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Monday, 25 June 2012

'Shame' analysis

Very rarely do I get excited about watching a film. I could probably count on one hand the amount of times I've said "I need to see that film" in the past year. 'Shame' was one of the ones that I've been desperate to see since I first managed to catch a glimpse of it's trailer. Of course, being only seventeen at the time of it's release in cinema, so the excitement I had before the film came out only manifested. I then had to wait for it to come out on DVD. Of course, by this time, I was worried that my expectations couldn't possibly be met, terrified even.

But I'm delighted to say that I was wrong, the movie is absolutely fantastic.

I was looking about the internet, trying to find some analysis on the movie, but I couldn't find any because the viewer's were desperate not to spoil the plot (ending in particular) for their fellow movie geeks. 

That being said, I'd like to point out the obvious and suggest that if you haven't seen the film, don't read this analysis. I really don't want to spoil it for you!

I'll cut the analysis into the different chapters of the DVD, so you can skip ahead to the particular scene you want to read up on. I'll also do some general analysis of the character's or the film as a whole, we'll see how it goes!

NOTE: It's taking ages to write this analysis, so I'll post it in parts. Check back later on for more!
Chapter one

From the very first scene, McQueen is highlighting the character's apathetic reaction to sex. Brandon lying in bed, emotionless expression on his face, barely moving. The viewer would be forgiven for thinking that their screen froze. It's evident that this scene takes place first thing in the morning, yet, from the sound of movement off-screen and the position that Brandon is lying in bed, it's clear that he's already had some form of sex. Be it prostitute or a person that he met and charmed into bed, there's no relationship between them. Brandon waits until he can hear no more movement before getting out of bed and opening the shutters, exposing his sins in bright light. The character has a near crippling addiction to sex, but no longer finds much joy in it. It has become something he needs, rather than something he merely desires. 

It's quite a striking opening shot, although the symbolic nature of it can often be overlooked. The colour of his sheets can be viewed as symbolic - with the colour blue representing masculinity and depression, both central aspects to his character. He uses his masculinity to pick up women, he then has sex with them only to forget the intimacies that have just occurred in a state of depression, seen in the lingering seconds that open the film. Blue also evokes the image of the Virgin Mary, an ironic comparison I'm sure you'll agree.

Then you have the montage of Brandon's day to day life and, unsurprisingly, it is full of sex. But again, none of it is pleasure-filled. It's a monotony. We see Brandon looking very intensely at a girl that he has never met before, instantly realising that he is seducing her with nothing more than his eyeballs. The sounds of non-diagetic sexual moans enforce the character's carnal intentions. The girl is married, but nonetheless melts under Brandon's charms, before realising the lustful looks that they are giving one another and looking away in guilt. 

Another thing that strikes the viewer is the blandness of Brandon's apartment. Bar the prostitute's clothing (red - symbolic for lust) the whole appartment is bathed in white and light blues, Brandon's clothing matching his bed sheets. The whiteness of his walls are reminiscent of mental asylums, hinting at the mental unrest that the character's addiction to sex is causing him. 

We hear several phone-calls from Brandon's sister Sissy during this opening montage, although first-time viewers will not realise that she is his sister at this point. They are quite playful, although the growing agitation of Brandon's refusal to talk to her is becoming apparent. She is disrupting his routine already; 'talking' to him whilst he is watching porn, whilst he is urinating... before her character even makes an appearance on screen, she is already disrupting the flow of his everyday life. Brandon attempts to stop these disruptions by physically closing the bathroom door on her, even if it is just her voice-mail.

The next shot directly after the scene where Brandon is masturbating in the shower, his figure is shown, out of focus, sitting on a train. His addiction is literally beginning to dehumanise him, even this early on in the film.

Chapter 2
DAVID: I find you disgusting. I find you inconsolable. I find you invasive...
Brandon looks up, surprised, as if he were addressing him. The audience can't help but think that these first few lines of David's speech reflects Brandon's personal opinions of himself. Even we think that his boss is addressing him until the shot changes from one purely focusing on Brandon's face to that of several business colleagues. 

We see Brandon's work computer getting taken away, due to a virus that was apparently on it. Due to the frustration of having this computer taken away from him (the same computer that is later revealed to have a "filthy" amount of porn on it, he heads to the restrooms to masturbate, but not before compulsively cleaning the toilet seat. It's an odd thing for someone who is not even sitting down on the toilet to do, and could hint towards the already troubled Brandon having an obsessive compulsive disorder, further reflected by the spotless nature of his apartment and his work desk. 

