Screengem: Brandon’s porn collection in Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)

Shame

In Steve McQueen’s Shame, sex addict Brandon (Michael Fassbender) sees his secretive, psychologically damaging affliction eat into his outwardly successful life. A sophisticated, high flying businessman with a modish New York apartment he may be, but underneath Brandon is crippled by spiritual, emotional and existential crises, thwarting his attempts at anything resembling a functional, meaningful relationship.

The re-introduction of his skittish, equally troubled sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), into Brandon’s tightly controlled world acts like fingers tugging at a loose thread. Family history, urban alienation and adult responsibilities are dysfunctionally redirected into Brandon’s addictive behaviour, with Sissy’s presence throwing his carefully delineated world out of balance. Brandon’s inner torments are confronted and made symbolically manifest by his decision to throw away the extensive collection of  pornographic material secluded around his apartment. Spewing forth from wardrobes, drawers and cupboards, all manner of explicit magazines, condoms, sex toys, porn movies and lubrication cast a gaudy, shaming stain over the stark, minimalist interiors of Brandon’s living space.

What was physically hidden from view is thrown into the open and Brandon’s self-denial becomes self-loathing as the emotional scabs prodded by Sissy are dislodged and made raw. Complete with his laptop, a portal into a world of virtual non-committal sex and instant gratification, Brandon dumps his shame first into black bin bags and then onto the street below. The physical expulsion of the porn collection is the pivotal point in Shame, the moment that Brandon begins a similar psychological eviction, one that will eventually lead to acceptance, enlightenment and re-invention.

About the author

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, Neil Mitchell is the editor of The Big Picture magazine, the London and Melbourne editions of the World Film Locations series and co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Britain. His monograph on Brian De Palma's Carrie will be published in September by Auteur Publishing as part of its Devil's Advocates series. Neil contributes to Total Film, Electric Sheep, Eye For Film and New Empress, is the host of The Fourth Wall blog and can be found chatting away on Twitter under @nrm1972.

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