The similarities and differences between sex addicts and sex predators was the topic of discussion at a recent Teach-In with Alexandra Fox, a social worker in Chicago. It’s an important topic in the entertainment industry today as well as in Shame the 2011 film by Steve McQueen.
Written and directed by Steve McQueen and starring Michael Fassbender, Shame (2011) is a film that focuses on Fassbender’s character, Brandon’s, sexual addiction. The film follows the life of Brandon and his lifestyle of being addicted to sex. His past is filled with unknown tragedies and, as a result, he feels lost. He uses sex to fill in that void or to give his life some sort of meaning.
As the film continues, we see his problem and how he deals with it, while at the same time giving in to his addiction. However, considering his actions and his background, the audience has been left to wonder about the nature of those actions. This led to a discussion at Facets about Brandon’s character. Is he a sex addict or a predator?
Sympathetic or Not
It is hard to describe someone in Brandon’s situation. Throughout the film, Brandon constantly has sex with a variety of women to fulfill his sexual desires. One can see this as someone we shouldn’t care for, but the film looks into Brandon’s past, or at least gives us a glimpse into what made him who he is now, allowing the audience to understand where he is coming from.
However, just because the audience understands someone like Brandon doesn’t automatically mean they sympathize with him. How the character is seen is up to the viewers themselves.
Some people in the audience see Brandon as a sympathetic character due to his past and the possibility of using his addiction to deal with the past as sort of a “coping mechanism”. They saw him as being lost. Others don’t see him as sympathetic due to his bad reputation, being a shallow person, and not being able to commit to one woman.
Predator and Prey
It is hard to describe what a predator really is. A predator, at least in the technical sense, is someone who goes after prey. This isn’t different when applied to people. As mentioned before, the main character of the film, Brandon, is a sex addict. It makes him seem like a predator. The same, however, goes for other characters in the film such as the woman on the train in the beginning and the end of the film. The woman and Brandon don’t talk to each other, but they do communicate with each other through actions. Through their scenes together, it is implied that the woman wants to get with Brandon. She gives him a look not unlike what a predator would give to someone if they wanted to lure them somewhere.
The audience questions the direction in this scene. It becomes a debate on whether the woman is a predator herself and if the rest of the characters in the film are also predators. This question, “who is a predator?” can expand to characters like Brandon’s friend, David, and Brandon’s sister, Sissy. This expansive portrayal of predatory behavior lets the audience think about the film, the meaning behind it, and the reasons why things were done the way they were.
The Consequences of Being a Sex Addict
Here, Alexandra Fox (LCSW) and the audience are trying to get across what happens when someone is addicted to sex. How do they behave? What do they do? Will it ever be enough? The conversation seeks to understand what the film itself was depicting.
What it shows is Brandon, though living a high-class life, is still in this “lost” and he doesn’t really have anyone or anything meaningful or important to him in his life. Anyone who tried to connect with him was driven away in an instant. Sex is his only way of connecting to others and even that wasn’t enough at times. It is also what ruins his life. What effect that has on him is discussed here.
Complicated Siblings and Relevance Today
Throughout the film, Brandon’s sister, Sissy, has problems of her own and the film is not afraid to show it. One of the things the film depicts in Sissy is that she may have a romantic attraction towards her brother. The audience thinks that this is one of the reasons why Brandon is very distant towards her, but at the same time, it is possibly implied that he may have similarly unsavory feelings towards her as well. It is hard to say why, but their relationship makes the audience feel uncomfortable and uneasy.
There is also the discussion of how the film is viewed in today’s world. The discussion here took place in early in 2018 while many actors, directors, and crew were (and still are) being ousted as sexual assaulters and sexual harassers, and where the #MeToo movement has dominated conversations about films in the mainstream. Since the film is about sexual addiction, it is going to be seen differently than how it was seen back when it was released in 2011 when outing sexual harassers and assaulters was rare. The two speakers in the clip see how the recent movements have changed the way a film like Shame is seen. This film touches more sensitive themes today, but at the same time, it has become a bit of an eye opener as it lets us see something in the film that we were blind to before.
Facets organizes regular Teach-In. These are free events where the discussion of important topics are led by experts like Alexandra Fox. Their insights are paired with some of the most illuminating films in the cannon. You can see the entirety of this Teach-In, conversations with experts, and more on Facets’ YouTube channel.
Author: Sarah Jordan is finishing her degree in communications while writing extensively here as the Editorial Intern at Facets.