ADDICTION is a dirty word yet we are all susceptible to compulsive behaviour. Hankerings for caffeine, sugar or tobacco stem from the same dark places as drug and alcohol dependency.
Breaking any habit is tough but the first step is recognising that physical and psychological need.
Michael Fassbender delivers a fearless, emotionally raw performance here as a sex addict wrestling with his myriad demons in artist-turned-director Steve McQueen’s follow-up to the critically feted Hunger.
Littered with graphic scenes of sex and full-frontal male nudity that fully justify the 18 certificate, the film is neither erotic nor arousing.
Quite the opposite.
McQueen’s piercing study of human behaviour is clinical and non-judgmental, laying bare the flawed characters as they stumble towards the brink of self-destruction without any indication that the film-maker or his co-writer Abi Morgan will pull them back from the abyss.
Cinema through his lens is never cute or fluffy, but then neither is real life. Brandon (Fassbender) is a handsome 30-something office worker who sates his cravings for physical pleasure with anonymous pick-ups and scouring adult sites on the internet, even indulging his fantasies on his work PC.
His routine of soulless couplings is thrown into disarray by the arrival of his needy, younger sibling, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), who is carving out a career as a singer.
“We’re not bad people. We just come from a dark place,” she tells Brandon tenderly as the siblings stumble towards their grim destiny.
Shame pulls no punches in its depiction of Brandon’s base desires.
The camera doesn’t spare blushes and the ensemble cast place their trust entirely in McQueen as he exposes hollowness and despair.
Fassbender rises to the challenge magnificently, portraying his office drone as an empty husk, miserably alone in a city that never sleeps.
Such is the ferocity of his portrayal, he should be a major contender for an Oscar but his character plumbs some very murky depths that make for uncomfortable viewing.
Mulligan is equally mesmerising, nabbing the film’s best moment when Sissy sings in a bar and the camera lingers on her face as she sings a heartbreaking rendition of New York, New York.
We can’t tear our eyes from the screen.