Hidden addiction: 'Shame' evokes painful emotions

There is a close-up in Shame of Michael Fassbender's face showing pain, grief and anger. His character, Brandon, is having an orgasm. For the director, Steve McQueen, that could be the film's master shot. There is no concern about the movement of Brandon's lower body. No concern about his partner. The close-up limits our view to his suffering. He is enduring a sexual function that has long since stopped giving him any pleasure and is self-abuse in the most profound way.

Brandon is a good-looking, fit man in his early 30s, who lives alone in a sterile condo in Manhattan. He works in a cubicle with a computer. Never mind what his company does. It makes no difference to him. Sometimes in the evening he and his boss David (James Badge Dale) go out to drink in singles bars. David is a little hyper with his pick-up lines. Brandon just sits there, his face impassive, and has better luck. He doesn't hope to get lucky. He doesn't think of it as luck. Sex is his cross to bear.

I remember when the notion of sexual addiction was first being mentioned. People treated it as a joke. It was featured in late night monologues. The American Psychiatric Association in 1987 defined it as a mental disorder involving "distress about a pattern of repeated sexual conquests ... involving a succession of people who exist only as things to be used." The APA is no longer certain it is a disorder. Whatever it is, Brandon suffers from it. In Shame, however, he himself is the thing only to be used. One or two of his sexual partners in the film may be attracted to him in the sense that some men are attracted to nymphomaniacs. There is such a sadness involved. Full review

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