The film Shame opens with the main character David (Michael Fassbender) lying naked in bed, and that is where his mind always is – on sex. David is a sex addict, which is where the title of the film comes into it. The framing of the film is a hindrance, with David often not in the centre of the frame, but often to the side, and his body cut off by the framing. David himself is off. This particular technique shows us we don't see all of David, and David doesn't see all of himself. There are parts missing – we don't fully know why he does what he does, nor does he.
At the beginning of the film, David is reminiscent of American Psycho's Patrick Bateman in that he lives alone in sterile apartment in a big city (both New York). They're both incredibly good-looking, with amazing physiques that they take care of. And they live insular lives – no one really knows them. Though David is not a psychotic killer. David has a routine – yeah it's a depressing and empty routine, but it's a routine, nonetheless. He wakes up, watches porn, jerks off in the shower, goes to work, maybe he will go out with his boss – who's a lame, overeager pick-up-artist, desperate to score, even though he's married with children. He may meet a girl at the bar and fuck her in an alley, or he might go home and order a prostitute.
His sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), has been leaving him incessant voicemails on his machine, all of which he ignores. She shows up, unexpectedly needing a place to crash, and infiltrates his life, or at least tries to. What the picture needs at this point is lightness to be brought in with his kooky, silly sister, but she's got problems of her own, and seems unable to have a healthy relationship either. We hear Sissy crying on the phone, making unhealthy promises to some jerk, before sleeping with David's married boss. She's also a cutter. The only clue we have as to why these two have problems with intimacy is a vague message Sissy leaves on David's machine late into the movie, saying they're not bad people, they just came from a bad place. She wants a closer relationship with her cold, distant brother, but he's emotionally closed off and doesn't care to be closer to her.
David is very attracted to a female co-worker and they go on a dinner date – a scene that is comically uncomfortable. The waiter at the upscale restaurant makes dish and wine suggestions, and it's bizarre for David, because he just doesn't care. He gets what his date's having, he takes the recommended house wine, yeah, sure, whatever. He has a conversation with his date and reveals he hasn't had a relationship that has lasted longer than four months. He also doesn't see the point to marriage. All tidbits a date loves to hear. So she asks him why he is there (on the date)? He responds by saying that apparently the food there is great.
David does want something real with this co-worker, though. But when they are about to get physical together and have sex, he can't do it. He can't be physically close with someone he has a connection with. After she leaves, he calls over a prostitute. During a night where David goes on a crazy sex bender, he is having a threesome with two women, the camera zooms in on his face, and we can see the emotional agony he is in – he doesn't want to be doing what he's doing – but he's compelled.
There isn't much dialogue in the film, and that is the film's downfall, because whatever message the filmmaker was trying to convey was hard to decipher; the delivery was much too subtle.
The close of the picture mirrors its opening in that David is on the subway and he sees an attractive girl, who he makes eyes at. She responds, smiling at him; she's obviously attracted. He wants a random tryst with this gorgeous stranger. Then we see she is wearing a wedding ring. The first time he saw her, he followed her off the subway but lost her in the crowd. This time, he sees her, and we're left wondering if he will try again to fuck a random stranger, or has he learned something and changed?