a SHAMEful Entry: Brandon and Sissy

Or not so shameful. Whatever.

You wanted it and it’s here: I’m finally writing about Shame.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan

But first: the backstory you don’t care about:

Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (1)I try to keep track of all the new movies that come out into movie theaters (I’m always refining my methods, so I do and have missed things), and for obvious reasons a movie about a sex addict whose life is interrupted when his sister moves in with him caught my attention. This might be a shame-free blog but I do not lead a shame-free life, so I decided against seeing such a film (especially one with an NC-17 rating) in theaters and EAGERLY anticipated its release for home viewing. Skimming online I saw someone ask the question that was on my mind: “So does Fassbender [expletive omitted] his sister or what?” In my mind it was worded slightly differently, but the gist was the same. My hopes for incest were high – and not just intentional subtext, but actual consummation. I was hoping, and a part of me actually thought, that the sex addiction was more of a supporting player in the incest storyline, and that the titular “shame” was related to the incest.

If you’ve seen the movie then you know that sadly that’s not the case. Fassbender does not, in fact, [expletive omitted] his sister. Furthermore, this movie is a very gritty, unglamorized look at sex addiction (though it’s more of a character study than an “issue” film), and is most thoroughly unsexy and unerotic. (As one reviewer pointed out, erotica is “all about creating a fantasy of perfection and control”; Shame, on the other hand, is about “weakness and compulsion. It’s not about the joy of sex. It’s about the utter despair it can’t conceal”.) So I was disappointed. Not because it was bad, but because it was not what I was expecting and not what I had been hoping for.

Co-Writer/Director Steve McQueen

Co-Writer/Director Steve McQueen

If the “strange and interesting relationship” (to quote director Steven McQueen) had taken me entirely by surprise I might have written an excited entry that very night, but as it was, I put the movie away for another day – and that day is today!

There’s demand and then there’s DEMAND, and I just couldn’t deny you all any longer. (Especially since it’s just a movie and not a TV show and a much less daunting task. Though, as you can see, this is still quite a lengthy entry.) For those of you growing annoyed at my fruitless talk about ongoing projects, I apologize. I do have ongoing projects (they’ve been started!), some of them have been ongoing since Christmas time, and I’m not just talking about my growing to-do list, but nothing is near ready to publish. But I am deeply honored by your interest and your loyalty to this blog.

About Shame:

Shame is an intense movie. Heavy. Dark. Uncomfortable. 100 minutes without reprieve. But it’s beautiful, and haunting, and somehow authentic, even if the characters are extremes. I can appreciate it, even if I, personally, prefer my movies a little lighter, and my incest ships with a little less screaming.

Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (2)Brandon Sullivan (played by Michael Fassbender) is a successful businessman in New York. He avoids intimacy and relationships, but compulsively consumes porn and pursues anonymous sex with one night stands and prostitutes.

Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (3)His younger sister (the script indicates she’s about 5 years younger), Sissy (Carey Mulligan), who can never get her life together, moves in with him when she has nowhere else to go, slowly unraveling his carefully fabricated life.

The plot is simple: Brandon comes home one day to find Sissy, who, after reaching out to Brandon unsuccessfully through messages, has come to crash at his apartment. He finds it increasingly difficult to hide his sex-driven lifestyle from her and his independent, introverted personality clashes violently with her extreme extroverted neediness. Growing ashamed of his habits, he makes an effort to reform and goes on a date with a colleague, but his difficulty with intimacy leads to that relationship failing. After an ugly fight with Sissy, he relapses completely and she attempts to kill herself. He ignores her messages, in which she tells him, “We’re not bad people, we just come from a bad place”, a firm if ambiguous hint that there is a shared darkness in their past. He returns home in time to save her and has to face the destructive reality of his problems, but the ending, while it allows for some hope, leaves it unclear whether he will recover from his addiction or not.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (122)

McQueen’s extremely visual style leaves most of the interpretations up to us. He depicts but he does not explain. He has a “dislike of convention exposition”.

Authorial intent:

Because Shame leaves so much up to the viewer, I decided I didn’t want to write this thing until I had read up on it a little. I had been informed (thanks vangiekitty!) that it was part of the original script (not the final draft/shooting script) for Brandon and Sissy to have a history of being abused (explicitly stated), and this made me feel like I would have a better understanding of the film if I sought out some extra information.

In general, I like ignorance, because ignorance is bliss. The chance of finding some quote that almost makes your ship canon is not the worth the risk of finding a quote that practically dismantles it. But when participating in fandom, and particularly when writing meta, I feel like I’m faking it unless I’ve done some research. (But sometimes, if I’m lazy or if I don’t think there’s anything to find, then I won’t bother.)

I state this so frequently that you’re probably getting tired of hearing it, but I’ll say again that I don’t really think that authorial intent matters. The consumer has the right to interpret the material however they want to as long as it’s based on canon evidence. (And beyond that, I believe very strongly in our freedom to depart from the canon in fanfiction and other creations if we want to.)

I think McQueen fundamentally agrees, and perhaps far more than any other given director, although any creator is going to struggle against what they might consider to be a misinterpretation of their work. I know that even though I strongly believe that authorial intent does not matter, if someone interprets something I have written in a way that I did not intend, it is going to bother me.

Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (127)With Brandon and Sissy (or any pairing on this blog) we face three questions:

1.) Is the incest subtext there?

2.) If so, is the subtext or lack of subtext intentional?

3.) Do we ship it?

And the answers to these questions are not necessarily connected, and aren’t necessarily the same.

I do ship it, so I’m going to write from the standpoint of someone who wants to see these characters together. And I’m going to argue that the subtext is there. So the question remains of whether the incest subtext was intentional or not. And that is a tough question to answer for this film.

McQueen is a careful director. He worked previously in nonverbal media, so his experience is in what is seen and not what is said. He paints pictures, and when he paints those pictures he’s going to be thinking about what the person looking at the picture is going to see. So I will argue that in some of these scenes between Brandon and Sissy it would be impossible for him not to realize that the viewer is going to see suggestiveness of an incestuous nature, whether he had written those scenes as suggestive or not.


While the opinion that there is a suggestiveness between Brandon and Sissy is common, it is not universal And sadly, most of my research has indicated that the suggestiveness between Brandon and Sissy was not intended. It is never a subjtect that McQueen or the actors bring up themselves in interviews. And in most interviews it didn’t come up at all. The couple of times the question was asked directly, McQueen was cagey and Carey Mulligan flatly denied it.

For example, here’s an excerpt from an interview with Carey Mulligan:

Q: How did you view the relationship between Brandon and Sissy? There are some really uncomfortable moments between them, specifically when he’s talking to her naked in the shower and when they fight while he’s naked on top of her. Were you able to find ways to relate to and understand these two?

MULLIGAN: Yeah. We talked in broad strokes about what happened to them when they were younger, that made them whoever they are. It was very obvious that there was a series of events, that happened when they were children, that has led them to behaving the way that they are. For clarity’s sake, it’s definitely not incest, although that seems to be floating around. The only reason I say that is that people have been saying it and it was never a conversation. It just wasn’t something we talked about, so it’s strange.

It’s possible that she means only that there isn’t any incest in their past, that this bad thing that happened to them when they were younger wasn’t that the two of them had sex with each other. But given the question that she’s asked, I feel like her answer is more encompassing than that. (However, there is a positive spin to take away from that: perhaps she’s just trying to make clear that some incest between them is not what screwed them up.)

As for McQueeen, there’s a very short video where he is posed the question here. Michael Fassbender makes some of sort of odd deflection joke and then McQueen tackles the question unenthusiastically, saying: “It’s not, you know, it’s how people perceive it. Nothing’s been said in the movie that they’ve had an incestuous relationship at all, but it’s one of things where if people think that there is, possibly, I don’t know. Obviously, possibly not as well. It’s not for us to judge. People have relationships with their brothers and sisters in another way. Just because Michael pops into the bathroom by accident and sees his sister naked. I mean, we don’t know how people behind closed doors have relationships with their sisters or brothers. You know, it’s not necessarily incestuous at all.”

So he denies it as well, but more diplomatically. He begrudgingly allows the viewer the freedom of their interpretation but his foremost point is that any viewer taking away that interpretation has made the mistake of generalizing about brother/sister behaviors. That indicates to me rather clearly that incest subtext was not intentional. And if he was merely trying deny that they had committed incest in the past, I think he would have spoken differently. On the good news side of things, I feel it’s pretty clear that he’s a little fed up with being asked the question, which means he’s been asked about it a lot. I read a comment that said he had grown rather annoyed about it at a screening. I wonder if someone got into a debate with him about it. He cites a specific scene – Sissy in the shower – which tells me that someone at some point specifically identified to him which scenes were considered suggestive.

His denial is actually hysterical to me: “We don’t know how people behind closed doors have relationships with their brothers or sisters.” Well, no, not technically, Steve. But we’ve got a pretty good sense of it.

Anyway, it’s a good thing we don’t really care about authorial intent, isn’t it?

Scene 1:

The beginning of the film establishes that Brandon is man of routine. Waking up, raising the blinds, taking the subway, showering, having a prostitute over, etc., and, most relevantly for us: ignoring Sissy’s messages. She speaks the first dialogue in the movie: “Hey, it’s me. Pick up. Pick up.” It’s basically a summary of their relationship for most of the movie – she’s constantly metaphorically calling and he’s constantly metaphorically not answering. The “it’s me” is extremely familiar, and the “pick up, pick up” is also representative of the presumption with which she typically treats him. It also shows that she knows he won’t necessarily answer, indicating a history of on his part of ignoring her.

He plays his message machine as part of his routine, and it’s extremely cold the way he shows no reaction whatsoever to the message. He just goes about getting ready as it weren’t playing at all. And as we can tell from the next message, he never returns her calls: “Hey, it’s me. Pick up. Pick up. Brandon? Brandon? (Sing song) Brandon where are you? (Whispering) Brandon? Brandon? Brandon? (Sighing) Ugh! This is me calling you. Fuck!”

Sissy’s personality comes out right away. She’s in your face. She says his name SIX times in that message.

After the message ends we cut to him masturbating in the shower. I’d love to argue some kind of causality, but this is also part of his routine. (McQueen, speaking generally about sex addicts, says that this is something they might do 20 times a day on average.)

That evening (?) he’s on his laptop watching porn. His laptop should have gotten billing for this movie, it was almost a main character, with a dramatic death scene. Sissy calls again: “Okay, me again. I’m dying. I have cancer. I have one week to live. The very worst kind of cancer. Of the vulva-“ He turns off the machine before we hear the rest of the message that she is leaving. This is the first time we see him react to one of her messages, and he’s visibly frustrated by the interruption to his porn time. He’s finding it impossible to immerse himself in the porn while Sissy is speaking.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (5)

Her choice of vulvar cancer is interesting as it involves her genitalia. “Vulva” is also the last word she says before he shuts off the recording (although he was already reaching out to do so before she said it), which sort of left an impression on me like he just really needed Sissy and her vulva to stay the hell out of his way.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (6)

However, he is amused by her cancer ruse.

