Hunger is not a film to be enjoyed, but to be appreciated…for its artistic merit and for its unflinching portrayal of a period in relatively recent history. It is primarily the story of Bobby Sands (played by Michael Fassbender), one of the Irish Republican Army members imprisoned in the late 1970’s in Northern Ireland for “political terrorism” (a divisive and debated term in and of itself ~ Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher claimed there was no such thing as political terrorism, only criminal terrorism). In 1981, Sands led a hunger strike in protest of the British Government’s refusal (under Thatcher’s rule) to grant the IRA prisoners political status as well as of its failure to acknowledge the prisoners’ requests for more humane prison conditions.
Hunger is British visual artist Steve McQueen’s (not to be confused with the actor Steve McQueen) directorial debut. (McQueen teamed again with Fassbender for last year’s Shame.) He does a strikingly effective job of portraying the inhumane and brutal conditions that existed within the infamous Maze prison in Belfast, as well the ways in which both the prisoners and those working within the prison were effected by the politically-sparked unrest. It is harrowing to watch…yet, at the same time, McQueen has his supremely artistic eye on exhibit in every single frame of the film. It is a wonder to behold…you could quite honestly hit the pause button at any moment in the entire movie and see a work of art. That he is able to make feces smeared on prison cell walls look like a painting is a revelation.
McQueen is masterful at putting you THERE, through a sort of naturalistic audio-visual language. He uses virtually NO soundtrack in the film, other than the organic sounds within a scene. The long silences speak volumes (you feel the time ticking away in those lonely, cold prison cells); they also serve to create a marked contrast for the uncontrolled noise that erupts at other times, making it that much more jarring and unnerving when it does (such as the rhythmic thumping of the batons the prison officers use to beat the prisoners). There are many long, static shots in which we are simply observers of whatever “happens to happen” within the frame, which truly does seem to mimic being there. You can almost feel the chill and smell the stench of urine, feces and rotting food (which made me incredibly grateful I wasn’t there). Continue reading