Why ‘Shame’ matters: What an NC-17 movie reveals about our culture.

***Disclaimer: ‘Shame’ is a movie released late in 2011 on the topic of sex addiction and it’s rated NC-17 for explicit sexual content.  I want to be clear, I have not, nor have any intention of viewing this movie and I do not recommend it.  However, much buzz has surrounded this movie, including possible Oscar nods, and I think it speaks volumes about our sex-absorbed culture in such a way, that I wanted to write a piece on it.***

There’s an ongoing debate regarding culture among evangelicals.  Do movies, music, art, sports and numerous other aspects of our society simply reflect the standards, norms and issues of our culture or do they influence and drive the ideas of the people living within the culture?  I would argue they do both.  They both reflect where our culture is at, being a piece of work created by the culture, which in turn, has the ability to influence the culture in various ways, though I believe different aspects of culture do this to different degrees, even down to the individual work of art itself.

With that said, I wanted to take a look at a particular film that was released late last year.  For it’s rating, it’s influence has been reaching with reviewers calling it bold, disturbing and powerful.  Simply put, Shame is a film about sex addiction, and the downward spiral of one man (Brandon) who finds himself quickly spinning out of control.  His nightly visits with high-end prostitutes and marathon sessions on the internet lead to immense depression, sadness, brokenness, leaving Brandon wondering what the point of such a pointless existence.   Donald Munro of Fresno Bee says it well: “(Shame is) An exercise in sadness so deep and aching that it’s like plunging ever downward into a midnight-black lake and never touching the bottom.”  

Sally Hill of Your Houston News sums up the movie here: “Fassbender (“Inglorious Basterds,” “X-Men: First Class”) is…a Manhattan yuppie with a problem. We first see him lying in bed, barely covered by a sheet. He doesn’t look happy. When he gets up and walks around his lovely, but sparse apartment in the nude, he doesn’t look happy. When he is in the shower, he doesn’t look happy. You get it; he’s not a happy guy. And the sex he is having with prostitutes, women he picks up in bars, chat rooms, whatever, wherever doesn’t make him happy. It’s never enough. He needs more.”

This is precisely the point.  The blistering irony is, a sex-obsessed, relativistic culture that constantly declares that sex has no limits has created a movie about a man who is living the natural progression of such a lifestyle.  Shame wants to paint Brandon likely as a man who’s simply gone too far, but the logic of his lifestyle tells otherwise, and the truth is our culture is filled with men and women who are using sex to fill a void that can only be filled by Christ, and the end result parallels Romans 1 ever time.  Sin always destroys.  And the unrestrained, no-holds-barred sexuality of our culture has it’s consequences.

Brandon’s scenario is not unique.  He is not special.  He is the guy sitting behind you in church, or the co-worker on the other side of the cubicle. He does not need the right prescription or the right therapy.  He does not need to find a local SA group.  He desperately needs Christ.  He is moment to moment, drinking from a broken cistern; the kind God warns his people against. “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jeremiah 2:13)  Shame reveals in a clear way that drinking from broken cisterns only leads to hopelessness, depression, and destructive unhappiness.  This is always the pattern of sin, and it is always the result of living outside the bounds of how God created humanity to live.  When we worship the creation rather than the Creator (Rom.1), when we seek satisfaction for our souls in anything outside of Christ, we are always left empty and wanting more.  This is the ironic and haunting reality of those who pursue sex outside of God’s design: the very physical act which is meant to breed intimacy, love and passion actually creates loneliness, emptiness and is void of satisfaction.   We see this characterized over and over in Scripture.  Romans 3 describes the lives of those far from God as an ‘open grave’ and ‘their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known’.  Which is the complete opposite of how God intended life to be.  When living within God’s rules for sex and marriage, there is satisfaction and joy!  It’s beauty, passion and intimacy.  The one thing it’s not, is shame.

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