He goes right back to the porn, of course.

Scene 2:

It’s hard to judge exactly how good-looking a character is supposed to be, usually, but we know that Brandon must be pretty easy on the eyes because he’s able to seduce women without even speaking to them. He and his boss, David, go out to pick up chicks at a bar, and while the oafish David embarrasses himself by trying too hard, Brandon scores a dirty alleyway (? bridge?) hookup through nothing more than intense smoldering.

It’s returning home from this that he is alarmed to find that someone has broken into his apartment. He immediately assumes that it’s a home invasion, even though most home invaders don’t put on a record and then hop in the shower. (I’m assuming. I guess I don’t really know how a home invader home invades behind closed doors.) He grabs a bat and pounces on the shower, only to recognize that it’s Sissy in there.

(The song she’s playing, a steady soundtrack to the entire scene, repeats the line “I want your love” over and over and over again. Sissy in a nutshell.)

She doesn’t have the curtain closed, for whatever reason, but even so it’s transparent, so either way this scene has her just standing there totally naked.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (7)

She screams. There’s an exchange of confused cussing, and then Sissy asks him, “Brandon, don’t you fucking knock?”, which is going to be pretty ironic later on. It’s hilarious now, since it’ should be pretty obvious to her that he thought he had an intruder and you’re not going to knock for them, are you?

He apparently had given her keys, which doesn’t seem like something he would do, and it actually pretty sweet. They’ve both said several sentences before Brandon decides to hand her a towel, and then, hilariously, she doesn’t use it cover herself but instead wipes her face off, leaving her private parts as exposed as before. Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (11)

Neither one seems uncomfortable about the fact that she’s naked, and she makes no effort to cover herself. Even after she has finished drying her face she holds the towel, still folded

(The script says that Brandon is “embarrassed” when he hands her the towel, but this could possibly refer to the fact that he hit her with a baseball bat and had forgotten she had a key. It’s possible he’s embarrassed, but he does not look away, at all, which tells me that he’s not. I may be generalizing about brother/sister behavior, but I’m pretty sure 99% of sisters would cover themselves immediately and brothers would look away or even straight up leave the room.)

“Don’t I always say call me first if you’re coming into town?” Brandon asks. Sissy and I have the same reaction to that. She points out that she has called him many times. Despite their difficult relationship, his line here indicates to me that they’ve been in semi-regular communication and this probably isn’t the first time she’s come by. I think, despite the fact that her presence during the events of the film is a catalyst in his life for realization and change, that they’re hardly estranged. I mean she wouldn’t have a key unless she had been to his apartment more than once.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (8)

They have a bit of a laugh over the mix up, she insults his shampoo, and he tells her not to use all of the towels.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (9) Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (10)

Then she throws the towel at him and says, “Good to see you.”Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (12)

I mean, really? She’s buck naked, he hands her a towel to cover herself with, she uses it on her face only, then throws it back at him and says, “Good to see you”? Come on, McQueen! R u srs rn?Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (14)

He softens a little at this expression of sisterly love and then tells her to lock the door next time.

These people need to take their own advice.

As much as I’d like to say that this long naked exchange is all about incest, there’s at least one more layer on that onion. This scene (which is the first time we see her) is also about Sissy’s vulnerability. Her nakedness is symbolic of her vulnerability, and it represents how open she is with Brandon, how exposed she allows herself to be with him. And how she is as a person. Mulligan said, “I think that naked scene is about her trying to be seen.” And elsewhere she said:

I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of nudity. I’ve done only seminude, very innocent things in the past, and I’ve always been of the quite British mind-set that I won’t do gratuitous nudity. When it came to this, it just seemed so obvious that she is the sort of person who would have no trouble being naked in front of any family member, especially not her brother. She’s an extrovert and wants to be seen. More than anything, she wants someone to acknowledge and help her.

It’s also about Brandon, and how he sees Sissy. Which is to say, he sees her completely. He sees all of her scars and all of her flaws. There’s nothing hidden from his view.

Brandon hesitates for a minute once he is outside the bathroom, having closed the door behind him. Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (15) Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (16)He just stands there, taking deep breaths. He might be able to ignore her messages but it shakes him up something crazy when he has to see her. Brandon rejects emotion all day every day, so when he is confronted by it in the form of his sister, of course he has a reaction. All the same, the interpretation that this little pause is a reaction to seeing her naked and not just to seeing her in general is perfectly possible and there’s certainly nothing specific to indicate otherwise. If we do want to see it that way, it’s quite significant. He literally has to just stop for a few seconds to deal with it and get over it.

I mean just look at his face while he is leaving the bathroom:Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (13)He’s so shaken.

Of course Brandon’s relationship with women, women’s bodies, and sex is extremely complicated. This isn’t just a character who avoids intimacy, he’s a sex addict. I haven’t had much exposure to addiction. I’ve always thought of it simply as being unable to stop. But reading about this movie helped me to see it as much more than that. As this reviewer put it: “Addiction is about taking a thing that you once enjoyed and abusing and misusing it until there’s no longer any pleasure to it at all. Just, briefly, the cessation of pain.” The most important idea here is that sex isn’t about pleasure for Brandon. It’s about suffering and insatiable need. (The expression on his face during orgasm is usually one more of pain than anything.)

Another interpretation of Brandon and Sissy’s relationship that is available to us is that Sissy is actually the only female he is able to see in a way completely separated from sex. He sees her naked here, and it doesn’t matter. It’s not sexy, it’s not erotic. It’s not like he runs right off to his bedroom to jerk off (which would probably be his response to even just hearing high heels out in his hallway). And since Brandon has all of these ugly sex issues, that means Sissy may actually be the only woman he is capable of forming a real relationship and intimacy with. She may, literally, be the only woman for him.

He turns off the music.

Then he glances over and sees her scarf.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (17) He picks it up with the bat, frowns at it, then lets it slide down the bat into his hand.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (18) He runs his fingers along it, then lifts it up to his nose and smells it, closing his eyes.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (19)

The first time I saw this movie, that was the one part that really stood out to me. Because maybe a brother and sister can be totally indifferent about seeing each other naked, and maybe every other suggestive thing about their relationship could be explained away in other ways, but sniffing someone’s scarf is pretty serious business. And he doesn’t just sniff it, he closes his eyes (presumably in pleasure), which means this is a whole experience for him. Enjoying the smell of someone isn’t always attached to sex, but it often is, and it’s always attached to love. The way he smells her scarf you can tell that he loves her deeply, and has missed her, and needs her. It’s beautiful. (I’ve got a bit of a kink for that, I think.)

Scene 3:

Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (20)Brandon is in bed watching porn on his laptop when he begins to hear his sister’s cell phone conversation in the next room: “I want you. I don’t want anyone else. There is no one else. I love you. I’ll do anything. I’ll do anything. Please don’ say that. Please don’t say that. I don’t have to go out. I don’t have to go out. I don’t even fucking want to go out. I can stay with you. I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t need anybody else. I love you. I love you. I love you so much. I love you, please. I love you. Please, I feel sick. I feel really sick.”Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (21)

As a shipper it’s hard to hear her saying all of that stuff to someone else, but whoever this guy is I don’t think he really matters. It’s in Sissy’s nature to love with everything she has. And she’s incredibly needy. She needs everything from this guy, which is reflected in her intense language. But what’s most important is that she needs this from someone. It doesn’t have to be this guy. She wants it to be Brandon.

He sets down as his laptop and walks over to his door, putting his head against the door and listening sadly. Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (22)He sighs (“resignedly”, the script says). It’s difficult for him to understand how someone can be needy like that and love like that, and he also knows Sissy and how much she’s hurting. Whether this guy really matters or not he knows how deeply Sissy feels everything.

He grows more and more annoyed with the her the longer her stay lasts, but I think this moment showing his sympathy and the scarf-sniffing are much more representative of how he feels about her.

Scene 4:

Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (24)We cut to breakfast the next morning. Brandon is making eggs for her. She walks into the kitchen in a loose-fitting white shirt and leaves very little to the imagination. She has found an earring (perhaps in the couch cushions) and teases him about his “hot date”. Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (29)

Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (30)He hands her the orange juice only to find her drinking right out of the carton.



Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (25)She tells him that he’s going grey, and then asks him if she looks fat. He tells her to sit down, and she hits him and says, “Fuck you,”, as if that was a yes. I wonder if this is sort of a veiled reference to him seeing her naked the night before. She might have a particular interest in bringing that up to see his reaction. Or maybe she cares what he thinks about how she looks. Either is interesting for our purposes.

Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (27).Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (26)





Supposedly this is a spank.

Supposedly this is a spank.

She wants to know if she can stay, and Brandon does not like the question. She says she would stay with Mark, but he’s being an asshole. “Mark?” Brandon asks. Presumably the guy from the phone last night. She seems to healing. Brandon’s inquiry about Mark could make us wonder if he’s jealous.

She wraps her arms around him, pressing her chest into his back.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (23) That sort of thing can’t be good what with his condition. He’s quickly to shrug her off. She pleads to be allowed to stay:Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (31)

But Brandon still resists:tumblr_lw406e6Mnt1qa1id2o4_250Finally he caves. She jumps on his back and kisses his head. Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (32)Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (33)This touch again makes him very uncomfortable and if anything is clear it’s that he wants to be out of the embrace as quickly as possible. Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (34)Maybe he shies from any kind of physical affection that isn’t casual sex, or maybe he doesn’t like the way his body is reacting to her touch. (The script has her slapping his butt and a kiss more directly on his face – I wonder if that stuff was toned down on purpose?)

She shouts out that the eggs are “so good”, and then we hear his door slam. We linger on her face, where she’s dismayed. Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (35)I think it shows that she has been putting on a bit of an act with him. She’s hurt that he was so reluctant to let her stay, that he’s so unwelcoming. Although look at the way he made her breakfast. I think it’s instinctual for him to take of her.  Carey Mulligan said:

She wants to hold onto some sort of dynamic they had, as children, and forge a new relationship and try to get him back. Her humor is in his discomfort. When she makes him uncomfortable, and she does in that scene when he throws a towel at her and she throws it back, it’s funny to her. That’s how they always have been. She winds him up, and he is mean to her. That’s their normal relationship. So, she’s trying to get that back. The discomfort is intentional. She keeps on misfiring, all the time. She tries to make a joke or engage him conversation, and he just shuts her down. It’s supposed to feel kind of painful.

I feel like we see that a lot in this breakfast scene. She keeps making these jokes – teasing him about the earring, telling him he’s going grey – trying to re-establish their dynamic and trying to engage him, and he’s resisting at every turn. In that last shot of her, we see how disappointed she is that her efforts are failing, that he’s not warming up.

Scene 5:

We can see how much Brandon’s routine is altered by his sister’s presence. His morning was different, now he’s not alone while he’s waiting for the train.

