‘Shame’: The Skull and the Pound of Flesh

Michael Fassbender is a good-looking man but as ‘Shame’ continued on to its bitter, brutal climax, I noticed I was hardly seeing the person any more. Even the character, Brandon, who is mostly silent and empty but completely believable, was gradually stripped away. All that was left was a skull.

It was particularly obvious in one very depressing threesome scene. (The sex in this film is not at all titillating.) A skull with a body attached, gruesomely contorting the skin and flesh that encased it as it drove itself to temporary gratification. When it wasn’t having sex, or jerking off, or seeking sexual gratification in other ways – any way, really – it moved smoothly and almost invisibly in the world of men. Its work and shelter were secondary to its pursuit of every kind of orgasm.

Brandon’s sister Sissy, played by Carey Mulligan, is the opposite: always on show, always giving everything she has, but almost always into holes which give her nothing back. Given their opposing personalities, Sissy and Brandon are only able to connect for brief moments, usually in mutual anger or disgust. Finally, through extreme means, they manage to feel and express affection for one another, but that too is only brief.

I really hope Brandon and Sissy help each other sort themselves out. The cycle of addiction and gratification is strong, though. It’s going to take a lot of work.

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