Shame (2011) – Expressing Shame through Juxtaposition

SHAME (2011)

Directed by Steve McQueen (Hunger). Starring Michael Fassbender (Jane Eyre; 300; Inglourious Basterds; X Men: First Class; Prometheus), Carey Mulligan (Drive; An Education; Pride and Prejudice).

In my previous post (The King’s Speech Part 2), I began discussing the power of juxtaposition in editing. Nowhere is this more observable than in the opening minutes of Steve McQueen’s disturbing-yet-scarily-relevant Shame (2011), detailing the sex addiction and loneliness of Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender). First, we follow Brandon through a series of actions motivated by sex:

1.) He hires a woman for sex:

2.) The morning after, he ignores calls from his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan):

3.) He spots an attractive woman on the subway and attempts to seduce her (she clearly feels something back but eventually opts to walk away from the situation):

Brandon pursues her but ends up lost and retreats:

Following this series of events, the film cuts to Brandon during work hours.

Importantly, the following words are spoken, juxtaposed with the above shot: “I find you disgusting…I find you inconsolable…I find you invasive…”

The next shot and section of dialogue reveal that the words are not being addressed towards Brandon, contrary to what we may have suspected:


In a business meeting, Brandon’s boss, David, addresses the entire group. David continues:  “That is what the cynics used to say. Companies would refuse to look to the future. They’d say, ‘Can we stop this virus?'”

Although “I find you disgusting…I find you inconsolable…I find you invasive…” is not directed at Brandon, its placement in the film both over a single shot of sex addict Brandon and directly following a series of his sexually-driven actions is deliberate and ingenious.

These words are powerful for the audience to hear in a such a context. They allow us to get inside the head of Brandon; they inform us of the shame that Brandon must feel. Maybe David’s comments feel like shards of glass to Brandon, for they may reflect the words resonating in his own mind, expressing his guilt towards his own compulsive and out-of-control sexual behaviors.

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