She teeters at the edge of the platform. Brandon comes up suddenly behind her and pulls her back: “Stop fucking around.” He took care of her by making her breakfast, now he’s being protective.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (36)

(The script makes a lot out of this moment: “SISSY stares at BRANDON. Instinctively, BRANDON feels her gaze. He turns and looks. They hold each other’s eyes for more than a beat. BRANDON turns away.”)

This is one the lighter scenes between them. She begins picking fluff off of his jacket after he turns away, and he tells her to stop and says that he likes it there. Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (37)Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (38)Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (39) Her reaching out to do that isn’t extremely intimate, but it’s far more than Brandon is used to. He picks the fluff off and then puts in on her shoulder, and she laughs. Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (40)I mean I don’t know what else to say about this scene except that it’s really nice, and it shows how well it is possible for them to get along. Everything that wasn’t working about their relationship in the breakfast scene is going really well here.

Brandon asks how she’s doing for money, and offers generously to give her what she needs. She says that she’s fine: “I even make money and now everything.” We can infer she’s been pretty hard up in the past. She wants him to come and hear her sing – she referred to “gigs” earlier – and he says he will, but she’s skeptical about his sincerity. Apparently he’s promised to come see her before and hasn’t made it. “Please come,” she says.

Michael Fassbender’s wonderful control of his face makes it clear to me that Brandon feels some guilt about never coming to see her sing before, even though he doesn’t say anything.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (41)

He pulls her hat off. He already made one comment about it. It seems to fascinate him. “It’s vintage,” she says. She puts it on his head and he playfully positions it into place.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (42) Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (43)

“Please come,” she repeats, knocking shoulders.

“Okay, I will,” he says after staring at her for a minute, sounding much more sincere this time. From his face we know that he can tell this is important to her and intends to follow through.

She stomps her feet excitedly, and then he puts his arm around her and she lays her head on his shoulder.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (44)

Wouldn’t it have been nice if the whole movie had been like that?

Brandon is highly susceptible to doing whatever Sissy wants under the right circumstances. Even though the scenes the night before showed us that she is a person that matters to him, this scene demonstrates that she can get through to someone that’s buried inside of him.

Scene 6:

At work, his boss David wants to go out again like they did the night before. Brandon suggests they go and hear Sissy sing. “My sister’s playing downtown somewhere.” –“She’s playing?” –“She’s a musician. Well, she’s a singer.”

This is the first time that we hear that Sissy is his sister. Anyone who knows the plot of movie probably already knew that she was his sister, like I did, but canonically speaking, this is the first time we find out who Sissy is. Their behavior in the kitchen and on the subway platform certainly gave off a brother/sister vibe (and the debatable relative non-sexuality to those scenes given how sexualized they might have been), but anything that happened the night before could have just as easily been an ex or a friend, or a friend with benefits, and it isn’t until Brandon is at work that we know for sure.

Withholding the information that two characters are brother and sister can sometimes have a particular effect. (Especially when there’s a scene with so much nudity.) Certainly when it comes to incestuous relationships it’s an effective tool to create sympathy with your audience. If they start rooting for the couple and then find out that they’re brother and sister it’s much more confusing for them than if they know they’re brother and sister right off the bat. McQueen could have easily revealed the information right away – either through the messages (sometimes I leave messages for my brother starting with “It’s your sister”), or something like, “I’m your sister, you gave me a key.” But perhaps McQueen is so against explaining anything that he just had to wait until a situation where Brandon was talking about her. But he could have created one. Sissy could have left a message while the prostitute was over – Brandon could have explained to the prostitute that it was his sister calling. Point is: I think it was intentional to withhold that information.

David and Brandon head to the club downtown that evening. The view is incredible – I would love to go to that place.

Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (47)Sissy starts singing. It’s an extremely interesting scene from a filmmaking perspective. Sissy sings “New York New York”, typically a very upbeat (hopeful and optimistic) song about a person headed to New York to make it big. But the way it’s done here is bluesy, about a girl who’s on the outside of everything good and has only got one chance left. It’s really fascinating how the tone and voice can change the meaning of the words. It’s also an excruciating slow version of the song, and it’s almost entirely done as uncut close up of Sissy’s face. Many of the reviews and interviews touched on how it was a sort of fearless way to do the scene.

Sissy has barely sung a few bars before Brandon has to look away. He can stare at her naked with no problem but he can’t watch her sing. David notices Brandon look away, which forces Brandon to turn his eyes back to the stage. McQueen pointed out that if David had not been there, Brandon might have ducked out. It was David’s presence which really forced Brandon to sit there and watch the whole thing. Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (45)

Sissy’s eyes has been unfocused, but then they settle in on Brandon (while she’s saying “to you”), and then we cut to him and see how emotional and intense his experience of watching her sing is. Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (46)Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (49)A few tears run down his cheek.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (48) He has to look away again. Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (50)Stare down at the table. Take a drink. Then he looks back up at her, more tears, looks away again, another big drink.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (51) It’s rough on him. Poor Brandon. His applause as lackluster, when she finally finished the song. I think he should have given her a standing ovation.

It’s an extremely moving scene. Carey Mulligan might not be an extraordinary singer but her performance is amazing. One review said, “[She sings] as if it’s a cry for help. Mulligan, filling every pause between the words, shows us that Sissy needs to sing because otherwise she might cry; she’s an open wound seeking a bandage — and not finding it with her brother.” Describing the song as a cry for help is perfect. It’s like you can see her dying while she sings it, even though there’s also something very polished about it. Another view described this scene as giving the movie a soul, which I like a lot.

And of course Brandon’s tears are so important. This is a guy who basically has everything turned off and it’s like Sissy is this whirlwind chaotically flipping all of these switches inside of him.

McQueen said this:

Sissy is communicating with him in verse, she’s singing the truth — it’s all there in the lyrics — and it evaporates his defenses. It opens doors which are locked inside him, and for that moment he’s opened up, he acknowledges the past. As soon as she stops singing, the doors are locked and the drawbridge goes back up again.

Why is he crying? Is he crying because of how beautiful her singing is? That was my original interpretation and is my preferred one. Or is he crying because of how sad her singing is? Crying out of sympathy, or out of shared sadness? Or is he just so full of different emotions?

The version of this scene from the script is actually quite different. I think the spirit is the same, but some of these bits from the script sound amazing. You don’t really see them lock eyes too much in the movie, but it sounds like it was the original intention.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (52)

Scene 7:

Sissy joins Brandon and David at their table. Brandon is extremely uncomfortable. I don’t know if it’s because he’s still got tears in his eyes or because David is flirting with her already but it’s palpable.

Sissy asks how she was, and Brandon stutters out some nonsense about it being “interesting” and “good” while he fidgets with his ear. Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (53)Sissy is underwhelmed by the reaction, but for once we’re glad that David is there because he tells Sissy, “He was crying. He was crying. There were tears coming down his face.”

“Really?” Sissy asks in disbelief.

Of course this makes Brandon even more uncomfortable. He flees to get another round of drinks.

David moves closer to Sissy and begins asking her questions. We find out that she and Brandon grew up in New Jersey (and Brandon later says they moved from Ireland, so it’s an interesting background.) As Brandon sits back down at the table, David is taking Sissy’s hand. Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (54)Brandon notices with acute displeasure. Jealous? There’s a long list of reasons why Brandon wouldn’t want his troubled sister sleeping with his married boss, but there’s no reason why jealousy can’t be a factor as well. I think that’s easily read on his face. I go to jealousy as an interpretation several times in this scene because I feel like a wariness would have more of an irritation to it.

David notices she has scars from cutting on her arms. Insensitively he asks her about it, and she says casually that she was bored as a teenager. Brandon is watching, but he’s hard to read.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (55)

David makes fine conversation after that for a while, but asks if he can see Sissy again not three minutes later. It’s an automatic cringe for me, and Brandon is NOT happy. Even though we’ve seen other ladies scoff at David, Sissy is an easy target for him and she succumbs to his efforts.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (56)

We cut to the backseat of a cab. Brandon is staring miserably out the window while David and Sissy make out next to him (in an “almost animal” fashion, according to the script. The script also says that Brandon frequently looks in the rear view mirror, which means he is meant to be watching them.)Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (57) Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (58)

The cab pulls up to the curb. David hops out, throws Sissy over his shoulder, and they make a dash for the apartment. Brandon follows slowly after, seething.

We cut to him waiting for the elevator. The doors open, but instead he sits down and hangs his head. Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (59)We don’t know how long he sits there for, but it’s probably not too long, since David and Sissy haven’t gotten to it yet. We hear them talking and laughing in Brandon’s bedroom, as he enters the apartment, troubled and angry.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (60) He paces, runs his hands through his hair, punches the wall, rinse and repeat. Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (61) Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (62) Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (63) Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (64)I’m not even sure how to properly describe this sequence, he just sort of wanders around putting his head into his hands and then sits down in the corner, like he’s hiding.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (65) At this point his hair is all messed up which makes him look crazy. He’s losing it, basically. We hear Sissy start moaning.

Obviously, watching this scene through shipper goggles, all we’re going to see is Brandon in a pitiful(/wonderful) state of jealousy. Without any context, that’s really all that plays. And even with context, it’s a valid interpretation.

But that darn script throws a wrench in our works:

BRANDON doesn’t want to hear. BRANDON stands back against a wall, as if transfixed, as if he cannot take any more. His breathing is irregular. Something of the past has come to the present. All of his distractions have now stopped, and he is at once confronted with himself. His face bears the pain of something long passed, but visually present. This wound has not healed.

The script makes it clear that what Brandon is feeling right now is a result of some past trauma being brought up.

So I guess we just ignore the script? I’m OK with that.

Remember – authorial intent doesn’t matter. Or at least it doesn’t have to matter.

Brandon starts taking his clothes off, which certainly makes a first-time viewer wonder what a man like him is up to, but he’s merely changing into his jogging clothes. (Although it’s not a continuous shot – we cut to him dressed in his sweats – so maybe he took some time to do something else if you know what I mean.)

Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (66)I’m not really sure why, but we spend several minutes watching him jog. (It’s apparently a very impressive uninterrupted tracking shot. I didn’t really appreciate it until I knew that. Now I see how cool it is. Although I don’t really see the point of watching him jog for so long. He listens to a classical piece called The Goldberg Variations while he’s jogging, which is very mathematical as far as music goes. It’s part of Brandon grasping at control the way he does.)

I sort of have a special attachment to this scene because I had written something very similar for my one of my (currently far-from-complete) original works of fiction. Do you all roll your eyes when I bring up my novel(s)? I don’t blame you.

Scene 8:

When Brandon returns, David is gone and the apartment is dark. He rips the sheets off of the bed – understandably – and remakes it. We cut to him falling asleep as Sissy opens his door.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (67)

She comes over and climbs into bed with him, snuggling against his back. (He’s shirtless, possibly naked entirely, which is how he prefers to sleep as we saw at the beginning.) He’s awake, and “inwardly flinches” (script!) as he hears her enter. He tells her he has to be up early the next morning but she protests that it’s cold.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (68)

Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (69)He says, “Sissy get out of my room” twice, to no avail, then explodes, shouting at her to get the fuck out. She bolts like a rabbit.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (70)

She’s the only person he yells at. He’s so controlled with everyone else.

