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Film: Shame

"We aren't bad people. We just come from a bad place."
Sissy

A 2011 film directed and co-written by Steve McQueen.

Michael Fassbender stars as Brandon Sullivan, a 30-something yuppie New Yorker suffering from sex addiction. Things only get worse for him when his little sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), shows up and insists on staying with him. His life then spirals out of control.

Fassbender won multiple awards for his role, including the prestigious Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival. The film has earned the dreaded NC-17 rating in the United States due to the sheer amount of nudity and graphic sex depicted, though the filmmakers expected it and released it unchanged.


This film contains examples of:

  • All Men Are Perverts: Brandon's boss. It's played with in the case of Brandon himself: he's a sex addict who engages in all kinds of unseemly behaviour, but is filled with self-disgust and self-loathing because of it, and has no desire to be the way he is.
  • Anything That Moves: Brandon seems to have no problem sleeping with men as well as women if the circumstances demand it.
  • Book Ends: The scene of Brandon on the subway, wordlessly flirting with a married woman.
  • Casanova Wannabe: David spends every waking moment hitting on women, even though he's married with kids, and seems to have a great time doing it even though he's often unsuccessful. Brandon, in contrast, seems to have no problem finding sexual partners, but it brings him virtually no happiness.
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: Both siblings accidentally walk in on the other one naked. And in both cases they seem more bothered by the invasion of privacy than any qualms about seeing their bodies.
  • Crapsack World: It's implied that the fast-moving life in a city like New York and the social expectations that come with it are partly responsible for Brandon's addiction.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Sissy has a history of tumultuous relationships and self-harm, and it's hinted she has attempted suicide before.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Brandon, a few times. We get the impression he does it frequently at work.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: The files on Brandon's computer hard drive are so obscene, his boss doesn't even suspect him.
  • Downer Ending: Sissy has attempted suicide for what is likely not the first time, and Brandon still hasn't really dealt with his problems.
  • Driven to Suicide: Sissy, although she survives.
  • Dysfunction Junction
  • Establishing Character Moment: Brandon considering sleeping with a married woman he doesn't even know. Not only does it show he's a sex addict, it hints at the difficulty he has connecting with other people, especially romantically (which is why he fills the void with meaningless sex).
  • Explicit Content: Numerous unfulfilling sex scenes between Brandon and various women, not to mention the big time porn and masturbation habits, serve to illustrate the character's damaging and compulsive sexual behavior.
  • Fake American / Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Fassbender drifts in and out of an American accent, but they include a token "I grew up in Ireland" line (probably so he can focus less on his accent and more on keeping in character during largely improvised scenes). On the other hand, Mulligan maintains a convincing American accent most of the time, but also occasionally drifts into what sounds like an Irish accent, despite the Actress being English.
  • Fan Disservice: Lots and lots of nudity and lots of sex, but in every case the context kills the erotica.
  • Foreshadowing / Red Herring: When Sissy first takes the metro with Brandon, she's awfully close to the edge of the platform and Brandon grabs her, prompting her not to do something silly (such as committing suicide). At the end of the movie, Brandon's train gets stopped a few meters before reaching the end of its platform by person throwing themselves under its wheels (and the train gets evacuated for 'police investigation', with firemen et al). We get a very moving sequence in which Brandon realizes his sister probably was under the train, and he rushes to his home, expecting to find a goodbye note from her. He finds her instead. She was attempting suicide alright, but had chosen a different, slower method.
    • It's very, very quick, but after Sissy sings at the lounge, when Brandon leaves the table to get drinks (the only moment in the film when we're not with him), David notices the cutting scars on Sissy's arm and asks about them, but she dismissively says that she was "bored when [she] was younger," and he doesn't press the issue. Later, in the hospital, Brandon notices them as well and realizes that she has been suicidal for a long time.
  • "Friends" Rent Control: Even for a guy with a high-paying white-collar job, Brandon has a pretty spacious apartment considering he lives in Manhattan.
  • Hollywood Psych: It's debatable whether sex addiction is a real disorder, or at least whether it's really an addiction or just an impulse control problem. The film portrays it more like a drug addiction, with Brandon spending large amounts of money on his habit, putting a lot of effort into hiding and denying it, and becoming increasingly desperate when he can't indulge it (see Anything That Moves).
    • Hollywood Personality Disorders: Sissy has many traits that hint she may have borderline personality disorder, such as impulsiveness, clinginess, anger issues and self-harm. As well, she alternates between feeling affection for and conflicting with her brother. Most of these apply to him too, though, as well as hypersexuality (obviously).
      • The latter in some ways makes perfect sense: hypersexuality can arise from borderline personality disorder, and one theory often ignored is that it's actually compulsive behavior, which can often look a lot like a drug addiction. Regardless of how accurate the addiction model actually is, it does work well for explaining to people why it's not necessarily fun.
  • Improv: Several scenes were partially or largely ad-libbed, including Brandon and Marianne's date, leading to an endearingly awkward and realistic conversation.
  • Incest Subtext: Brandon and Sissy's relationship is waaaaaaay open to interpretation.
    • For example: Brandon takes Sissy's scarf and sniffs it after he discovers her in his apartment, they show little disgust at him seeing her naked, he straddles her in nothing but a towel after she catches him masturbating (The scene is very reminiscent of attempted rape, including Sissy's panicked reaction). He lovingly (and not in a brotherly way) watches her perform at a club. He also reacts to her having a sexual relationship with his boss as if he's jealous. Sissy also notes his odd behavior towards her in dialogue:
    Sissy: It's like I'm always making you angry, and I don't know why.
    • The film gives almost no backstory on the characters, leaving it to the audience's imagination to fill it in. The question if actual incest happened, or Abusive Parents are to blame for how screwed up the siblings are, has caused flame wars in even more distinguished film forums. Are they, perhaps, Not Blood Siblings?
    • Let's not forget this moment. Despite they are in heated argument, it starts with Sissy resting her head on Brandon's shoulder. At some points, their faces are very close each other to the point that they could've just kissed anytime if they ever wanted it. Really, if they weren't siblings, the scene can be very easily mistaken as an argument between couple with Awful Wedded Life.
  • It's All Junk: Brandon has a breakdown after Sissy finds out about the extent of his porn addiction, including paying for camgirls, and throws out all his porn (including his laptop). It doesn't seem to help, because he's back out trawling for sex with prostitutes soon after.
  • It's Not Porn, It's Art
  • Joisey: Where Brandon and Sissy grew up.
  • Jump Scare: When Brandon wants Sissy to get out of his room, he resorts to terrifying her. And the audience.
  • Leave the Camera Running: McQueen loves these; Brandon and Marianne's date is one long take, as is part of Sissy's performance of "New York, New York," as is their heated conversation on the couch.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: Brandon has no problem achieving arousal for the most part - except when in emotionally intimate circumstances, as his second "date" with Marianne demonstrates.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: And how! The very beginning of the film features extended looks at Fassbender's not-so-little soldier.
  • Mood Whiplash: Used a few times, most strikingly after Sissy catches Brandon having private moment and thinks he's kidding when he angrily confronts her, only to become extremely scared and upset when she realizes he's not. Made all the more powerful because it's in one take.
  • My Sister Is Off Limits: Brandon is less than pleased about Sissy having sex with his boss. Whether it's because of this trope, because his boss is married with children or something else entirely is open to debate.
  • Nice Hat: Sissy has a bold red hat which she wears with a fur coat.
  • No Ending: It's left ambiguous if Brandon can resist his urges or if he follows the engaged woman from the beginning continuing his path of self destruction.
  • Noodle Incident: Whatever happened in the Brandon's and Sissy's childhood is ambiguous, but it was traumatic, as it leaves Brandon an almost emotionless sex addict, and Sissy a suicidal wreck.
  • The Oner: There's actually a fair number of long takes. The two most notable are when Brandon jogs along 31st St. at night while Sissy and David are hooking up in his apartment and Brandon and Marianne's date.
  • Out, Damned Spot!: Brandon is rather compulsive about cleaning himself.
  • Platonic Prostitution: Played with - Brandon hires numerous prostitutes for sex, but at times seems to be trying to form some sort of emotional connection with them, perhaps just out of sheer desperation. They always politely decline.
  • The Pornomancer: Brandon throws himself at women almost as frequently as they throw themselves at him.
  • Porn Stash: Brandon's office computer is full to the brim with porn. There's plenty in his apartment as well, which he disposes of when Sissy shows up.
  • R-Rated Opening: One of the first scenes has Brandon walking around his apartment naked, so...
  • Really Gets Around: Brandon. The movie itself is something of a Deconstruction of this idea.
  • Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny: Subverted. Though Brandon has no religious conditioning to view sex as sinful or forbidden, it is generally compulsive and emotionally unhealthy for him. And he's pretty much always horny.
  • Shameless Fanservice Girl: Brandon walks in on Sissy in the shower and he (and the audience) sees all of her. She doesn't seem to care very much, though he does.
  • Single Tear: When Sissy sings in the nightclub, a perfect single tear rolls down Brandon's face.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Lots, such as when Brandon listens to gentle piano music when out running while Sissy and David have sex on his bed.
  • There Are No Therapists: And boy are they needed.
  • Three-Way Sex: Brandon has this with two prostitutes.
  • Wall Bang Her: Brandon and some girl early on.

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alternative title(s): Shame
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