Despite all his troubles, McQueen took special care to emphasise the character's kind nature. Little acts of kindness such as holding a door open for a woman and her pram make sure that the viewer doesn't become lost in Brandon's addictions and woes, he is still very much a nice guy. We also get an insight into Brandon's musical tastes - classical, a very cultured choice, juxtaposed in the next scene by the crude nature of the porn he is watching and the unhealthy choice of beer and take-out for his meal. Sissy's phone-call interrupts his 'viewing', and causes Brandon to become visually agitated. He cuts his sister off before she finishes off her sentence that she is dying of cancer of the vulva. This excuse for talking to him highlights both her increasing desperation to find things to say that will grab her brother's attention and the pair's ability to talk about things related to sex with each-other. Brandon seemed briefly amused by her comment before becoming once more fixed to the computer screen.

The viewer is then introduced to the idea of Marianne being Brandon's love interest for the film. We see his fantasy about his colleague, a delicate shot of her naked back, slowly coming into focus and panning up towards her lips. It's quite an intimate shot, and is the first sign of Brandon longing for some sort of intimacy instead of adventurous sex.

We are then introduced to the character of David, a cringe-worthy character who is married, but chooses not to act like it. He tries to chat up a woman named Elizabeth, claiming that he is observant but is not able to tell the colour of Elizabeth's eyes upon being challenged. Brandon comes over and immediately tells two of the women's eye colours. David drags Elizabeth up to dance, the other girls offer Brandon to join them, but he refuses, looking at the group having fun, distancing himself from them both emotionally and physically. He's not great with relationships.

Brandon hails David a taxi before going home. David attempts to fix his scarf, but Brandon moves away disapprovingly. It's a friendly gesture, but also one of dominance. He hugs Brandon before getting in the taxi. Brandon accepts the hug quickly before gently shoving him into the taxi. On his way home, he meets Elizabeth and the two end up having sex outside, against a rooftop/wall. You can see 'fuck' scrawled across the wall behind them in graffiti, highlighting the impersonal surroundings the two lovers are in.

Chapter 3

In this chapter, the audience are introduced to Brandon's sister, Sissy. The phone-calls that she has been leaving him haven't allowed her to get in contact with him, leading to her barging into Brandon's apartment using a key that he left her. By Brandon's defensive reaction of storming into the bathroom wielding a baseball bat and screaming "I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU!", it seems as though he was unaware that she would be coming to visit. His weapon of choice is a baseball bat, an interesting juxtaposition of the adult violence that he is intending using it for and the childhood games that it is associated with. The conflicting themes of adulthood versus childhood are often present during scenes between the two siblings. 

Sissy is taking a shower when Brandon bursts in. She doesn't make an attempt to cover herself up, standing there completely naked in front of her brother. Brandon is clearly flustered by her bare body and hands her a towel to cover herself up with. Instead, Sissy merely covers her face. Brandon looks as if he is going to ask her why she isn't covering up, but gives up on the idea. Carey Mulligan suggests that this is Sissy's attempt to make her brother feel uncomfortable. She discusses at 2.06 that it's a deliberate action to make him feel something towards her, whether it be frustration or something else, in an attempt to "forge some sort of relationship".

More observant members of the audience may realise that Sissy is wearing what seems to be a hospital tag on her wrist. This is never brought up in the film, so viewers can only speculate whether or not this was irrelevant or something more serious. It's clear that Sissy has some-sort of underline mental health disorder, most likely borderline personality disorder. There are a couple of hints of Sissy's suicidal tendencies throughout the film, so it isn't crazy for us to believe that she has just newly been released from hospital due to a recent suicide attempt. 

The viewers don't get to see Sissy head on, instead watching her through a mirror. Mirrors represent reflection, which could emphasise how Sissy causes Brandon to reflect on the terrible childhood experiences that they both went through, explaining his attempts to avoid seeing her. Most of the scenes that these characters share happen in the bathroom. It could be said that this room represents two different things for these characters: physical relievement for Brandon in the form of urination, masturbation or quiet escapism from his sister and the washing away of sins and her past for Sissy, shown by her showering and her eventual suicide attempt.

Sissy's choice in music in this scene is very telling. She puts Chic's 1978 hit 'I Want Your Love'.
"I'll share my dreams
And make you see 
How really bad your love I need
I want your love, I need your love"
It's an upbeat song with a certain desperation to its lyrics. Sissy needs to be loved. She has a significant fear of being left alone, shown by her upsetting conversation in the next scene. She looks to Brandon for protection and a sense of family love that neither of them have with the parents and other close relatives that neither of them discuss in the film. Due to Brandon's addiction, he cannot provide Sissy with this. She continues trying to earn Brandon's love, but looks for it in other places to, primarily with her supposed boyfriend/sexual partner who she is talking to on the phone in this scene. Brandon listens to this conversation, seemingly heartbroken, with a sort of resigned look in his face.

The next morning, Sissy and Brandon have breakfast together. He hands her a carton of juice, which she drinks as if she was a baby drinking from it's bottle. Brandon reminds her that she is an adult and should behave like one by asking her to use a glass. It's almost as if she is the child and he is the parent. She tells him that he is going gray before asking him if he thinks that she looks fat. She clearly cares about her brother's opinions of her, but can't concentrate on one conversation for very long, jumping from topic to topic in an attempt to get some sort of response from Brandon.

He doesn't believe that she's going to do a couple of gigs, sarcastically interjecting "Yeah, sure" when she brings the topic up. He ignores her when she asks him if she can stay, but she continues asking him. Sissy sneaks a hug by going up to her brother and putting her arms around him whilst he is clearing up. He pauses, waiting for her to stop the embrace, but she hangs on for too long. He pushes her arms off of him, but she literally jumps back onto him when he agrees to let her stay. It's this constant fight between physical and emotional closeness and personal space that causes most of the conflicts between the two siblings in the first place.

Sissy eats the breakfast that her brother has prepared for her, complimenting him by shouting "Mmm, so good!" after him. He slams the door shut. Her happiness lapses into sadness immediately, looking at the exit with a face abandon.

It immediately cuts to a shot of Sissy standing on the edge of a subway platform. This could be a subtle hint at Sissy's fragile emotional state during that breakfast alone, or to her character's past. The tracks hypnotically move beneath her feet, hinting at her fascination with the idea of death. Brandon notices this and quickly runs to grab her, warning her to "stop fucking around". He stays uncomfortably close to her following this, perhaps fearful of what will happen if he doesn't.

The two sibling's differing personalities become very obvious here, with Sissy's loud, "vintage" style standing out greatly next to Brandon's earthy tones. He moves away when Sissy attempts to get a bit of fluff off of his shoulder. She looks a little bit confused as to why Brandon won't allow him to touch her, with many viewers deciding that this is because of Brandon's repressed sexual desires for his sister.

Again, the childish theme comes into play here. Sissy has a certain childlike wonder to her laugh here, with even her comments about money being said in a sarcastic tone that mimics childhood naivety. She only becomes serious again when asking her brother if he'd come to her play. Brandon tells her that he will, which she replies to with ""I will?" Like "Yeah, I will" like last time?". They pause, staring at each-other. He once again tries to avoid the question by changing the topic back to her hat, but she asks him once more. He gives in and agrees to come and see her perform, causing her to stamp her feet excitedly. Once again, she's regressed back to a childlike form, which seems to get her what she wants: opportunities to forge a relationship with her brother.

Sex is a major part of Brandon's life, so it should come to no surprise that he uses it as a topic when attempting to socialise:
CO-WORKER: Look who's decided to grace us with his presence. Don't tell me... no cabs?
BRANDON: No, your wife wouldn't let me leave this morning.
Some may deem it crude, but it's really just a piece of harmless banter between colleagues. It also hints at the general male dominance of the business world.

David doesn't believe Brandon's explanation of what happened the previous night, telling us that the pair have been out several times previously. He realises that ladies love Brandon for his charm and good-looks, thus making him the perfect wing-man. His enthusiasm to go out with Brandon again tells us that the character of David is almost like a parasite, hanging onto Brandon in order to live, in an attempt to get attention from women other than his wife. Brandon tells David that they could go to see Sissy perform, informing him that she's a musician, before quickly changing his mind and relegating her to a mere singer. This could be because he doesn't fully believe in his sister's skills or an attempt to deter David from saying yes into going. If it was the latter, it didn't work, as David told him that they would go and see her perform, leaving Brandon with the realisation that there was no way that he could get out of not going to see her perform now. This realisation caused him some amount of stress, causing him to turn to his coping mechanism of masturbation to relieve himself of it.

Chapter 4

The posh nature of the Boom Boom Room is established immediately. The beautiful view of the New York skyline outside, the gorgeous women that work there and the jazzy background music all hints to a very expensive place to socialise. David ignores all of this and comments first on the elevator music (described as a "bad acid trip") and the waitress' ass ("I'd follow that forever"). He eventually does appreciate the stunning view, but only after he 'appreciates' the staff. He attempts to chat up their waitress, to Brandon's amusement. He shakes his head and smiles at his boss' persistence with women. Brandon orders a drink to try getting David to stop talking, but he carries on trying until she walks away to get their drinks. For a married man, David seems particularly desperate for female attention.

Sissy's cover of 'New York, New York' is hopeless and intoxicating. Brandon is clearly deeply moved by it. As soon as Sissy starts to sing, you can see that the way his sister is singing this song is reminding him of something, probably their past. His sister is up on stage, giving an emotionally vulnerable performance, transforming a song of optimism and anticipating life's challenges into a haunting story of escaping your old life in an attempt to make a better one for yourself in New York. It's stunning how the cast and crew of the film managed to take such an iconic song and completely change the story that it tells the listener.

"If I can make it there
I'll make it anywhere,
It's up to you..."
The close-up shot of Sissy changes to Brandon at this moment, suggesting to the viewer that Sissy's fate lies in her brother's hands. It's up to him to start treating her like his family, it's up to him to help her overcome the past and it's up to him to give her the support she needs to get her life sorted out in the present. Brandon realises this, and therefore begins to cry. Although Sissy's performance is to an entire room of people, McQueen's chosen shots makes it seem as though this is purely between Sissy and Brandon. The claustrophobic nature of the close-ups suggesting that for the duration of the song, there is no escape from the truth and the past, as there is no escape from each-other. Brandon drinks his martini directly after he wipes away his tears and as Sissy ended her song, alcohol being used as a form of escapism from the emotional vulnerability of the scene before him.

David and the rest of the room applaud Sissy, but Brandon only joins in half-heartedly in an attempt not to draw attention to him. The first thing that she asks him upon sitting down at the table is "What did you think?", once again suggesting that she cares about her brother's opinion of her. She leans in close, even her body language suggests that this is true. Brandon says as little as he can about the performance, the emotional vulnerability that he felt merely a few minutes previously has vanished beneath a shield of ambiguity and silence. David reveals that her performance made him cry. Sissy looks surprised, but pleased, that she managed to do that to him. Brandon merely looks uncomfortable and makes an excuse to leave the table. David seizes his opportunity to speak to Sissy:
DAVID: So you guys grew up in Jersey?
SISSY: Yeah.
DAVID: Do you still live there?
SISSY: God no.
Sissy's willingness to stress that she no longer lives in their home town backs up many viewer's idea that something terrible happened to Brandon and Sissy in their childhood, sexual abuse being the most likely cause of their current problems as adults and the stressed relationship that Sissy and Brandon share. They continue to small talk, and as Brandon returns to the table, David grabs Sissy's arm. Both Brandon and Sissy's faces drop as David discovers the scars of self-harm on her wrists.
DAVID: What happened to your arm here?
SISSY: Oh, *quickly pulls sleeve over wrist* it was uh... it was when I was a kid, I was bored.
DAVID: You must have been really bored.
SISSY: I was.
Brandon, who was shoving in his chair upon David's discovery, literally stopped what he was doing to stare at his sister's arm. Sissy's smile momentarily disappears as she watches David stroke her scars. As soon as she explains that it was a 'result of boredom', Brandon regains the ability to move and Sissy's smile returns. It's as if it this tiny little reminder of the past literally immobilises both siblings, reflecting just how much of an effect that their pasts have on them, even now as adults.

David is forward with Sissy, telling her that he wants to see her again. Sissy seems flattered to have his attention, but Brandon shoots a death-stare at Sissy, probably hoping that she doesn't get close to his adulterous boss, for both their sanity's. She doesn't notice this stare however. Both Sissy and David shout for champagne, but Brandon doesn't seem to be in a celebratory mood, only saying "champagne" in a hushed manner to avoid any awkwardness or questions about why he isn't wanting to join in on the fun. He looks away from the table as soon as he says it, suggesting that he wants to distance himself both emotionally and physically from his company.

