Hunger is the startling film debut by the Turner Prize winning English video artist Steve McQueen. Set in the Northern Irish Maze Prison in 1981, Hunger begins during the notorious Blanket and No-Wash protest, led by Irish Republican Army prisoners who wanted political prisoner status. While the focus of the film is initially on one of the prison guards and a new prisoner, the later part of the film centres on Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender from 300) who led the hunger strike that would eventually kill him.
McQueen’s background as a video artist is evident in Hunger‘s powerful visual texture. Every shot is carefully constructed with an astonishing awareness of the moving image and the detail McQueen gives to the human by-products, which result from the two strikes, is both revolting and inexplicably beautiful.
Hunger is the true embodiment of an Art Film – there is no clear protagonist for most of the film and there is almost no dialogue, except for one long and utterly engaging conversation between Sands and a priest that plays out like a philosophical chess game. Hunger is completely captivating and an artistic triumph to be savoured.
Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 316, 2008
Great review…there was something dehumanizing about the first 3rd of the film, which was visually arresting but also distant. I didn’t understand who or what the story was about yet…though the harrowing details of the way the prisoners dehumanized themselves in the wake of such brutal dehumanization at the hands of the prison/gov’t was clearly central.
But then I loved how McQueen turned the story on its head and played with viewer expectations. The conversation between Sands and the priest was a master-class in filmmaking and dialogue construction. And those final moments when Sands imagines himself back in those woods he told the priest about…astounding.
A great, challenging, hard to swallow film.
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