Shame is a film about sexual addiction, but only in the same way as watching the patrons at a pub is a commentary on alcoholism. It comes across as a technically astute film, a finely crafted picture window, but one that lacks any emotional appeal. In a techno-mediascape of nearly endless observation, the role of art should be so much more than passive voyeur or disinterested presenter. Compelling communication should raise an interesting question. Captivating communication posits an answer.
The film’s director, Steve McQueen, in a Q&A following the British premiere, actively avoided offering any judgement at all on the behaviour of his characters or the content of his work. When asked if the audience should feel hope for the protagonist’s future, McQueen responded simply that, “I don’t know.” His implication is that he has made a film, has finished his work and moved on, and is leaving it at that. While McQueen’s reticence is at once refreshing in its matter-of-factness, demystifying and blunt, it is also somewhat frigid in its adherence to the bare-bones of filmic productionism.
McQueen was at pains to show that the plight of his lead was that of an ‘everyman,’ but Brandon (Michael Fassbander) is so superficially vacant, so without any characterising elements that he in effect becomes a ‘no man.’ Even the world he inhabits, an up-scale Manhattan, is a faceless granite slab made up of offices with bare walls, sterile white flats and featureless streets. Even Brandon himself is dressed in a pallete of cold whites and muted greys. The absence of any colorizing touches reduces the character to a simple carrier for the film’s real star, sexual addiction, who makes countless appearances.
For a film that presents such a controversial subject, it goes to lengths to present it with as little commentary as possible, as an object for contemplation with no judgemental steering. Which leaves us wondering what the point was…