Chapter 5

The alcohol of the previous scene has led to this insanely awkward situation. Brandon is looking out the window, trying to distract himself from the passionate way in which his sister and boss are kissing each-other just inches away from him. The reflections of the neon signs New York has become renowned for speed by as the taxi makes it way towards Brandon's apartment. Sissy and David bundle out of the back-seat, David wears Sissy's hat and throws the young woman over his shoulder playfully. They both seem to be having fun in each-other's company. Brandon looks annoyed as he climbs out of the taxi, alone.

Cut to Brandon hesitating in the hall-way, trying to determine whether he should go upstairs to his apartment or stay out of Sissy and David's business. The elevator doors open, he pauses, then sits down, wringing his hands together in uncomfortable frustration.

He finally decides to retreat to his apartment, noticeably irritated. Some think it's because Brandon cannot stand the idea of anyone else other than him being intimate with his sister, others think that the frustration stems from Brandon being alone (i.e. without a sexual partner or the isolation and space he needs to masturbate) and not being able to get his fix.  He struggles to cope as soon as he walks into his apartment, but becomes more and more desperate as his sister's flirtatious comments turn into moans. There is an ambiguous moment where he begins to strip off, making it seem as though he's going to ignore the fact that two of the most important people in his life, his sister and his boss/friend, are just in the other room and find a way to get his fix. Instead, he gets on some jogging gear and goes out to exercise in an attempt to release the sexual tension.

Brandon gets home to discover that Sissy and Brandon have used his bed to sleep together in. He stares at it for a moment before stripping off all of the sheets. He sleeps on top of the mattress and bare duvet, both white and virginal, ironic due to the levels of lust it had seen only hours before. Brandon is seen in bed later on that night. The crack of his bedroom door opens slightly and Sissy tip-toes into the room and climbs into bed. She cuddles up to her brother, in a vulnerable manner, mimicking a child crawling into bed with his parents after suffering a nightmare. Brandon lies awake, visibly irritated.
BRANDON: I have to be up by half past seven.
SISSY: *childlike* It's cold.
BRANDON: Sissy, get out of my room.
She ignores him. He can't stand it anymore.
BRANDON: *jerking up suddenly, shouting* GET THE FUCK OUT. GET OUT.
Sissy leaps out of bed, storms out of the room and slams the door shut. Whether she's upset because she wanted to be intimate with her brother or because she constantly gets rejected by him when all she wants is some form of emotional connection with him is up to the individual viewer to decide.

Chapter 6

The camera angle used makes it seem as though Brandon's work environment is symmetrical, when in reality, it's just getting reflected on glass. This highlights the controlled, neat environment that Brandon wants to be surrounded by. However, soon after he appears in frame, the camera moves and wrecks this illusion. One of his work-mates refers to him as a "slacker" upon walking past him, suggesting that Brandon has, once again, turned up late to work. It is assumed that this is because of his addiction to sex, with one of the symptoms of the addiction being that it interferes with the individual's work and social life.

David calls Brandon into his office. He is skyping with his son, drawing the audience's attention to the man's infidelity; cheating on his family by having sex with his employee's emotionally vulnerable sister. It's safe to say that the audience's opinion of him at this point isn't very high. After his son runs off to ask David's wife something , he turns to Brandon  and asks him where he was this morning, indicating that the protagonist bunked off the entire morning to feed his addiction. He lies and says that he was getting a root-canal. David then tells him that his hard-drive is filthy, Brandon looks on with a poker-face, before David accuses his intern of looking at the porn that infected his hard-drive. Brandon remains silent. He doesn't get disciplined, gets his computer back and keeps his job. The poor intern that is being used as a scape-goat? He might not be as lucky. David's son then comes on screen again and tells him that he came to a compromise with his Mum.
DAVID: Best of both worlds, you've got everything you want. You happy?
Although David said this to his son, this line would have been appropriate if it was directed at Brandon. The look Brandon gave before skulking out of the room indicated that, although it seems as though Brandon has everything he wants, he's far from being happy.


  1. Hi brilliant analysis where is rest of it?

  2. I watched Shame for the first time the other day and happened upon this analysis - i was really enjoying it, but as Anonymous said, where's the rest? :-(

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