The taboo subject of sex addiction has been explored several times in the past, i.e. Showtime's Californication, American Psycho or the 2005 documentary I Am a Sex Addict, all of which portrayed it in a light-hearted manner. Shame is different. It's not a pretentious P.S.A. style narrative about the obvious hazards of addiction, nor does it intend to fully dissect or define sexual addiction. It explores something much deeper. It intends to portray one man's negative path of shattered emotional disconnection through his vices.
It's not a film about sex addiction, Brandon's addiction is the result of some past trauma the audience is left in the dark about. To say his character has relationship issues is an understatement, his emotion-void sexcapades--which there are plenty of--are testament to that. And in case you heard George Clooney's comment about Fassbender at the Golden Globes--he wasn't kidding. But I digress. As devoid Fassbender is of emotions in his racier scenes, he is able to produce some emotionally-packed scenes and one of the best performances of 2011, without a doubt.
Written and directed by Steve McQueen (not the one you're thinking of), he wastes little space in his film to get his point across. New York City was the perfect setting. A dimly lit restaurant, a shady downtown sidewalk and dark bars add the notion of an unclear mindset, a dark past Brandon is suppressing, waiting to re-submerge into light. But McQueen is technically savvy here, he shows us little of Brandon's past, only in emotional breakdowns and close-ups of his facial expressions. We know nothing about how Brandon came to be how he is, but as long as we watch for McQueen's technical cues, there's little need. In one scene Mulligan's character sings an original song. We don't need a thorough background, we deduct from the lyrics more-or-less what's happened. These scenes can stretch for a few minutes, but they perfectly execute the point.
Mulligan, known for her smaller independent roles, hasn't failed to impress yet. However, as fearless as her performance was, it lays in the intentionally dark shadows of Fassbender's performance.
Harry Escott adds a hauntingly poignant score, appropriate to the film's theme.
It is a true shame some prestigious film institutions could not recognize an amazing performance from Fassbender, perhaps it was the taboo theme or the NC-17 rating? Either way, all I have to say is: Fuck you Academy!