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  • Andres Benatar

Shame 2011 Movie Character Study

David The True Antagonist Of Shame

Now, although it would be odd and even insulting to say that there is a definitive antagonist within Steve McQueen’s sex addiction laced drama Shame, it still doesn’t mean that there isn’t someone Brandon (Michael Fassbender) should dread becoming. Now, many of the problems within the film Shame can be attributed to the setting of New York. A metropolitan environment of immense commerce and culture like New York carries its long list of economic and social baggage. In the midst of such baggage, it’s rare not to find plenty of individuals who have not been swept up by the apparatus of multiculturalism that has done well to blend in with the more capitalist-oriented mindset of the enthusiastic bro-esque entrepreneur. That’s where David fits in.

Who The Fuck Is David?

A good question and a good starter is that he is Brandon’s boss. Now, being as miserable as Brandon is, then it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to determine how much of a dick your boss can be when he sleeps with your sister, and in your own bed just to add an extra layer of creepiness. But before any discontent to such a degree even happens, you can already smell the weasel-like essence of a testosterone-fueled entrepreneur who can’t seem to take a hint when three attractive women at a bar politely refuse your offer to buy them drinks and only smile and nod as much as common etiquette can permit them before they tell you to fuck off every time you makes a joke at a hundred miles a minute. Brandon on the other hand doesn’t need to say anything to wind up fucking one of those women under the bridge. But David’s desperation is anything to slide past when looking at who he really is at the core.

Who David Really Is

David is Brandon’s boss. Now, this can be looked at from a multitude of angles, and the most obvious one is the employer/employee relationship. The first line to come out an off-camera David’s mouth is “I find you disgusting” as we see Brandon respond with immediate eye contact. Naturally, the first reaction is to think that David is talking directly to Brandon, and it’s regarding his shame-filled sex addiction. But that notion is easily dismissed once it’s made clear that a board meeting is taking place, and David is merely playing the role of the philosopher as he quotes the lines of Greek and Roman intellectuals regarding the growth of companies and their inevitability. Now, although this moment could be considered irrelevant given that the film’s narrative never fully dissects as to what kind of industry Brandon works in as an executive. The narrative only clarifies that Brandon is good at his job, or as David so boastfully congratulates him, “To nailing it” as they, along with several work associates (all men/bros), celebrate together with drinks.

It’s hard to think that as miserable as Brandon is that he has a low opinion of a boss that congratulates his success and even cracks witty sarcasm with just moments after being turned down by one of the women Brandon ends up “nailing” under a bridge minutes later. But, again, we have to go back to the fact that David ends up sleeping with Brandon’s sister Sissy (Carry Mulligan) in his own bed. There is no hesitation or even an overdramatization of the event. David doesn’t even hesitate to carry Sissy over to Brandon’s apartment as they leave dinner and seduce her while a mind-nerved Brandon listens to the ridiculous sexual giggling going on in his room.

What David Is In Relation To Brandon

It’s a strange idea to pose when the obviousness of David being Brandon’s boss is pretty apparent. But, since we now know that David is not hesitant or even remotely ashamed of sleeping with his employee/friend’s sister in his own bed, then calling him a pig would be one thing. Once we learn of the existence of his family, wife, kids, the whole shebang, then there would be no trouble in labeling him a scumbag. Now, scumbbagery is certainly a virtue intertwined within men like David who neither hesitate nor even ask when going after something they want, regardless of what boundaries they border on. But looking at David as just another asshole in Brandon’s life is a very simplistic look at one element in Shame that has often gone under the radar.

Shame is more than a film about sex addiction. It’s about trauma and the willingness to move past it instead of coping with self-destructive behavior. In Brandon’s case, that’ self-destructive behavior is that of sex addiction, and as much as he derives pleasure from sex, his appetite and his own recognition of its voluptuous hunger alone are enough to make him anything but satisfied. Brandon can hide how miserable he is when he’s out in the open, wearing the mask society would tolerate from someone who looks handsome and put together on the surface when underneath he is just another junkie looking for his fix.

The narrative of Shame, combined with Harry Escort’s melancholically laced music works well to illustrate just how miserable of a person Brandon is when it comes to the internal struggle his addiction poses for him. At the same time, we have to look at how David’s sexual vices affect him. The morning following David’s seduction of Brandon’s sister, we see David sharing a Skype call with his infant son, and “mommy” comes up in what appears to be the typical family man conversation that would naturally carry a feeling of innocence rather than something more shameful. But that’s the point of David and how he really relates in comparison to Brandon who actually feels some sense of hesitance and self-loathing towards the ramifications of his vices. David’s sexual vices aren’t depicted in a manner as glutinously grotesque as Brandon’s. But, the utter lack of self-hesitance a man like David shows whenever he flirts poorly with women, yet never drops his confidence, whilst then proceeding to seduce Brandon’s sister, shows the utter lack of shame he carries in his selfish actions. The same cannot be said about Brandon.

Although the last twenty minutes of Shame depict the most detailed moments of Brandon’s night of sexual binging, the end result is the near successful suicide of his sister. Following his time in the hospital with Sissy, in a moment of uncompromising vulnerability, Brandon ultimately breaks down, practically losing his balance to the point where standing up would be like grasping for nonexistent air. It’s doubtful a moment like that could ever be imagined for someone like David, who shows not even the slightest bit of moral embarrassment for his actions towards Brandon the morning after he slept with his sister. David isn’t a complex or multilayered character. But he functions as an antagonist in the sense that he is the worst of what Brandon could become if the weight of his addiction didn’t linger over his shoulders. He is essentially an unrestrained man without a soul. A man without shame.

Want more Shame? Check these out:

Shame Film Analysis

Andres Benatar is resident film expert. You can hear him on the 'Cinema 237' podcast - A podcast for cinephiles.

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