Film Festival Today

Founded by Jeremy Taylor


Written by: Victoria Alexander | December 16th, 2011

Sex and incest. Michael Fassbinder electrifies. Unfairly an NC-17 movie.

It’s called SHAME. But what is shameful in this straightforward story?

Should Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) feel “shame” that he is so sexually charismatic that New York women want to have sex with him after meeting him for 10 minutes in a bar? A woman he is briefly introduced to at a bar offers him a ride home, only too willingly to have sex with him minutes later in an alley.

How many New Yorkers are ashamed of having one-night stands?

Isn’t texting considered “Dates 1 thru 3” these days?

Should Brandon feel “shame” because he masturbates in his office bathroom? Tell me guys have never done that.

Is it “shame” to masturbate at home to online porn? Not according to the millions of porn enthusiasts who troll the millions of porn sites online.

Should you feel “shame” if you hire prostitutes? Why not ask the thousands of “hobbyists” – the new, friendly word for “johns”? Escorts and strip clubs are currently very popular forms of entertainment.

Is it necessary to feel “shame” because you take advantage of the anonymous sex offered all over Manhattan?

Is “gay” sex shameful?

It is “shame” if you were forced to have sex with your sister or sexually abused by a parent and turn to a sibling for comfort through sexual intimacy?

That is what the film SHAME is about for me.

Brandon (and star Fassbender) has all the requisite sexual attractiveness to women perfected through evolution. His body – a relatively narrow waist, a V-shaped torso, and broad shoulders – are characteristically indicative of good genes. He is tall, athletic, with powerful legs. He has a high-degree of facial symmetry indicating high testosterone during fetal growth (smart mating also does help here). A strong masculine nose, a wide forehead, high cheekbones and a strong jaw all make Brandon’s sexual conquests not conquests at all. He is also a man of few words – another good evolutionary trait. And Brandon is well-endowed.

So is Brandon a compulsive sexual addict or just damn lucky?

SHAME opens with Brandon getting up in the morning walking in front of the camera nude. This aggressive positioning of the camera puts the viewer in an intentional state of mind. We are intimidated by Brandon.

Brandon’s apartment is featureless. You cannot know anything about him by walking through his apartment. You cannot uncover his secret by chance. He wants it that way.

Sitting across from a young pretty woman on a train wordlessly dramatizes how Brandon communicates his sexual intent. It is a forceful, challenging scene.

Brandon’s answering machine is filled with messages from a woman pleading with him to see her. He keeps turning off the machine. She has called constantly. It is clear to us that this is one of his many one-night stands who keeps begging him to see her again. He is sick and tired of hearing from her.

Coming home from work one afternoon he finds a girl showering in his bathroom. Shocked, he demands to know why she is there. She stands there naked while they argue. He gave her the key, she says. Brandon throws her a towel she barely uses to cover herself with. The next morning he is making her breakfast. She is wearing a short, flimsy cover-up clearly showing her breasts. She is Sissy (Carey Mulligan). Brandon’s sister. She needs a place to stay. She reminds him they only have each other and Brandon has always taken care of her.

I don’t have a brother. Is this kind of nudity between male and female siblings usual?

Brandon allows Sissy, a nightclub “singer” to crash for a few days on his couch. She is messy and disrupts his highly organized sterile lifestyle. When he takes his married boss, David Foster (James Badge Dale) to hear Sissy sing, she immediately goes to bed with his boss in Brandon’s bed and then inappropriately calls David at work.

Sissy walks in on Brandon masturbating. He puts on a small towel and furiously jumps on top of her on the couch. The towel nearly comes off as they argue and he yells at her. He hates her and demands she leaves.

Yeah, brothers behave like that all the time with their sisters.

Brandon goes on a date with an attractive woman at work. When Marianne (Nicole Betharie) asks him about his relationships and commitments, he is uncomfortable. He does not understand monogamy and his longest relationship was – he lies – four months. She is judgmental, something Brandon has always protected himself from. Later when they are about to have sex, she is sexually dominant and it looks like Brandon is in for romantic sexual encounter – but he cannot perform. He knows this cannot be a one-off sexual encounter.

He immediately hires a prostitute and has sex with her standing up in front of a wall of glass windows.

(According to IMDb: The sex scene with Michael Fassbender and a woman on the window was actually filmed outside on a busy street during the day. Spectators watched while the two actors, in the nude, smiled and waved at them between takes.)

Unlike Patrick Bateman’s (AMERICAN PSYCHO) rodeo-riding threesome orgasm, Brandon’s threesome is hungry lust on his part and, when finally climaxing, he is clearly in orgiastic pain. He has to break through something painful to achieve orgasm.

Sissy is no walk in the park. She has numerous scars on her arms from past suicide attempts. When asked about the scars by David, she replies, “Oh just… when I was a kid I was bored.”

Whatever pain they share, Sissy is more upfront about it. She has accepted the trauma and has the marks to prove she survived it.

I read an interview with SHAME’s director Steve McQueen who states categorically that SHAME is about sexual addiction. He interviewed many sex addicts and did tons of research.

Well, if McQueen, who I think is a sensational, absolutely riveting and bold director, really wanted to make a film about sex addicts, he would not have chosen Michael Fassbender as his star.

This is McQueen’s and Fassbender’s second collaboration and it is a film that cannot be dismissed. Fassbender surrenders to McQueen and submerges himself in his character. A brilliant performance not to be forgotten.

Victoria is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association: and the Las Vegas Film Critics Society:

Victoria’s weekly column, “The Devil’s Hammer,” is posted every Monday.

If you would like to be included on Victoria’s private distribution list for a weekly preview, just email her at

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email.

You can contact Victoria directly at



Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, and answers every email at For a complete list of Victoria Alexander's movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes go to: Victoria Alexander contributes to Films in Review (, Film Festival Today ( and Las Vegas Informer (

Other posts by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *