The bare prison cell of IRA man Bobby Sands in Hunger has been exchanged in Steve McQueen’s second feature for the equally suffocating space in the head of New Yorker Brandon Sullivan, again a striking role by Michael Fassbender. Sullivan’s existence revolves around sex: with whores, on the phone, with colleagues or women he picks up in the clubs of a sterile blue Manhattan, Sullivan’s personal laboratory. That daily routine of emotionless sex is disrupted when Sullivan’s younger sister Sissy moves in with him. The shadows of a past that injured both of them slowly intrude. But where Sissy directs her destructive tendencies within and lets the world overwhelm her, Sullivan keeps them at a distance.
As in Hunger, McQueen is a man of few words. Shame is as physical and naked as Hunger, equally focussed on textures and sounds that make the space of the cell visible. Ironically, in this case it is the total freedom of unbridled consumption of bodies with which Sullivan creates that prison.