Video: "Shame" Points Sex Addiction to the Mainstream

By Jennifer Matesa 09/07/11

Director Steve McQueen's new film wows Venice and promises to open up the sex addiction debate.

Fassbender and McQueen Photo via

X-Men: First Class” star Michael Fassbender is tipped for the Venice Film Festival best actor award for a controversial role in Shame, a new picture by British director Steve McQueen about sex addiction. Fassbender stars as a Manhattanite who shakes up his sterile corporate existence—and numbs childhood trauma—by chasing the high of casual sex on subways and in clubs (and by resorting frequently to porn and masturbation at home). The film is drawing rave reviews: Variety rates it as an “uncompromising drama” that “fixes its gaze on the uses and abuses of the human body,” adding that the film is “certain to arouse critical acclaim and smart-audience interest wherever it’s shown.” The Guardian calls the film “fluid, rigorous, serious cinema; the best kind of adult movie.” It contains, as The Guardian puts it, “a mighty lot of sex,” which Fassbender seems to have taken as a matter of professional duty in portraying an active addict. “He’s a guy who is trying to feel something and then at the same time can’t involve himself emotionally with anybody,” he said in an interview. “He has this obsession [with] physical encounters that are pretty joyless and definitely non-emotional, and he is abusing himself, he doesn’t like himself. After these acts, there is a lot of shame … and so he goes out and has to do it again, to get rid of that feeling... so there is this horrible cyclical pattern going on.” Bingo. Director McQueen—whose artwork has won the Turner Prize and been featured at the Venice Biennale—said he set the film in New York because it stood for a city with round-the-clock “excess and access.” “It’s about freedom,” he said of the film at a press conference [below]. “How someone’s freedom can actually imprison them, in a way, in order for them to numb a pain … often it’s the case with certain kinds of access—to alcohol, gambling, food, sex, whatever it is.” The film is as yet unrated and many are wondering whether the its subject and treatment will allow for US distribution. "I also find amazing how films get those ratings,” said Fassbender. “You can take a cheese cutter and take somebody's head off or riddle somebody with 50 bullets, but God forbid if you show a penis and fucking on screen… it seems a bit bizarre to me."

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Jennifer Matesa is a Voice Award Fellow at the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and is the author of the blog Guinevere Gets Sober. She is the author of several books, including the non-fiction, The Recovering Body, about physical and spiritual fitness for living clean and sober. You can find Jennifer on Linkedin or follow her on Twitter.