SHAME - FILM ANALYSIS (PART 2) 'Addiction - The Cycle of Behaviour'


Shame analysis Part 2

Steve McQueen’s Shame is a poetic and detailed character study that is full of aesthetic pleasure but also a meaningful use of form.

Iv already created a short analysis on the opening shot of this film describing the meaning and visual imformation.

This analysis will focus on a scene that, on surface level doesn’t stand out as the most memorable of the film, but I feel is packed with inner conflict and acts as a major turning point in Brandons story.

To put this scene in context and to fully appreciate the weight this scene holds, lets first look at the information that has been shared with the audience so far.

The film does a great job of setting up the pattern of a cycle in Brandons life.

As a sex addict, he is stuck in the cycle of lonleiness, lust, lone observation and sexual gratification. We see this cycle repeated many times through the first 25 minutes of the film, with different women and circumstances but always the same habitual patterns. The opening of the film even starts with Brandon circling his aparatment to physically illistrate the struggle he is expeirnceing mentally. Followed by a great little close up of this hoop earing, always a strange element to focus on I thought but the circle nature supports the idea of an endless and unescapable pattern our introduced character is trapped in.

The film very cleverly uses repition and the idea of returning to familiar internal struggles to test Brandon at the end of the film. It finishes with an element of ambigiity, but we’ll explore more of that later.

What we can gather from this cycle of habitual behaviour is Brandon associates women with sex and cant help but be taken there mentally, shown by this simple but gorgoeus shot of Brandons imagitation during the work day.

So, stuck with the burden of this patterning lets enter Brandon into this scene of uncertainity. After some moments of searching Brandon discovers sisy in the shower.

This is first off, a total pattern interupt for Brandon but the location of the shower, the explosing of sisy and the awkward length of time in which they stand and talk starts to spark questions for the audicence in terms of this relationship. The mirror is cleverly used to show a relfection of Brandon, marking this moment as a major turning point in Brandons addiction, as sisy’s presence with challenge and draw attention to his lifestyle.

Follow this questionable moment up with this upcoming action, despite the known relationship, Brandon is triggered by the presence and exposing of a woman and his mind begins to go down the path of his usual cycle, mixing aroshal with a level of uncomfortble awkwardness and inappropariteness.

There have been many theories around the origin of this brother/sister relationship and its openness is intential and subjective. Now the idea that the two have already engaged in some sort of uncertain history exists but perhaps the full struggle of this introduced relationship is the fact that Brandon cant break from his cycle and at the same time cares for his sister, and cant manage those emotions seperatley.

Another element of this scene that adds an extra level of curoisty about this relatsionship is the sound design. We know that the films can use the lyrics of music to confess the internal state of characters, almost like inner monologue.

Here we get the lyrics ‘I want your love’ repeated over and over, and presneted to us through sound design very much like the Tarantino’s Resivoir dogs in the way the music is present, escaped from and then revisited again.


The use of music, momenterally breaking from it and then returning to that environment almost makes the lyrics and impact of the song even more effective the second time. This cinematic technique is used here first as unknowly setting the scene, and escape for the conflcit of the scene and then Brandon is left to think while the music delivers the emotional state of the drama.

Lets look at another scene in which Brandon battle with his perhaps geninue caring towards his sister but also his overpowering cycle of sexual association.

We know Brandon is familiar and used to the nature of his friend, but his actions become more difficult for Brandon to be around when it starts to involve sisy.

Leading to Brandon going through this scene of tortue and inner conflict which forces him to escape from the situation. Followed by this goregous running scene, not only is is so pleasing to watch but the length and contrast from what we have seen so far gives this scene so much weight in juxtaposition to the moments before, demonstaring the level of difficulty Brandon has with his mixed feelings towards sisy and why leaving that room to run is like taking a mental cold shower.

So lets return to the final question of the film, does Brandon fall back into the same cycles of behaviour shown through the film when faced with familiar circstances, not only that but a woman he lusted over and never fulfiled that cycle with at the beginning of the film.

We’ll lets look at the evoluation of Brandon’s arc to be more clear on where he is finishing here.

Phases 1 is the cycle of behviour, phases 2 is a refusal and reluctance to leave his behaviour even thought his life has been interupted by sisy, he then puts a major effort into going straight until like someone on drugs he is pressured into relapsing and decides to overdoes at the end leading to a unescapable feeling of shame.

So after all that, its easily conciveable that Brandon could fall back into those habits again, espcially given the eagerness of the purple woman compared to the start of the film, but id like to think that being aware of the level of difficulty to break this habit and facing a potenital loss of sisy in the role of a brother, that he would begin to question this sitiation more.

In the first scene between these two the moment of choice is made by both as the stand next to the railing on the subway. Framed together but subtley sepertaed visually by the railing between them. Compare this to the final mometns when the woman has made her decision obvious but the film finishes its final shot on Brandon alone as his decision is no longer fueled by external factors and he must search inward during this difficult battle of addiction.

  • 04/05/2015 07:44:28
  • |
  • Film Analysis
  • |
  • Darren Foley

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Add your e-mail to make sure you never miss another video & stay up to date