Shame (2012) is a controversial drama. Not very often there is a naked male body on the screen in front of your eyes. Arguably, we are the generation, which is embraced by sex through sexualised visual culture, but somehow we are still ashamed to talk about it openly. Moreover, we have patterned way of speaking about it.
There is this handsome Brandon (Michael Fassbender), who is obsessed with sex and he cannot feel emotional attachment to anyone, even to this sister. He is a wealthy young man, who listens to classical music and watches disgusting porno films, all the time seeks a way how to satisfy his sexual needs. Brandon’s sister Sissy moves in his flat, which is pretty disturbing for him. They clearly do not share the same cultural capital, since Brandon enjoys symphonic music, is well dressed and has good manners, when Sissy (Carey Mulligan) is quite tacky and lacks self – restraint.
The world is full of concerned women who are not sure how many times per week they should want to have sex with their partners and men who are not sure how to fully satisfy their lovers in bed. Normalcy and self – restraint are two examples of contemporary society’s dogmas.
From Michel Foucault’s** point of view sexuality became a study object in the 19th century. Previously it was just a habit; it is biological such as eating or sleeping. Sexuality became categorised, anything apart from reproductive heterosexuality was seen as deviancy from the norm and constructed as a disease. This is where the problem arises, when biological expression is exchanged to the social construction of biological action.
Brandon, arguably, is a sex addict, but the major problem is that he is struggling to achieve the normalcy, which makes his addiction more severe, because of strong sense of guilt. He tries jogging, which is an example of Freud’s sublimation, when sexual energy is transformed in to more appropriate form of expression such as sport and art etc. Addiction is tricky, more one tries to resist, more tempted feels.
This film tries to show that emotional issues lead to addiction and self destruction. It spots the issues of the childhood as possible causes of Brandon’s and Sissy’s psychological problems. The hero of Brandon shows how individual is not free; he is struggling to live up to society’s expectations and norms. His company found out that his computer had a great deal of pornographic content, his colleague even avoided the idea that these files might be Brandon’s, because the hegemonic masculinity of Brandon cannot posses this dirty side.
The director, Steve McQueen, has managed to create a film that is slap in the face to this free and sexualised society. For some moments this film makes the viewer feel ashamed for watching it. Overt sexual acts on a big screen sitting among other people might make you feel uncomfortable, because we have particular discourses about sex, and this film definitely goes beyond that.
* A painful emotion caused by a strong sense of guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness, or disgrace (Dictionary of English Language).
** Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality Vol 1. 1977