Hunger (UK/Ireland, 2008)

hunger_ver2_xlgDirected by: Steve McQueen. With this year’s Shame on my watchlist, I thought I’d check out this other collaboration (the first, as it turns out) between artist-turned-director Steve McQueen and cinema’s rising male lead, the German-Irish Michael Fassbender. Having a persistent interest in the culture and history of the two political entities of Ireland, and having another interest in how culture and history is represented on film, I jumped at the chance to see a film depiction of Bobby Sands, the famous Belfast political prisoner who died on a hunger strike in 1981. Those looking for a typical (read: garbagey) Hollywood biopic will be sorely disappointed here. This movie is, well…arty. As in, hardly any dialogue-arty; main character doesn’t show until 30 minutes into the film-arty; not even really getting to know the character of Bobby Sands in a conventional way before eliciting basic human sympathy for his plight-arty. That being said, I love all that shit. I love the way McQueen treats the titular theme topic, opening with a prison guard at home enjoying his bangers and eggs (from an analytical overhead shot), and spending virtually the entire first half of the movie knee-deep in bodily excretions, as if to repulse the viewer away from his habitual popcorn or snack-x of choice. The glue of the film is the staggering conversation in the middle, where Bobby invites a preist friend of his—the perpetually underrated Liam Cunningham—to a chat to tell him about his plans for a hunger strike. Here, in a single long take, a completely still side-angle shot of the two in profile sitting at a table, simply talking and smoking, we finally get an explicit conversation about the politics that underlie the emotional stakes of the whole film. The scene is a theater piece—the actors converse back and forth, all in one take, save for two cuts. One cut to Bobby’s hands close up to light a lighter, and another to a close shot of Bobby’s face, Fassbender’s amazing face, just doing his thing, acting the shit out of the place. This film resists the viewer’s attachment with a single main character as a focal point of empathy, even in the drawn out, almost Foucauldian concluding sequence of Bobby Sands’ starvation (the Passion of the Sands?). For that reason, it will probably be an example of a really great film, full of really great acting, and a great, abstract expression of these persistent topics in Irish political films, ultimately overlooked for being too arty.

3 responses to “Hunger (UK/Ireland, 2008)

  1. Pingback: 12 Years a Slave (UK/USA, 2013) | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: Carlos (France/Germany, 2010) | Offhand Reviews·

  3. Pingback: Re-View: Band of Brothers [TV miniseries] (USA/UK, 2001) | Offhand Reviews·

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