Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008)

The first film of director Steve McQueen, no not the actor who did action films in the 1970's, but the same director who made Shame in 2011, both films starring one of the most interesting actors of the moment, Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds, A Dangerous Method), Hunger is the kind of film that stays with you for a long time. This is a lesser known film that depicts the fight of the Irish republicans inmates in a prison of Northern Ireland.

Based on the true story of Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) who went on a hunger strike to stop the War in 1981. Before going to Sands, McQueen introduces us to a warder, Raymond Lohan, (Stuart Graham) living on the edge of his seat because he mistreats the republicans in the prison. The few moments passed with Lohan, washing his bloody knuckles, smoking a cigarette alone, are silent and full of implied guilt and discomfort towards his actions. Like every war everyone has to take a side and stick to it because the consequences are unpleasant. Then, we are introduced to the prison itself with the confinement of Davey Gillen (Brian Milligan) who discovers the conditions of the prison, the walls covered with the inmates' excrement, being naked because refusing to conform to the code, and the many ways to protests against the oppressors. It is much later that we discover Sands amongst the many inmates and how he is some kind of "leader" into the walls of this prison. Another character that is briefly seen is the young Riot Prison Officer that breaks up and hides in the face of the violence done towards the prisoners that after all are humans. It is one of the many humanist symbolism used by McQueen to denounce the treatments and conditions of the inmates.

The central moment of the film, the key scene is a 16 minutes one take of Bobby Sands discussing with the Priest (Rory Mullen) that explains to the viewer Sands' point of view and motivations to begin his hunger strike. This dialog is superbly acted and the changes of emotions and directions are many and what could have been done with editing and action/reaction shots is done in only one take and one steady camera.

The last act of the film is probably the weakest because of the more contemplative work and the lack of dramatic turns. One could say that what is shown is dramatic enough and that the gaze of Sands becoming weaker and leaner is disturbing enough. With that said, the overall impact of Hunger isn't less alarming and eye opening to these events that happened less than thirty years before the film was made. The fact that it reflects recent history makes us consider how we as humans treat our peers and will do to fight for freedom and how Nationalism can be harmful to everyone involved.

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