There’s a lot at work here. He’s angry at her for inconveniencing him, for forcing him to remember their past, for being so inconsiderate, for sleeping with boss (/being her typical self, presumably). Perhaps the jealousy is still there, causing him to be agitated, and perhaps he’s angry at her for being a temptation to him. But I also think he’s reacting more to the intrusion into his private, repressive, ordered life than he is to anything in particular that she did. He’s got his life set up in such a way that it keeps the bad memories at bay and he can’t keep them at bay when she’s there, singing, and having sex in the next room. And the intimacy of sharing a bed with someone is not something he is ready for. He couldn’t handle ever her hugs earlier that morning. He’s also just suffering from this confused resentment that she forces on him.

And the shippiest interpretation, without a doubt, is that he really just couldn’t handle her being in bed with him like that.

On the one hand, there’s something very childlike about Sissy and about the way she is with Brandon – jumping on his back, putting her hat on his head, etc. Her climbing into bed with him could be seen like that – like just another iteration of something they used to do as kids. All very innocent. I mean, particularly since she cuddles up him. But we’re coming off of a scene of her having loud sex. That’s what we’re still associating her with. And he’s probably naked down there. At the very least they’re both scantily clad. Basically she had sex with David, and now she wants to do all of the post-coital snuggling with Brandon. And to say it’s entirely devoid of incestuous implications when there’s all of this sexual stuff lingering about is a little silly.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (14)

I do think they definitely have a tradition of sharing a bed from when they were younger. Sissy seems to think nothing of hopping into bed with him, so it might even be argued that it hasn’t been all that long since the last time they did it, but that sort of ingenuousness is also just part of her personality, I think. Perhaps they did it for the comfort of each other’s company during this question mark of a tragedy in their past, or perhaps they just liked sharing a bed.

Scene 9:

One of Brandon’s coworkers, a woman named Marianne, makes the first move and she and Brandon plan a date.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (71) We’ve seen him staring at her lustfully before. He’s nervous, and arrives late. (I think there’s a chance he might have stood her up, but he doesn’t. So what’s different about his life now that he’s willing to try this? Sissy, right?) Not nervous about her as much as nervous about being on a date. It’s probably been a long time. The date is awkward. (My favorite part is the over-attentive waiter. I think something about him made it all feel very real.) The date shows that Brandon is “as relationally incompetent as he is craftily seductive” – I loved that quote from a review.

Of course on a date family is one of the first questions that come up. Brandon tells her that he moved from Ireland when he was a teen. So she asks about his family, and he says only that he has a sister. (So Sissy was basically one of the first topics of conversation on this date.) Brandon is not forthcoming with the details, and the conversation doesn’t flow very smoothly – it’s more like back and forth Q&A. Michael Fassbender pointed out in an interview that it’s very telling that Brandon and Sissy never talk about their parents.

It only gets worse when they move on from the small talk. Marianne is separated, and she picks up quickly on the fact that Brandon isn’t big on the idea of long-term committed relationships. He says:

Well, yeah. I mean, I just don’t understand why people would want to get married. Especially nowadays, I mean, it’s… You know… I don’t see the point. It doesn’t seem realistic. […]I mean, I just mean, you know… One person for the rest of your life? I mean, you know, you come to restaurants, you see couples sitting together and they don’t even speak to one another. They don’t have anything to say.

Marianne replies, “They probably don’t have to speak because they’re connected,” which makes me really like her.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (72)

“Or they’re just bored with one another,” Brandon says.

So we can see that Brandon is obviously very cynical about the idea of love and marriage. More than anything he just finds the idea impossible. Of course the great thing about this movie is that no matter how bleak it is, it isn’t cynical like Brandon. Brandon is wrong. The show depicts a sort of “toxic loneliness of sex without human connection”. But at this point in his life (in his struggle with his addiction), it’s impossible for him. He’s right about that.

This isn’t necessarily true, but such an outlook probably has something to do with his parents and their relationship with each other.

And of course there’s something to be said, in terms of Brandon/Sissy, about him not wanting to be permanently attached to another woman. He basically sees Sissy as being the only permanent fixture in his life. And I don’t think he has to worry about growing bored with her. Their personalities are so completely opposite I don’t think that would ever happen.

Curious, Marianne asks him what his longest relationship was, and he answers four months, which doesn’t impress her. Although given his lifestyle right now, I’m a little impressed. I wonder when his addiction started. I’ve no doubt he was always a little screwed up in terms of sex but I feel like the ways in which it’s ruining his life right now probably built up slowly.

The second part of the date goes better – they take a walk. Brandon opens up a little and tells an anecdote from his childhood about his cousin tossing him up in the air and him hitting his head on the ceiling. Then he asks Marianne if she could live in any time period and be anyone, what would she choose. She turns the question on him and he says that he always wanted to be a musician in the 60s.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (73)

There’s a lot of meaning in his answer. First of all, he chose the past. I think that has to do with how alienated he feels in the present because of how our society is and the technology we have. All of the time he spends on his computer, especially all of the porn he watches. It puts him at even more of a distance than he already would be because of his addiction/trauma issues. Plus he’s stuck in this soul-sucking corporate job. We don’t even know what he does because it doesn’t matter, least of all to him.

And then the musician part is interesting because of Sissy. Remember when he told David that Sissy was a musician, and then corrected himself and said singer? Sissy is living his dream, in a way. She’s all of these things that he feels like he can’t be, whether it’s being a musician when he’s a businessman, or being open when he’s closed off, or loving freely when he can barely love at all. McQueen said about Sissy’s singing:

Brandon is an introvert, who is imploding. Sissy is an extrovert, who is exploding. These two people come from the same background, but obviously, what’s happened in their background has effected them differently. I imagined that Sissy was a performer. She’s very expressive. She wants to give. She’s an artist. She wants to get whatever is inside of her, out of her, as an artist.

We can see after Marianne goes down to her subway stop that he enjoyed he date, and he expresses a desire to see her again. It’s probably been a long time since he was out with a woman and it didn’t end in sex.

Scene 10:

Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (74)Brandon goes home and Sissy isn’t there. Her living space around the couch is starting to look a little trashed, a contrast with the neat way he maintains his colorless apartment and it’s easy to see he’s a little irritated. He flips on his laptop. We cut to Sissy coming in the front door in a hurry. She bursts into the bathroom, and lo and behold, to no one’s surprise but Sissy’s, Brandon is masturbating in there. I have GIFS!Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (75) Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (76)


This is where all of that irony comes in. Brandon telling Sissy to lock the bathroom door, her demanding if he ever knocks.


She leaves instantly, laughing.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (78)Brandon scrambles embarrassedly.

(The script is a little different: “SISSY, shocked, stands with her hand still on the door handle, transfixed by a naked BRANDON.” Come on, McQueen! Your script is more suggestive than the actual movie!)

Brandon is ashamed, and leans against the wall repeating “Fuck” several times.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (77)

Sissy is just amused, but Brandon’s shame is manifesting itself in anger. He’s wrapped a towel around himself and comes out to confront her. “What, are you fucking spying on me?” he demands.

“Lock the fucking door, Brandon,” she replies, half laughing.

He grabs her arms aggressively, bring their bodies very close together. “Are you fucking spying?” he repeats.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (79)

She mimics him.

He pushes her down onto the couch.


“Fuck, Brandon!” she says, laughing in surprise.

“What do you want?” he snarls.

“You wanna fight? You wanna fight?” she repeats playfully as he climbs on top of her.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (80)

He straddles her, and the towel falls. “You want some of this?” he asks.

She doesn’t understand that he’s actually in a rage, she’s punching him lightly and ten putting her hands on his shoulders.

“What do you want from me?” he demands several times. Then he asks, “Why are you here?!” He grabs her shoulders and shakes her. “Why? Why?”

She finally gets upset, and becomes distressed at being pinned down. She yells at him to get off of her. He ignores her. Then he she tells him that he’s hurting her.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (81)

“Talk to me! Fucking bitch!”

He starts climbing off, and she says, “Get the fuck off me!” and then yells after him, “You fucking weirdo.”

“Fucking slut,” he says

“Fuck you!”

He retreats back into the bathroom and puts his forehead against the door troubledly, slamming his palm against it once in anger.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (83) Then he sits down on the floor, breathing heavily and looking generally unhappy.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (84)

Sissy looks back at the bathroom, upset.

“Brandon!” she calls out, looking conciliatory.

But he starts up the shower.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (85)

“Brandon I’m sorry!”

Well that was big of her.

But he doesn’t respond.

Obviously a very uncomfortable scene.

It’s about his shame more than anything else. And it’s not just that she saw him masturbating, it’s that he knows he wasn’t just masturbating, that he’s got a very serios problem.

But, like, HIS TOWEL FALLS OFF!Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (82)Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (14) Is that just to show how much he’s lost it? How out of control he is? How maybe she’s starting to see all of him in his nakedness (all of his scars and his flaws) the way he saw her in their first scene together?

Well, he’s straddling her and he’s naked, so as far as I’m concerned that’s incestuously suggestive and that’s all she wrote.

It’s so sad how she thinks they’re play fighting like two kids would do, and he’s just cracking because of how ashamed he is, and then she reaches out and apologizes (right away!) even though he should be the one apologizing, but he doesn’t even want to hear it because it hurts him too much and his shame has just been compounded because now he also has be ashamed about yelling at her and hurting her and insulting her.

I think there’s this tension between Sissy wanting to have the exact same relationship they had when they were children, or perhaps not even the relationship they had as children but the relationship that she thinks they should have had, and Brandon being completely unable to reciprocate because he just feels so dirty, like he’s incapable of that kind of innocence. I think that might be part of the reason why he can barely stand to be touched by her most of the time.

As for the “weirdo”/”slut” exchange, it might have just been name-calling like one does in a fight (Marianne called Brandon a weirdo earlier, in a good-humored way), or not. “Weirdo” is fairly generic, and I doubt it was referring to him masturbating, but it might have been a reference to him straddling her while he was naked. From what we know of Sissy this probably isn’t a huge deal to her, but if that is what she was referring to then we’re getting a hint that she realizes all of this seeing each other naked isn’t normal. Brandon’s response could be him calling her a slut for thinking that he’s being “weird” instead of just angry, which is to say, imposing the guilt of the incest subtext of the moment on to her. Or it could be anger leftover from when she slept with David. Or, of course, a general indictment of her life style.

Of course it’s the most ironic insult he could have used because I’m pretty sure if there’s a slut in the Sullivan family it’s him and not her. So there’s definitely an aspect here of projection. He took his shame and turned it into fury, and now he’s taking his own guilt and putting it on her.

Scene 11:

The most uncomfortable evening ever is not over yet. Sissy sits down at Brandon’s laptop. The screen had gone dark, but ones she goes to use it we see that Brandon had been video chatting with some sort of online sex service.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (86)Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (87)

The expression on Sissy’s face cracks me up. It’s just kind of a “seriously?” and “I gotta deal with this now?” (According to the script she’s also supposed to be slightly intrigued.)

The woman on the screen starts turning it into a threesome situation, asking Sissy if she is Brandon’s girlfriend, telling her that Brandon would like it if she played with her tits, and then telling Sissy that she (woman on screen) knows what Brandon likes.

This is another situation where we have something a little suggestive that doesn’t necessarily mean anything but could have easily been written differently, and when taken with the rest of the movie seems more significant.

Brandon slams the laptop lid down.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (88) He and Sissy stare at each other. He takes the laptop and leaves the room, and Sissy watches, unsure. Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (89)Then she grabs her coat and goes out again.

Brandon sits on a chair in his bedroom, staring at his laptop which he has set down on his bed. Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (91)Then he gets stirred up into a frenzy. He grabs a black trash bag and starts throwing all of his porn into it – all of his magazines and whatnot.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (90) Then he dumps some old food on top of it (presumably so he won’t go digging through the trash to get them back, and also because he’s trying to get rid of everything old and useless), puts his laptop in last (the waste!) and takes the bag down to the curb on the street. It’s like the alcoholic dumping all of his booze down the drain.

Scene 12:

The next day at work he pursues Marianne rather aggressively and they go and get a hotel room. When he’s taking off her clothes he comments on her stockings (?): “Are they vintage?”

So we come back to the vintage thing again, which right now is something we associate with Sissy’s wardrobe and also something that calls back to Brandon’s glamorization of the past.

Brandon is enjoying making out with Marianne but he suffers some erectile dysfunction and can’t get it up for her when it comes to the actual intercourse. We already know he’s attracted to her, so that’s not the problem. And he’s certainly “in the mood” because he’s always in the mood. He just can’t have non-anonymous sex. Once there’s any intimacy involved it’s a non-starter for him. That’s how screwed up he is.

He has a prostitute over or picks up another chick after Marianne leaves, without a glitch.

He tried to be better, but it’s not going to be that easy.

Scene 13:

Brandon is back at his apartment (later that night?), sitting on the couch and watching a cartoon. Sissy walks in, leaving a message for David in exactly the same tone she used to leave her messages for Brandon at the beginning.

She asks Brandon if he has eaten – he hasn’t, but he’s not hungry. Then she shits down right beside him. He shifts uncomfortably. There are several different interpretations for why he responds in such a way to her touch but there’s no denying that his responses aren’t normal.

“Can you just give me a hug?” she asks quietly.

He sighs and then wraps his arm around her, and she lays her head on his shoulder.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (92)

It’s interesting that he’s watching a cartoon, a children’s thing.

They sit there for a while, and he even rubs her a little bit with his hand.

“He’s not gonna screw you again,” Brandon says, referring to David. He knows David’s M.O. “You left him a message, didn’t you? You can’t help yourself.”

The “you can’t help yourself” comes off like an accusation, but I can’t help but think that it’s also very sad and he must realize that. She really can’t help herself, that’s how she is.

“It’s disgusting,” he says.

Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed this afternoon.

I’m not sure why he’s trying to pick a fight, unless her leaving that message for David was just so pathetic to him that he couldn’t help but say something. There are parts of Sissy that Brandon admires, but he’s also repulsed by many of the ways in which she is different from him. He sees it as a weakness. But he also hates the parts of himself that he sees in Sissy. As Michael Fassbender said, “Brandon doesn’t really want her around. She is the closest thing to him. And is therefore something makes him feel very uncomfortable.” I see him repulsed by the similarities in her because they remind him of what he hates about himself and what he has in their shared past that he hates.

But he also hates the parts of himself that he doesn’t see in Sissy. Which is to say, he feels something lacking in himself, which makes him angry, and he turns that anger on her.

And he’s also still very bitter about her having sex with David, clearly. And, as always, this could be jealousy rearing its ugly head as well. Not only did Sissy sleep with David but here she is trying to get with him again, which Brandon obviously does not like.

“Why are you so fucking angry?” she asks.

“Why am I so fucking angry? That’s my boss! You sleep with him after twenty minutes and now you’re calling him up? What’s the matter with you? You know he’s got a family, right? You know he’s got a family? You didn’t see his wedding ring?”

“No,” she says.

“You’re a liar.”

“I’m sorry,” she says.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (93)

“You’re always sorry. That’s all you ever fucking say.”Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (94) Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (95)

“Well at least I say I’m sorry.”Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (96)

“Try doing something. Actions count, not words.”Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (97) Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (98)

“I’m sorry,” she says again, assuring and sincere. “I’m sorry. I fucked up. I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. But I’m trying.”Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (99)

“Some people fuck up all the time.”Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (100)

She blinks and doesn’t answer.

He removes his arm from around her.

“Look, just forget it,” he said. “This isn’t working out, obviously.”

She’s surprised.

“You need to find somewhere else to live.”Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (101) Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (102)

“I don’t have anywhere else to go.”Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (103)

They stare at each other for a few seconds.

“This isn’t about him,” she surmises. “I make you angry all the time and I don’t know why.”

“No, you trap me. You force me into a corner and you trap me.” Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (104)He repeats her line about not having anywhere else to go. “I mean, what sort of fucking shit is that?”Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (105) Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (106)

“You’re my brother.”

“So what? I’m responsible for you?” he asks.


“No I’m not.”

“Yes you fucking are.”

“No. I didn’t give birth to you. I didn’t bring you into this world.”

“You’re my brother, I’m your sister. We’re family. We’re meant to look after each other.”

“You’re not looking after me. I’m looking after myself.”

“I’m trying. I’m trying to help you.”

Brandon grabs her jaw. “How are you helping me, huh? How are you helping me?”Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (107)

She doesn’t have an answer, and he keeps pushing.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (108)

“You come in here and you’re a weight on me,” he says. Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (109)“Do you understand me? You’re a burden. You’re just fucking dragging me down. How are you helping me? You can’t even clean up after yourself. Stop playing the victim.”

An interesting choice of words given that we’re supposed to assume they’re both the victim of something.

Michael Fassbender said in one of the extras that Brandon “does feel responsible for her which is why he doesn’t like her coming into his life and forcing him to be”. Essentially, it’s only because he does feel responsible for her that having her around is so taxing on him. That’s why he feels trapped. Whenever he has to remember that she exists he feels all of that responsibility and guilt about not taking better care of her surface, and that creates resentment, and anger.

And Brandon is, of course, the opposite. He has trained himself not to want anyone or anything, or need anyone or anything. And McQueen says that that goes against our bodies, ourselves. Against what’s good for us. Which is a lot of the reason why he’s suffering. He’s bragging about his self-reliance here, but Sissy sees that it’s actually his weakness. As McQueen also said, they’re the same blood, but it’s like oil and water with them, and they know each other better than they know themselves, which makes a conversation like this particularly explosive.

“I’m not playing the fucking victim,” she responds. There are tears in her voice. She pulls his hand off of her face and takes it. “If I left I would never hear from you again. Don’t you think that’s sad? Don’t you think that’s sad?” (I say that line all the time. Carey Mulligan says it in a particular way and I sort of exaggerate it. Mostly just to myself though, LOL.) “You’re my brother,” she continues.

Well I’m with Sissy. I think it’s one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard.

Her words get to him but he doesn’t know how to respond. He pulls his hand out of hers frustratedly. “Why is it always so dramatic with you? Everything is always the end of the world.”

“It’s not fucking dramatic,” she replies. “I’m trying to talk to you.”

“I don’t wanna talk,” he says.

Surprise, surprise.

“Try not talking. Try just listening or thinking for a change,” he continues.

“Yeah, ‘cause that’s working great for you. You’re completely fine,” she slings back.

“I’ve got my own fucking apartment.”

“Oh whoopee-fucking shit. You have your own apartment that’s amazing. You have a job and an apartment. I should be in awe of you.”


“Well at least I’m responsible for it,” he says. “At least I don’t depend on people all the time. You’re a dependency. You’re a parasite.”

“You don’t have anybody,” she points out. “You don’t have anybody. You have me and your fucking pervert boss.”

“You slept with that fucking pervert boss. What does that make you?”

“Don’t talk to me about sex life, Brandon. Not from you.”

Ooh, burn. I feel like it’s a safe assumption that she’s talking about his onscreen lady friend but some have pointed out that this could refer to Brandon and Sissy having had sex in the past. At the very least it could indicate that she knows, perhaps from past experience, that his sex life is a little odd, a little troubled.

Of course this is a nasty comment for Brandon to receive. He might be the aggressor in this conversation but we already know how sensitive he is about this (especially after his failed tryst with Marianne earlier that day). It’s amazing how willing he is to criticize Sissy when he’s got his own problems of such a magnitude.

“Whatever,” he says dismissively, rising immediately to his feet. “I’m going out.”

“Right, and then you’ll come back and we’ll just have the same fucking conversation again.”

“No, you’ll move out,” he says.

“And then I’ll never hear from you again?”

He doesn’t answer.

Scene 14:

Brandon relapses, binging himself on anonymous sex all night long. Early on he hits on a girl in a bar and then antagonizes her boyfriend, which results in getting himself beat up. I think it’s sort of like Sissy’s self harm. He wanted that pain.

At one point during the night Brandon checks his voicemail.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (110) Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (111) Sissy has left him a message, possibly the last of several. It begins with some heavy breathing, and the plays over a montage of Brandon in a threeway with some prostitutes: “Brandon, I really need to talk to you. Please will you pick up the fucking phone? Brandon, I need you. We’re not bad people, we just come from a bad place. Thanks for letting me stay.”Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (113)

The implication here is definitely that Brandon is neglecting her. His addiction is getting in the way of him being the brother to Sissy that he needs to be.

(I’m surprised he even listened to the message, but I’m not clear if he listened to the whole thing or not. Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (112)We see him hanging up before the message could have possible finished. So it’s one case where I think the editing is ambiguous.)

The next morning Brandon is taking the subway back home. He’s forced off the train, presumably because there was a jumper, which reminds him of Sissy flirting with the edge towards the beginning of the movie, and he suddenly becomes terrified that she might have done something to herself.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (114) He must know her well enough to realize that she’s prone to hurting herself, so perhaps he should have realized what their conversation the night before might have done to her state of mind, and the voice message was certainly a clue, but it’s hitting him now.

He calls her several times, fervently, but it goes to voicemail.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (115)

He runs.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (116)

His panic in the elevator is heartbreaking.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (117)

Sure enough he finds her in the bathroom, bleeding out from her wrists. Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (118)He pulls her into his arms, rocking and sobbing, trying to stop the bleeding.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (119)

Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (121) Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (123) Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (124)He calls 911, and then we cut to the hospital, and thank God she survived.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (129)

(I’m not a doctor, and I don’t know how big her cuts were, but it’s really sort of a stretch that she was still alive when he found her, or a coincidence that she cut herself just in time for his return. But I don’t mind.)

He sits by her hospital bed, his head in his hands.

He looks at her arm, and runs his fingers over her scars. Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (130)

She’s got a hospital bracelet on her wrist, and if you noticed, she’s also wearing a bracelet like that in her first scene when she’s in the shower. So she was maybe in the hospital not long before she came to stay with him.

Sissy wakes up, and stares at him while he’s touching her arm.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (131)

“Shithead,” she says.

He looks over, surprised. Then he runs his hand over her head, with a small chuckle. Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (132)Then he lays his head on the pillow beside her, and she closes her eyes. He takes her hand and closes his eyes too.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (133) Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (134)

This whole sequence obviously causes a lot of feels. Landslides of feels.

We see him out on the street in the rain after leaving the hospital. He’s almost in a daze. He stops by the water (we’ve seen him stand, pondering, in this spot several times before), and then sort of collapses, wracked by sobs. A purging cry.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (135)The final scene is parallel to the very first scene. Brandon is on the subway making eyes with a girl across the aisle. He pursues her actively in the first scene, but we see she has a ring on her finger and even though she’s clearly not immune to his silent wooing she rushes off the train and into the crowd. In this scene she is more than willing, but we see Brandon hesitate. The credits cut off the scene. We don’t know if he will follow her or not. It’s open-ended. There’s the glimmer of hope – this is not the same man as in the first scene. He’s changed. Changed by having Sissy in his life again, changed by almost losing her. But there’s the reality that most addicts do fall off the wagon, more than once. In the end it doesn’t matter if he follows her or not this time because what’s important is that he’ll always be tempted and he’ll always have to make that choice and there will always be the hope that he won’t follow her.

I want to return to the idea that Sissy is the catalyst for change in Brandon’s life. We see it in small ways, such as her colorful, vintage wardrobe and the way it contrasts with Brandon’s black and white modern apartment. And it functions in big ways, too, of course. Brandon doesn’t even exactly realize how serious his problem is until Sissy comes and he has to face how irrepressible his needs are. His shame, I think, already existed, but in his privacy it was only self-destructive; when Sissy forces it to light it begins to alter him for the better. To heal. But he struggles against that. We see that the closer she tries to get to him, the more dismissive he is. And that’s what she wants – to be closer to him: “She feels very deeply that she and her brother should be closer and that’s what she wants from him.” (Carey Mulligan). “She’s has her arms stretched out and she’s like, “Love me!” She falls in love, and she runs around and she’s a mess. She’s just trying to be saved, and she comes to New York for him to save her.”

She comes to New York for him to save her!

Feels.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (128)

I want to also do a round-up of ways that critics hinted at the incest subtext between Brandon and Sissy: “a thoroughly messed-up sibling bond unlike any you’ve seen onscreen”; “their push-and-pull entanglement has a dark, near-incestuous tension”; “Sissy’s tendency to crawl into her brother’s bed at night more than hints at an incestuous relationship when these Irish-born siblings were growing up”; “there’s a low crackle of incestuous energy between the siblings that the movie never investigates” (my favorite phrasing); “intimations of incest go unexplored”; “they act more like on-again, off-again lovers than siblings”; “not (or not necessarily) a desperate ex-lover, it’s his crazy younger sister, Sissy”; “he finds her naked in the shower, thus grazing another taboo”; “Sissy is desperately looking for commitment, from a string of dubious boyfriends and particularly from her brother. Whereas he can’t connect sex to love, she can’t distinguish the two”. And those were just from the ones that I read. The last one is particularly insightful, I think. Because it describes their problems perfectly and almost proves the incest subtext through logic.

Of course, non-professional reviews brought up the subject frequently as well, which I won’t really go into. I’ve already incorporated the best insights I came across.

Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (126)OK, let’s talk backstory. In the movie there is only one conclusive hint that Brandon and Sissy have some sort of event or situation in their past that has damaged them – Sissy’s line: “We aren’t bad people, we just come from a bad place.” I don’t think she’s referring to New Jersey. Other less tangible hints include the total lack of reference to their parents, Sissy’s self harm, and the fact that they’re both very broken individuals.

As McQueen, the actors, and many critics have said, it’s not important to know exactly what happened to them, only that something happened. It’s enough to know that they’re scarred. McQueen is only interested in “depicting the past in the present”, not the past itself. Michael Fassbender said:

Well, we talked about backstory. Carey, Steve and I got together and discussed it, many times. We all had an idea of something, but perhaps had our own versions of it. But, I’m not going to tell you what that is. It’s not really that important, to be honest. It’s not just to be tricky with it. They never mention their parents, so that already speaks volumes. There is a history between them.

Carey Mulligan also mentioned that they talked about the history in sort of broad strokes, but also declined to mention what it was, only that it wasn’t incest between Brandon and Sissy.

One of the producers for the film, Iain Canning, said “Through our research we found that there was no common denominator in their stories that led them down this path [to sex addiction]. We wanted to honor that diversity of experience in Brandon by not addressing individual histories but the collective psyche behind the addiction.” So that was another reason, aside from it being unnecessary and McQueen not liking exposition, that they left the past ambiguous.

It’s really McQueen’s commentary and the details in the script that elevate the importance of this “bad place”. I would argue that what we see onscreen does not force the interpretation that they’re screwed up by their past instead of garden-variety screwed up. As I’ve mentioned before I’m a huge believer in psychology, so I do believe they’re products of their experiences no matter what, which is to say, if they’re screwed up or not screwed up or hate mustard or like the color green or whatever it’s because of their past, but I mean that much more specifically.

But I cannot argue that that was McQueen’s intention. He even goes so far as to say that Brandon’s sex addiction is “about forgetting, no matter how much damage accumulates”.  He mentions that Brandon is facing the past when he gets emotional during Sissy’s singing and when he has his freak out while Sissy and David are having sex. The latter seems particularly indicative of some sort of sexual trauma in their upbringing, which is probably the first thing all of us thought of anyway. It could be that one or both of them was sexually abused by their father. And here Brandon is once again forced to listen while someone has sex with his sister. It could be bringing up memories of it happening to him as well, or of his failure to protect her. But it’s not necessarily sexual abuse from their father. (And personally, I would prefer something else, not only for shipping reasons.) A commenter online made a pretty good argument for their father being simply verbally abusive, citing the Sissy’s response to Brandon yelling at her to get out of his bed, and the way she was so easily seduced by David’s warmth and friendliness. I certainly see Brandon perhaps taking after their father, and treating Sissy in a similar way, and then having moments of realizing that. Or perhaps they were both neglected by their parents. Feeling unloved will screw you up more than anything else.

I haven’t been able to get access to the original script, though I’ve seen quotes and mentions of it float around. I’m interested for curiosity’s sake, but as I have said time again, canon is canon, so the only thing that really matters is what we see on the screen and how we choose to interpret it.

Whatever happened to them in their past I think the movie shows that they’re better off facing it together. Sissy needs to be taken care of, but Brandon needs her as well. They’re both self-destructive in their own ways, and the presence of the other counteracts that, though not smoothly. I’ll end with my favorite quote that McQueen said about their relationship in this movie, that it’s a story of being lost and found.Shame - Brandon Sullivan, Sissy Sullivan - Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan (125)

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20 Responses to a SHAMEful Entry: Brandon and Sissy

  1. aK says:

    Thanks for this!

    I can relate to some things in this movie (uh, definitely NOT the sex addiction and “almost-incest” parts – my life isn’t that exciting/interesting), and the part from their argument while the cartoon airs in the background onwards always makes me cry. I have to admit, just reading about that part in this post and seeing the screencaps made me cry!
    Because it really IS sad to not be close to your siblings. I mean, they’re like free friends who you shouldn’t have to worry about losing contact with over time/distance. And it’s just tragic when you’re so alienated from them that you might as well be an only child.
    But fortunately, Brandon and Sissy aren’t that alienated from each other, and that’s also what tears me up. That as messed up as they are and their relationship seems (the “I make you angry all the time and I don’t know why” part, not the incest subtext), they actually have a deeper connection that enabled Brandon to sense just in time that Sissy needed help, and that gave Sissy the hope that she could even ask him for help.
    It was bloody and heartbreaking to watch, but the scene where Sissy is bleeding out in Brandon’s arms is also beautiful. Because it’s clear that he truly loves her, and that’s what she was so desperate for; his love. I had to laugh when he was “fumbling” with his phone to call 911 though. I mean, with an old-fashioned phone you just picked up the receiver and punched in 911, but if I recall, he was using a touchscreen phone and he had to activate and unlock the screen, then search for the phone app before he could even “dial” 911. Note to self: If in an emergency and I’m freaking out, do not use smartphone. Proceed directly to landline 😛

    As for the “bad place” they came from, I think we can all agree: Dysfunctional family. Brandon pointing out to Sissy that David is married makes me think that one of their parents had an affair that tore their family apart. Or it could be worse, maybe their father was having an affair AND being abusive. (Sorry dads, but it’s usually the father. I dunno’, maybe their mum was the abusive one. Girl power?)

    There are actually quite a few bro-sis incest novels/ centered movies and TV shows out there, but as I believe you pointed out, they mostly end in tragedy. Writers tend to cop out of giving this taboo coupling a happy ending. So, even though McQueen denies any incest subtext in this movie, I choose to see this at least as a story where the brother and sister do have a happily ever after. We saw Brandon running (jogging) away from his sister, then we see him running to her at the last. She came to New York for him to save her, and he did 🙂

    On the directing bit, it’s interesting how some of the scenes between the siblings were chosen to be portrayed from the POV of us looking at their backs, e.g. the subway “fluff/hat” and “cartoon argument” scenes. I saw the movie some time ago, so I don’t really remember if we were shown the front views in those scenes, but I recall being somewhat frustrated that we couldn’t fully see their expressions and what they were doing with their hands and such. Then I read this, “…we don’t know how people behind closed doors have relationships with their sisters or brothers,” and suddenly the directing choice makes so much sense. “Johari window” and all that 😛

    Love that gif of Brandon shrugging Sissy off in the kitchen and then walking off. Yeah, it’s sad for Sissy, but Brandon’s expression actually looks like a regular big brother expression of annoyance at a younger sibling’s antics. The way he squares his shoulders is like he’s inwardly going, “Gah! It’s too early in the morning for this! Don’t bug me! Need coffee…” Great acting by Fassbender and Mulligan.

    Lastly, let me reassure you that I for one do not roll my eyes when you bring up your novels. I just wish you’d publish already so we can read them; first customer, right here! All the best with your them! 😉

    • aK says:

      *”All the best with your novels!” I meant ^^;;

    • Shipcestuous says:

      First of all, thank you for your kind words about my novels! I consider myself to be a writer the way I consider myself to be human being – I just am one. It’s not something I can stop being. But I don’t spend nearly as much time writing as I wish I did. If I ever finish one, I’ll be certain to share the appropriate ones here and it means a lot to me that you would be willing to give them a try.

      Secondly, I’m glad you enjoyed the entry! I don’t ever want you to feel obligated to read/comment just because I said this but I really appreciate that you’ve taken the time to peruse/comment on everything I’ve posted. THANK YOU SO MUCH.

      And I loved reading this super thoughtful comment about Shame.

      Brandon and Sissy really are a mountain of feels. It hurts that they’ve grown distant from each, and it hurts that she’s reaching out to him and he’s not reciprocating, and then it hurts in a good way when he’s finally forced to come around and you can see how much he wants and needs her. They do have a deeper connection, especially because of whatever tragedy is in their past, and it’s for the best when Brandon finally embraces that.

      I think of it as a happy ending as well. At least as happy as it could be. Even though the ending on the train is ambiguous there’s still a note of hope, and at least in Brandon/Sissy terms it ends with their relationship stronger than ever. That’s really insightful about him jogging away from her and then jogging to her.

      Yes, that’s true about smart phones, LOL. But it’s a good thing he had a cell phone because he was trying to push pressure on her cuts to keep the blood in and he would have had to get up to go get a land line phone.

      I agree that whatever the “bad place” is, it’s definitely a dysfunctional family. LOL – “girl power?” The father having an affair and that tearing the family apart does seem like a possibility. But Brandon pointing out that David is married might just have served to make him a hypocrite, because the girl he flirts with on the train is shown through several close ups on her hand to be engaged/married.

      That’s a really good point about the direction! McQueen definitely chose his framing in a specific way, and there are a lot of uninterrupted fixed camera shots. The conversation on the subway platform and the conversation on the couch are both shot exclusively from behind. (I agree, it’s frustrating we’re not able to see their faces more.) Perhaps McQueen did want us to feel like we were watching them, almost like we were standing behind them.

      I’ll have to look back on a couple of those moments where Brandon is shrugging Sissy off and think of it like an annoyed older brother!

      Thanks again for your comment and for sharing your thoughts!

      • aK says:

        Shucks, thanks for being so appreciative of my comments. It’s really a pleasure on my part, ’cause it’s like a book club discussion, and I don’t really know many people I can discuss this topic of interest with, haha.
        They say that “sex sells”, so I guess that’s why they really marketed ‘Shame’ as a movie about sex addiction (well, that and because it’s what McQueen claims the movie is about), but as a person with experience in being part of a family, I think that the movie captured the sibling dynamic so perfectly that it felt to me like the actual focus of the film. I mean, I was thinking about the parallels between Brandon and Sissy throughout the film, e.g.
        – They both flirt with attached people;
        – They both walk in on each other in the bathroom because the other didn’t lock the door and see each other naked;
        and then I realized that having an addiction was just another parallel. It’s clearly stated that Brandon has a sex addiction, and from her scars and the hospital bracelet we see her wearing in her first appearance, we can infer that Sissy self-harms which can also be an addiction. Taking this into account, the sex addiction and its damaging effects then becomes a secondary theme.
        ‘Shame’ is a movie about family and how our relationship with our family members affects our lives. Their dysfunctional childhood damaged their ability to form meaningful relationships with other people. Brandon and Sissy appear like complete opposites – introvert vs. extrovert, messy vs. neat, imploding vs. exploding – but that’s just the surface. They have deeper similarities because they share the same genes, e.g. the music connection and the self-destructive tendencies. And no matter how much they antagonize each other, they also really need each other. Because as humans, that’s what we all really want and need and constantly search for: family.
        It’s great that ‘Shame’ was so critically well received, but I think the family, and specifically brother sister relationship, aspect of the film was greatly overlooked. And Sissy’s cutting…McQueen should do a film that explores the topic of self-harm more.

        Good point about the pros of handphones, but wouldn’t it have been really dramatic though, if Brandon had needed to carry Sissy to the landline so he could apply pressure to her wounds while calling 911 ;D

        Also, I was reading about how Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations’ is a “happy” work, so given their choice to use it prominently, yes, I’m convinced that Brandon and Sissy live happily ever after 🙂

        Sorry for another long one, but I forgot to ask last time: Have you watched the short film ‘Curfew’? (Trailer: http://youtu.be/XLAVg17luqc) Too bad the full version doesn’t seem to be on Youtube anymore, but do check it out if you haven’t already. It has a brother and sister and a niece, and it’s sweet 😉

        • Shipcestuous says:

          As I was writing this entry, I realized how little of the movie was actually about Brandon’s sex addiction. Like that one reviewer said, it’s much more of character piece than an “issue” film, and taking McQueen’s commentary into mind as well, it seems to me that whether he intended it or not I think you’re absolutely right, the movie is much more about Brandon and Sissy’s relationship and about their inability to deal with whatever sent them spiraling downward. That Brandon has a sex addiction and problems with intimacy and that Sissy self harms isn’t at the center, they’re more like details. Almost the same story could be told with different details. Like if Sissy was a drug addict and overdosed at the end, and Brandon was a serial killer or something, LOL. Not a perfect example but it kind of shows that the movie wouldn’t be so very different, fundamentally. Particularly the Brandon/Sissy scenes would play out very much the same.

          I like what you said about how they’re very different in obvious ways, but very similar in much subtler ways, like the music thing. I like that a lot.

          And I didn’t know that about the Golberg Variations. Interesting. It doesn’t sound uplifting to me, but it doesn’t sound particularly dark either. That’s very good news.

          I checked out the trailer for Curfew and it looked really good. I’m going to figure out how to watch the whole thing. I wish shorts got more attention! Thanks for the recommendation!

        • Shipcestuous says:

          I just finished watching Curfew. THANK YOU!!! I loved it so much. I know that it’ll be something I watch regularly for years to come. It was so sweet and I loved the relationships and the story. I just really, really liked it. So thanks again!

          • aK says:

            “…and Brandon was a serial killer or something, LOL.” Hahaha. Hmm, Dexter? ;D
            Actually, thank YOU for mentioning The Goldberg Variations in your commentary. That’s what made me read up on it. I don’t think I paid much attention to it when I first watched the movie.

            Cool! You managed to watch ‘Curfew’! iTunes? I was thinking of purchasing it so I could re-watch it (again, and again, and again, and you get the idea ;P Yeah, I’m prolly gonna’ buy it.) I wish they’d release it as a physical DVD/Soundtrack combo thingy. ‘Sophia So Far’ should have been nominated/won the Oscar for Best Original Song as well!
            I mean, I know I’m biased, but I seriously think that ‘Curfew’ is even better than the winner of the Oscar for Best Motion Picture that year (‘Argo’), because it managed to convey so much in such a short time frame. It was just simple, and beautiful, and perfect 🙂
            I must admit, I was really angry with the Academy Awards people for not nominating ‘Cloud Atlas’ for ANYTHING >:(, and while I haven’t watched the other nominees, I believe they absolutely got it right with ‘Curfew’. Glad you enjoyed it too!

            • aK says:

              Just read this article:
              Look out for a full-length version of ‘Curfew’ in the future (hopefully soon)! XD

              • Shipcestuous says:

                I had no idea that Fatima Ptacek was the voice of Dora the Explorer!

                I went through the Curfew tag on tumblr for a while and saw that a full-length movie was in the works. Paul Wesley from The Vampire Diaries is involved some how – I guess and he and Shawn Christensen are friends or something. It’s apparently rather far along, filming already or perhaps even done filming. I’m excited, especially to get more on the brother/sister relationship. (I have to admit I ship it pretty hard. Much harder than I would have expected beforehand. I love how he kept asking Sophia what her mother had said about him, and Sophia just kept saying, “She doesn’t talk about you.”) But I wonder if I’ll end up being some kind of purist who only loves the short, LOL.

                If you’re interested in a movie with the same subject matter there’s a movie called “Sleepwalking” with Charlize Theron and Nick Stahl that is very similar in many ways. It’s a good movie, but I prefer Curfew, for several reasons.

            • Shipcestuous says:

              Yes, Sophia So Far should get an award of some kind. I also really liked the use of “Truth” during the credits. It was in the trailer, so I already associated the song with the “movie”. For being only 19 minutes long it has a great soundtrack.

              Well, I think managing to convey so much in such a short amount of time is what makes a great short great, so I think it won the appropriate award it’s just too bad that shorts don’t get much attention and prestige. I’ve also read a few people saying that it was the best short they had ever seen, so it would really be great if it could win some sort of other award eventually, like best short of the 2010’s or something like that. Watching and loving Curfew made me realize the value of shorts.

              I agree with you about Cloud Atlas. It was an Oscar-caliber film and deserved to be recognized in some way.

              • aK says:

                I think ‘Sophia So Far’ wasn’t eligible for an award nomination because Shawn Christensen hadn’t written/released the whole song yet, haha.
                I imagine it was Sophia asking her mom lots and lots of questions about Uncle Richie (and seeing the old Sophia “cartoons” again) that prompted Maggie to come up with the arrangement at the end.
                I hope the extended movie shows us a scene of them together after they’ve started meeting regularly; maybe a ‘People Like Us’ kind of ending where Maggie and Richie find a picture/ video recording of them as children and they share it with Sophia. And I hope they show “the accident” at the start of the movie ;D
                I have reservations about the extended version of ‘Curfew’, but I think if I regard it as a whole new movie and don’t compare it to the short, then it’ll be okay 😛
                I read the summary for ‘Sleepwalking’, and it sounded kind of depressing to me ^^;; I might check it out when I have the time. Thanks for the recommendation!

                • Shipcestuous says:

                  I don’t know if they allow best songs for the shorts, but if not then they should. “Sophia So Far” would have deserved a nomination for sure, if the whole song had been finished. The song gives me a lot of feelings and has an important effect on the movie as a whole.

                  I can understand Maggie’s reluctance to let Richie back in even though she could see how attached Sophia had become to him. Her “false idols” line had so much meaning in it. But I do like to think she started softening from the second Sophia hugged him to say goodbye and by the time she called him at the very end she was fully ready to welcome him back into their lives. I think it must have really affected her to see those cartoons again.

                  I like the comparison to “People Like Us”! I bet the full-length version of “Curfew” will resemble it quite a bit.

                  I bet they will show the accident. Maybe as a flashback or maybe at the beginning. Being dropped can of course do a lot of damage to a baby, but if it really as a complete accident then it hardly seems like enough to me for Maggie to have pushed him out of their lives completely. I kept thinking it was going to be revealed that he had been high at the time, or had maybe shaken the baby in anger because she wouldn’t stop crying, or dropped her on purpose. (Though that would be pretty hard to forgive ever.)

                  Sleepwalking is a little depressing. But the uncle/niece relationship aspect of it was uplifting. The ending isn’t “happy”, per se, but I think it’s promising. Anyway, I’m not giving it a full-hearted recommendation, or anything, just suggesting it.

  2. Thank you for doing such a wonderful entry on this film that definitely has more going on then meets the eye. All your entries are such treats! I especially got a hoot out of all your ‘Come on McQueen’ gifs because you are so right! It is also wonderful that you went above and beyond and even took a gander at the script. I enjoy reading scripts from time to time just to see what has been changed and all that as well.

    The test of good film making is to make you think and they definitely do that here because there is so much to be debated. Nothing is black and white. I didn’t like the movie that much when I first saw it in 2012 because I guess I was disappointed. The direction the movie was taking I thought was going to be an incestuous one, with perhaps a kiss between Brandon and Sissy. When it didn’t happen I guess I felt like the movie was giving in. It’s like you already have everything in this movie – sex, a lot of nudity, drugs, swearing…Why not add the incest, lol! But I was glad it had the brother/sister story line which really gave the movie its heart and soul. Now looking back and re-watching it the other day, I think its such an incredible movie. You feel like you know these characters because the actors do such an incredible job of bringing them to life. You want to know more about them. I understand what McQueen was getting at, that they had such a traumatic childhood (for reasons I wish they would have discussed) that it let them in these two very different self destructive paths. Since McQueen has told us so little about Brandon’s or his sister’s past, we have no insight into how the siblings turned out the way they did. It’s kind of empty sex for us too lol.

    These are not questions directed at you, just the film in general. Why does he cry and not applaud? McQueen in that interview mentioned the drawbridge going back up, locking away the past again – I guess the old emotionless Brandon is back after she finished singing? Why is he so cold to her when she is clearly so warm with him? The movie asks so many questions.

    I never thought of the jogging scene like that before in that Brandon had to go out for a jog to getaway from some dark memory from his past. He just seemed really uncomfortable with his sister having sex in his apartment. But now that makes more sense, like you said maybe he had to listen or watch Sissy be abused or something? But if that happened I think he would have lost it a lot more and not just went for a jog. Also sometimes people that are abused don’t want to just have a one night stand as it brings them back to that place as well – sometimes they make themselves unattractive so they will not have to face it again. So I am not sure if McQueen’s rational works here. I don’t think the audience would have clued into that while watching (I did not) – that there was something brought up from his past as to why he left and went for a jog.

    You are so right, it really doesn’t make a big difference in the grand scheme of things that his addiction was sex. It could have been about any of those issues you mentioned. I suppose McQueen went with that because of the times and how pornography is so mass available, and how this new culture nourishes emotional isolation. But what adds so much to the incestuous undertones and subtext is that IT IS “sex addiction” he is battling. Why sex addiction for Brandon? Why doesn’t he have a cocaine problem? It shows him using even while with his date Marianne (sure probably to calm his nerves). This kind of says to me that he needs to get that fix (the sex), the thing he can’t get from his sister elsewhere, and that is why he feels bad about it. Other people have commented that they feel this way too.

    This is probably taking my theory too far, but perhaps that is why he even goes to the gay club (I know he needs his sex so bad he doesn’t care where he gets it from) but maybe he felt like it would be solved if he were gay or something.

    Imagine if Brandon had a certain physical preference to his woman? Like they all had blonde hair or something? That would be a giveaway.

    You mentioned when he is with Marianne that he asks if her stocking are vintage. It is interesting he used the exact same wording as Sissy used when they were waiting for the train. And like you said, moments later he can not perform. McQueen allows us to register the word-association almost subliminally: the vital sheen of porn-indifference he needs is killed by the fatal spark of gentleness and intimacy. Almost like now if he sleeps with Marianne it would be like sleeping with his sister?

    I am glad you picked up on the vulva thing too, lol. That was also very intuitive what you said about the naked scenes – that they are trying to show the audience that they can metaphorically see the whole person and are open around one another.

    Like you said, maybe that can be explained, but smelling the scarf? Unless it belonged to their mother or something…Doubt it. Plus him on top of her naked, and her getting in bed with him sends it over the edge.

    It is awesome you looked at a bunch of reviews. I do that too and try to watch a ton of interviews (sometimes I take the fun out of watching a movie!) I have not had a chance to watch many Shame interviews but thanks for pointing that one out specifically where he denies the incest. I am not sure why McQueen would get fed up with the incest question because it is a valid point, especially since he chose not to let their back-story out and we only know the characters for these two hours. When they are together, it is a fact – there are all these very suggestive things. Like you said, a lot of people saw something there.

    Here are some more comments I found with people speculating some kind of incestuous relationship between them in the film. (Source:http://www.abc.net.au/atthemovies/txt/s3378130.htm)
    -I am surprised this film is being touted as about sex addiction, as to me it seemed to be about the trauma of conflicted incest and the associated shame attached to that. The sex I felt was the brother’s only way of dealing with his secret lust for his sister, trying to get it out of his system, and meanwhile his rejection of her was killing her. Much more interesting I felt, than plain old sexual addiction because it explains it. His inability to consummate his love for his sister prevents him from true intimacy with any woman.
    -I am surprised though, reading the other comments that most felt the focus of the film was sex addiction. For me, this was a secondary issue, the primary being the relationship (and the exact nature of that relationship) between the siblings. There are several hints throughout the film that these siblings have a sexual history, the consequences of which are still impacting their lives (particularly the Fassbender character). This was the “shame” alluded to in the title.
    -The sexual tension between the main character and his sister demonstrates the character’s inability to view women other than objects.
    – (This reviewer does not mention incest, but believes too that it is definitely sexual abuse.) This movie is not about sex addiction. It’s about dealing with the shame that comes from sexual abuse. Brandon shuts down emotionally (you feel this emotional wasteland in the first half) and gorges on sexual pleasure to block out the overwhelm that constantly threatens to engulf him. Sissy’s visit raises the waterline on that overwhelm.Sissy’s way of dealing with the trauma is to try and gorge on affection. The more she looks to Brandon for this the more he thrashes around to free himself of her.

    Well I have given you a lot to ponder over. Look forward to hearing from you and thank you again for this bloody amazing entry. And we love hearing about your novel, we cannot wait to read it!

    • Shipcestuous says:

      I take it you rewatched Shame recently since you’ve been posting about it? I felt the same way as you did the first time I watched it: disappointed. Because I had expected the titular “Shame” to end up being about incest, or at the very least, for the relationship to become incestuous because he had so much trouble controlling his sex addiction. But I grew to appreciate it a lot of more while I was studying up on it for this entry. I’m really glad you enjoyed reading it.

      I do feel, like you do, that what McQueen was trying to subtly convey onscreen never really came across. Those quotes from the script that mention when Brandon is starting to have small PTSD episodes – well, that was never my impression while actually watching the movie.

      McQueen allows us to register the word-association almost subliminally: the vital sheen of porn-indifference he needs is killed by the fatal spark of gentleness and intimacy. Almost like now if he sleeps with Marianne it would be like sleeping with his sister?

      Wow, beautifully put, and I love that. Because Marianne is gentle and intimate (like Sissy), he forms a subconscious parallel between them which totally destroys his ability to perform.

      Those comments/reviews you found were excellent. That someone could walk away from the movie believing it’s actually about an incestuous relationship between the two of them really tells you a lot. And should tell McQueen a lot. I really do believe that it’s a perfectly valid interpretation of what we see onscreen.

      • Thanks for your fast response on my super long comment! It is amazing how fast (and how long you can spend) compiling your thoughts!

        Yes, I just watched it again the other night (I am on a bit of a Fassbender kick) so I wanted to jot down my thoughts while it was fresh in my mind and after having read your superb entry. I agree that the PTSD episodes never got conveyed that well. Without this and with the sister aspect, mixed with the sex addition – I think that is why you can’t help but feel that way towards them.

        Isn’t that amazing that so many people have mentioned it and even publicly called McQueen out like that! Like it is one thing to mention it in a comment, but for interviewers to bring it up and folks at a screener – just goes to show you it’s not so taboo anymore. Also in those interviews and screeners, when McQueen was asked about it, they also seemed to have thought the incest already happened between them (in their childhood) and that is why they felt ‘shame.’ I never really got that vibe, like I said, more that they had these feelings towards each other now – perhaps since they went through such a traumatic experience together. Also, like I mentioned, McQueen having the same wording (vintage) used between a potential lover and his sister doesn’t help things.


        • Shipcestuous says:

          Yes yes yes. I’m not surprised some people thought that the incest might have been in Brandon and Sissy’s past, but it always seemed to me that it was something they both wanted and they were just reacting to that desire in different ways. Sissy wanting to be as close to him as possible, and then Brandon trying to push her away.

  3. Yesh says:

    Hey! 😀

    I know this post is four years old but this is probably the most detailed analysis I have ever read of the movie and since I recently watched the movie, I wanted to add my two cents:

    Although I am not a fan of the whole incest-ship theory and don’t believe that there is any incest relationship between the two, there is one scene that I still can’t make sense off, i.e. the scarf-sniffing scene.

    That scene seems….I don’t know what’s the right word I’m looking for here but…..odd :-/

    Like you, my reaction to this scene is confusion. I’m not sure what to make of this scene and just leaves me wondering why either the scriptwriter Morgan or Mcqueen decided to add this into the sequence.

    In familial/platonic scenarios, I’m aware that parents sometimes like the scent of their new-born baby….but apart from that, sniffing someone and savoring the scent is something that is specifically associated with sexual attraction/romantic love.

    I would love to hear your thoughts on this or anybody else’s as well. 🙂

    • shipcestuous says:

      Given McQueen’s insistence that there were not meant to be incestuous undertones, the scarf-sniffing is very odd. I can only assume that even though that usually registers a romantic/sexual connotation, it was merely meant to show that Brandon had missed her.

      Thanks for introducing that question! It’s an interesting moment, definitely worthy of more pondering.

      • Yesh says:

        Someone had posted in the youtube comments section on one of the couch-argument sequences that Steve Mcqueen had said in an interview that sometimes sex addicts in real life have this need for novelty or extreme scenarios and will therefore sometimes feel the urge to act on opposite gender siblings/blood relations as incest is the last taboo/novelty thing you can think of.

        I have tried searching the quote or the link for the interview where he says that but haven’t found it yet :-/

        It’s annoying when Steve Macqueen contradicts himself.

        Which is why I strictly fall in the group that interprets this whole situation as not necessarily an incestuous-relationship but that Brandon simply does not trust himself around Sissy because he might act on her, due to addiction and also probably coz his addiction causes him to sexualize her on some level…might explain all those moments where he can’t stand to be touched by her or the fact that the whole couch-arguement scene sort of looks like they were about to kiss each other considering the way the whole scene is directed, the camera angle, the intense body language and staring into each others eyes for so long and closeups of their face and everything…. :-/

        Ok, I think I’ve rambled on a little too much but thought I should throw in my two cents 🙂

        • shipcestuous says:

          I hadn’t heard that quote from McQueen – it is a little contradictory to what he has said before but actually makes more sense in terms of what we see in the movie, in my opinion. While I think Brandon and Sissy’s relationship is really important and she’s in a way taking him out of his addiction, I agree completely that he’s afraid that he will sexualize her because of his addiction and he feels the need to “escalate” – novelty or extreme scenarios – which might indicate incest as well. I think that’s all very important and yet the movie doesn’t show it very well.

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