So I had to sit on this one for a while before I was ready to say what I think about it. This movie takes some processing time after viewing. That time has passed and here’s what I have to say: Disturbing, but deserving of empathy.

Shame is the story of a single, thirty-something professional man living in New York City. The previews for this movie categorize it as a film about sexual addiction. That’s not how I would describe this movie.

There is sex; I think there is addiction, but, the two are not together. They’re a product of much larger emotional issues. This movie is better described as being about emotional dysfunction and what a person does to try to dull/kill the pain.

Michael Fassbender plays Brandon and Carey Mulligan plays his sister, Sissy. Brandon lives alone, until his sister shows up and needs a place to stay temporarily. It’s clear there’s a strain in their relationship somewhere, for some reason, but, it’s never fully realized. What we figure out is that whatever the strain, it connects back to their childhood, which, is also not fully discussed.

But, a series of disturbing events unfold while she’s staying with Brandon and it causes Brandon to react in some unhealthy ways as well. All this after the movie starts with male frontal nudity.

So the controversy started with the first frame. I don’t want to give that too much attention because we make too much of it to begin with, but, I want to say it’s the perfect use of nudity in this case. It’s not gratuitous and it makes perfect sense in the scenes. People walk around nude in their homes. It gave the movie some credible reality.

However, the categorization of his use of internet porn as addictive behavior is blown out of proportion. If Brandon is addicted to internet porn then most of my guy friends are too. It’s also not so unusual for a man to employ prostitutes. Eliot Spitzer ring a bell? Woody Allen spoke freely about his jar filled with hooker money in one of his movies. Not so unusual…

If Brandon were a sex addict, he wouldn’t be making it to work, he’d be getting accused of sexual harassment regularly and he’d be hunting around in the streets EVERY NIGHT for sex. During the movie, he had two, maybe three sex scenes – one that was a consensual adult hookup and one that just confirmed he has intimacy issues.

Brandon’s one attempt at establishing a healthy, committed relationship is what really defines his problem. On a date, he clearly reveales his dysfunction and it manifests itself later in the relationship. It all just comes to a head once his sister introduces herself into the picture. As if her presence flips some emotional switch in Brandon that re-surfaces previous feelings and causes him to lash out. Really hard to watch.
In the end, there’s just pain. You can’t help but feel for both Brandon and his sister, but, the likelihood is that you know someone who could be not too far off this story. The harsh reality is, this story could be everyday life for a single, thirty something professional male in Manhattan. This story is not so much unusual as its revealing.

See this movie, but, be ready for it…