in the character’s lives. There are a handful of great scenes. One of the most memorable is a painfully realistic first date which is full of awkward moments. The best part of the film is probably towards the end though, where we get a montage of images (like at the start) whilst the haunting score plays over. It shows Michael Fassbender going out and looking for sex desperately, at a time when his sister needed him the most. The results are suitably tragic.


Shame is phenomenal filmmaking. It’s a involving character study which doesn’t lecture or patronise its audience. The film is full of haunting and memorable scenes which will be playing in your mind the next day. The acting is brilliant across the board and the screenplay is also suitably ambiguous. It’s the directing and visuals which make the biggest impact though. How Steve Mcqueen wasn’t Oscar nominated for this film, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s subject matter is a little too sensitive for the Academy. This is an essential film for those who love the art of filmmaking.




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