Today: July 14, 2024

Addicted To Sex

Filmmakers love to delve into the murky waters of the affliction that is addiction; from documentaries to biopics, novel adaptations and surrealism – addiction is an opportune subject for a director to dig deep into the complex recesses of the addict’s psyche and often extreme lifestyle.

Filmmakers love to delve into the murky waters of the
affliction that is addiction; from documentaries to biopics, novel adaptations
and surrealism – addiction is an opportune subject for a director to dig deep
into the complex recesses of the addict’s psyche and often extreme lifestyle.
However, tackling addiction on screen can often be
challenging and vulnerable to criticism: is the director glamorising addiction?
Is what they’re presenting a true reflection of the day-to-day dealing of an
addict? Or is it being exaggerated/romanticised for the big screen?

Shame, released on DVD and Blu-ray on the 14th
of May, is arguably one of the best films about addiction made in recent years,
and it’s not even about the terrible two – drugs or alcohol. Director Steve McQueen addresses sex addiction
in his second feature length film, which is an area of addiction not widely
portrayed on screen. Perhaps this is because it is a relatively new addiction
that was only brought to the media’s attention when Michael Douglas was admitted for treatment with the illness in the
early 1990s. Sex addiction also
isn’t a medically recognised disorder.

However, on-screen sex and
addiction are not necessarily estranged in films, audiences will have often
seen a woman or man sell her body for sex in order to pay for her or his
addiction – perfectly illustrated in Neil
‘s adaptation of Candy,
where Candy sells herself to a pawn broker to pay for her and her boyfriend’s
next hit.

In Shame McQueen shows a broken past in a
fast paced, often isolated modern world, where sex and porn are readily
available, that sex can easily become an escape route to oblivion and a way to
fill the void.

Michael Fassbender plays
Brandon, an outwardly charming, successful, professional and an enviable ladies
man. Who is secretly addicted to porn, provocative casual sex with strangers
and masturbation, but the sex isn’t hot on screen, it is mechanical, like two
rabbits – it is a means to an end. But is it a true reflection of sex had by
sex addicts?

The Guardian newspaper asked recovering
sex addicts to watch Shame and give their opinion on its portrayal of sex
addiction. One man in his fifties observed that: “It’s Brandon’s
absolute cut-offness – his inability to have a relationship – that’s so grim,
and so real. Sex addiction is an illness of intimacy, and this
comes over very clearly in the film” Another, a lady in her late
thirties, is concerned undiagnosed sex addicts won’t recognise themselves, he
says: “My big concern is that people are going to see Shame and think: “I
don’t have this addiction.” Sex addiction can manifest itself in a variety
of ways.”

In the film even Brandan’s
sister, Sissy, played by Carey Mulligan,
who invites herself to stay in his apartment, has issues relating to sex – but
it is to seek intimacy not to expel it. Another former sex addict interviewed
by the Guardian says: “Although the film is very male- centric, it actually does put across
quite well the female experience of sexually addictive behaviour. Sissy is
pretty much a classic sex addict: low self-esteem; a tendency to sleep with
inappropriate people very quickly then to obsess about them.”

Some experts believe sex
addiction is a serious and growing affliction. Psychologist Joy Rosendale, who specialises in
Psychosexual therapy, said: “I believe this film is extremely timely and is
more common than we think.”

Another psychologist who
treats patients with sexual addiction is Dr
, he agrees: “Brandon’s use of sex in the film underscored the
principle issue of sexual compulsivity, which is the use of sexual behaviour to
anaesthetise some other state i.e loneliness or anxiety. In Brandon’s case it
is desperate loneliness. And this is an issue that can easily ring true with
busy individuals living.”

Shame is an uncomfortable watch for those with sex
addiction and without, because sex addiction can in some way be accused of
being a product of modern living – of the Facebook generation, disaffected
youth, Broken Britain and neglectful early relationships. At the end of the
film Sissy says to Brandon, “we’re not bad people, we’re just broken”.

As Dr Birchard explains: “We have to
remember we are not working with sex, we are working really with broken
hearts,” Which both Brandon and Sissy clearly have.

Other Addiction Movies Worth Watching:

Trainspotting (1996)

Adapted by Danny
(then only his second feature film) from Irvine Welsh‘s debut novel Trainspotting. The film follows a group
of friends living in economically depressed Edinburgh and their
addiction/enjoyment of heroin and other drugs. Welsh’s character’s seek drugs
and oblivion and spurn a ‘normal’ life with limited opportunities because it
doesn’t seem like one worth living. Trainspotting quickly gained cult status
for its unflinching portrayal of drug addiction, showing the highs as well as
the lows and focusing on a neglected sub-culture of society. It was a critical
and financial success. It also helped launch the careers of Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee
, Kelly MacDonald and Peter Mullen.


Another adaptation but this time by director Scott Kalvert of the true diaries of Jim Caroll chronicling his decline from
a high school basketball pro into a chronic drug addict. Leonardo Dicaprio captivated audiences not only for his shockingly
young looking face playing a heroin addict but for his fast blossoming
acting abilities. The film showed a rising star such as Caroll could fall into
the grips of drug addiction and the lengths he would go to, to satisfy his need
for a fix – even prostituting himself off in one shocking scene.

Leaving Las
Vegas (1995)

This is arguably one of Nicolas Cage’s finest performances. He plays alcoholic screenwriter
Ben Sanderson who goes to Las Vegas to drink himself to death. There he meets
and forms a doomed relationship with a prostitute named Sera, who both agree to
accept each other’s obvious faults, but which proves impossible. Leaving Las
Vegas was hailed a success by the critics and praised for giving identifiable
and human faces to people who would otherwise be statistics and stereotypes.

for your consideration: Ray (2004), Nil By Mouth (1997), The Lost Weekend

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia, who has worked in the media industry for more than 20 years, is the Publishing Editor of KOL Social Magazine. See website:

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