By Luke Good
Shame is a film of shadows: presences that suggest realities, but never quite present the entire truth. It follows Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender), an attractive, heterosexual, 30-something year old man who gives every appearance of success with an executive job and a minimally decorated apartment in a building that mirrors his own mien – classically handsome and modernly chiseled.
His life is complicated by the arrival of his polar opposite of a sister, Sissy, played by Carey Mulligan, who is all rough edges and emotion with the scars of suicide attempts on her wrists. It is revealed soon enough that Sullivan suffers from an addiction to sex.
The scene perhaps most populated by shadows in the film is the one in which Sullivan receives oral sex from a male patron of a gay bar.
The climax of the film is an artfully edited night of sexual encounters. A man beats Sullivan for touching and propositioning his girlfriend. He has a threesome with two female prostitutes. Sullivan catches the eye of the man smoking outside a gay bar, and enters. The bar is full of shadows, undulating and heaving in corners; when Sullivan and the man meet again, Sullivan is fellated by a unknown, out of frame receptacle. The orchestral score rises and falls, cutting and slicing the scene, which ends in a close-up of Sullivan’s hollow face.
Some suggest that the gay sex scene represents Sullivan’s low point of sexual addiction. But I see it as yet another infiltration into a community of others for his own egotistical gratification; just as he doesn’t have to be a prostitute in order to use them to his ends.