Hunger

"Extraordinary"

Hunger Review


Awake with blunt noise and images of stunning clarity, Steve McQueen's Hunger only indulges in one real section of dialogue. Most of the film, set in Northern Ireland's infamous Long Kesh (Maze) prison, frames this conversation, one between a priest and an inmate. Filmed 17 times and clocking in at over 25 minutes long, McQueen allows for this central dialogue about the "Troubles" and how they relate to religion and protest, but his real aim is to let you experience the sound and physicality of the dialogue of revolution. Full of echoing drips, clattering batons, wet grunts, and bludgeoning exclamations, McQueen's film might have been easier to ignore if said inmate wasn't Bobby Sands, the controversial martyr of the IRA stronghold that died from a hunger strike he enacted in response to the restriction of rights imposed on Sands and his IRA brethren at the Maze.

This fact is largely rendered moot, however: McQueen changes up his central character rather randomly, from Sands to a fellow inmate to a doomed guard. It's 30 minutes into the film before Sands is introduced and, thanks to the Gaelic accents, it's not even clear what his name is until the dialogue with the priest commences. The only other tip is that he is played by Michael Fassbender, the German-born actor of 300 fame. (For the many, like myself, who found it a somewhat tumultuous task to tell one Spartan from another, he was the one who answered "Then we shall fight in the shade.") Though we never witness a proper verbal retort to Margaret Thatcher's "A crime is a crime is a crime," watching Fassbender waste away speaks volumes. A Hollywood remake might highlight this line: "Then we shall use what God gave us."

Opening on a storm of clattering plates, a poverty-stricken Irish lower-class using what they have to demand food, McQueen's film sharply turns to a guard checking his car for bombs. With the IRA summarily executing loyalists, prison guards, and police officers, waking early to check if there's C-4 strapped to your engine block isn't the most ludicrous idea. This specific guard (Stuart Graham) gets his anger out during the ritualized beatings and forced grooming of the inmates at Long Kesh. But before Sands gets to the plate, the guards try their hands on newbie inmate and IRA devotee Davey (Brian Milligan). Davey is followed as the guards enact a mandatory end to the "no wash" protests, a forced bathing and cutting of hair. This is where we finally meet Sands.

Hunger is mainly constructed as a study in juxtaposition. McQueen makes visual splendor out of the most heinous of acts, pausing after a beating to watch a sink of clear water turn a hazy pink as the guard soaks his scraped knuckles. The stunning still shot of the inmates funneling their urine into the cell block could have been a powerful short film all on its own. Yet, this is not a film based solely on its imagery, as haunting and peerless as Sean Bobbit's cinematography is. A major facet of Hunger's seduction is dependent on its detailed use of sound. It is surely no mistake that the more Sands withers away, the more minimalist McQueen and sound designer Paul Davies render the surrounding commotion, at one point supplying nothing but the wind and Sands' cavernous exhales.

Chronicling the days leading to the strike up to the loading of Sands' corpse into the coroner's van, Hunger is a starkly realistic counterpoint to the often-lyrical treatment in film of the British/Irish "Troubles." Built almost entirely on verbal rhetoric, films have largely centered on the nationalist struggle (Ken Loach's The Wind That Shakes the Barley) or irate tragedy (Paul Greengrass' excellent Bloody Sunday), with a few obscurities between. (Where would one put John Boorman's massively entertaining The General in the lineage?) McQueen stages the argument centrally, but the film is steeped in the body -- the brawny flesh of the struggle. Starving the body to skin and bone, rubbing excrement and vomit on the walls, funneling urine into the cell block.... The body, itself, has become rhetoric.

That's not wallpaper.



Hunger

Facts and Figures

Run time: 96 mins

In Theaters: Friday 31st October 2008

Distributed by: IFC Films

Production compaines: Blast! Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Fresh: 104 Rotten: 11

IMDB: 7.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer: Robin Gutch, Laura Hastings-Smith

Starring: as Bobby Sands, Stuart Graham as Ray Lohan, Helena Bereen as Helena Bereen, as Priest

Also starring: ,

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