Expressions of ‘Shame’

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The real narrative of Steve McQueen’s addiction thriller is unspoken.

On its surface, Steve McQueen’s Shame is a film about sexual addiction, though when you boil it down to its purest essence, it is ultimately about a man’s response to his sexual addiction. There are, after all, several ways in which one might react emotionally to the realization that they’ve crossed that line, the one between use and abuse, the one between something that is a part of your life and something that is controlling your life: some people get angry, either at themselves for allowing such a thing to happen or for their environment, familial or otherwise, for allowing it to happen; some people sink into sadness, adding confines to confines and surrendering even more control; some people become fatalistic, they resign themselves to their situation and abandon all hope of getting out of it so become instead complacent, or something akin to it; and some people, the rarest, use it as an impetus for positive change, they view it as the rock bottom from which they must start climbing upward.

In Shame, Brandon’s (Michael Fassbender) response is the titular emotion, he is ashamed of himself and his addiction, which makes his inability to control it or to affect its control over him all the more tragic because there’s so little pleasure he derives from it; the only instances of such come before an encounter, in the mental preparation, the hunt, the non-physical parts, in short; everything else – the acts, the aftermath – is nothing but an emotional burden of corrosive properties, something that eats away at him every time he hoists it upon himself.

Being that it is about a single character’s interior struggle, Shame is a quiet movie, almost deafeningly so, which serves in a sense to transport the audience into Brandon’s mental state, a lonely, silent, desolate place where there is no real joy, only the cruel and contradictory illusion of it. Brandon shares his shame with no one, not really, it is a set of shackles only he can see, and as such the brunt of Fassbender’s performance is physical, the shame his character carries is something the actor must express through body language and facial expressions.

In the following supercut, I’ve collected the unspoken language of shame Fassbender conveys to show how the film’s real narrative happens there, in his mounting disgust and how it spills out of his interior into his world, and also how, in turn, he reacts to this, the rotten fruits of his shame.

Music: “36 Ghosts IV” by Nine Inch Nails.

This is a not-for-profit video intended for educational and entertainment purposes only. All rights remain with the owner of the materials, not me.

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist