Shame explained: behind the meaning of the movie

This article reveals the explained plot and the detailed events in Steve McQueen’s movie Shame, revealing its meaning, symbols and storyline. We recommend you to read it only after watching the movie, and not before, in order to preserve the pleasure of the first vision.

In today’s world, the human being is paradoxically more alone with himself. And not because of the prevailing technology, but because of a sort of post-modernism similar to shifting sands, in which everyone is right and nobody is willing to review their beliefs.

It is thanks to these cases that human behavior is undergoing an epochal and frankly negative change: all this can only create more room for behaviors that lead to addictions. How a vintage Mark Renton would say: “what else do you need if you have an addiction?” and in fact it is exactly like that, whatever it may be, it manages to soothe the pain of the poor unfortunate. But at what price?

This is precisely the theme treated by British director Steve McQueen, who after the hard and surprisingly vivid Hunger engages in the affective problems of a voluptuous Brandon Sullivan, aka Michael Fassbender. Detention is certainly the dominant theme in the first three McQueen films. If in the first work he faced the “material imprisonment” of the Irish activist Bobby Sands, played by Fassbender himself, and in 12 years a slave the deprivation of liberty of the unfortunate Solomon Northup, here is something more subtle, but effective in the same way: the mental enslavement to impulses without any control, something really equivalent to imprisonment.

As the protagonist’s anguish goes up, the film acquires an uncommon empathic pathos. Nevertheless Brandon, unable to establish true sentimental ties, deeply desires them ardently, but only manages to build occasional relationships and only by the mechanical act, substitute for love. Set in an unusually gray New York, the context contributes to further anxiety in the narration of reprehensible and excessive actions, which conceal a cry of help and tenderness of a man who shows his body naked as well as his soul in pieces.

The questions, however, arise spontaneously: a wealthy man, who certainly has no difficulty attracting people, how can he have these problems? Probably in a disposable society, increasingly apathetic and amoral, where the key points that distinguished humanity until the end of the twentieth century are absent, we lack all the expectations of well-being that we forecasted: on the contrary, we can see contaminations of intents that previously we could experience only by reading literary works of the caliber of Frankenstein, written by McQueen’s “fellow citizen”, Mary Shelley.

The pure shame, whose title already represents the prologue, fosters animal instincts, hidden by an apparent bourgeois respectability, and only hints at the good feelings, inspired in the protagonist by an equally messed up sister, also looking for human warmth and interpreted by the magnificent Carey Mulligan. The talent of the London director emerges bursting with the excess of zeal reserved for the movements of bodies, reminiscent of the Hellenistic sculptures, and which reserves moments of pure reflection such as Brandon’s night city runs, with Bach’s notes in the background, or for the worthy interpretation of New York, New York by Mulligan.

The primeval ardor of the film brings to mind the two cinematographic works of Tom Ford, A Single Man and Nocturnal Animals, in a wealthy world that allows certain freedoms to the protagonists, forcing the viewer to particularly complex thoughts and emotions, reaching levels close to another film that certainly didn’t spare sensations, like Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris. The photography and editing are sophisticated, directed by the same who contributed to the success of the previous movie Hunger, Sean Bobbitt and Joe Walker, supported by a soundtrack full of atmospheres of the late seventies and early eighties, also involving the blues of Howlin’ Wolf and John Coltrane and Chet Baker’s Jazz.

McQueen’s second film has multiple spirits, from the repulsive to the compassionate one, with important questions not only on the aberrations of the character, but on what the society around us provides and imposes without letting us choose. It is difficult not to perceive the same emotions that go through Fassbender, which was also awarded with the Volpi Cup in Venice for the best male performance: a film able to deceive us that bringing an apparently satisfying life on the right track is possible, a movie that never seeks rhetoric or simple solutions, that thinks fast, just like the protagonist, between the skyscrapers and the streets that metaphorically represent the daily paths of our living and behaving.

Rating: 3.5/5. From 2 votes.
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