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Hunger (2008) Director Steve McQueen 9 November 2008

Posted by jordanfarley in Uncategorized.
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Hunger, directed by Turner Prize winning artist Steve McQueen, is one of my favourite films of the year so far, although I don’t know if I’ll ever subject myself to this harrowing tale of the final weeks in the life of IRA member Bobby Sands ever again.

Michael Fassbender stars as Sands, a terrorist who along with dozens of members of the IRA in Maze prison stage a ‘dirty’ protest in an effort to have their status as political prisoners recognised and their right to wear civilian clothes reinstated. The dirty protest fills the first half of the films run time as we are shown every stage in this horrific process, from shit stained walls to piss covered hallways the film is unflinching in putting every stage of this demeaning protest on the big screen. But it isn’t demeaning for those involved. It may reduce them to something less than human in the eyes of the outsider (and the guards) but to the participants and the audience their actions are almost noble, the only way they can stand up to their oppression.

About half way through the film Sands outlines his plans to carry out a hunger strike to Father Moran (Liam Cunningham) in a dialogue scene which lasts for over fifteen minutes without one cut. The tension in the scene is almost unbearable as the dialogue flies back and forth between these two amazing character actors. The film is worth seeing for this scene alone and it’s a testament to the power of Hunger that this is arguably the least devastating of the films three acts.

The final third of the film portrays the death of Sands from his hunger strike. I will not go into details here but like the dirty protest every element of Sand’s self inflicted starvation is laid out for the audience and it makes almost unbearable watching. It is the closest I have come to not being able to keep my eyes on the screen for a long time. Fassbender lost an extraordinary amount of weight for these scenes and his dedication to the role really pays off. The films conclusion is more devastating than any this year and deserves to be seen by all.

McQueen does an excellent job as a first time director bringing an artistic sensibility to what could have been a very romantic tale. He is unflinching in presenting things the way they were and manages to create several beautiful scenes out of horrifying images such as the bloody knuckles of a prison guard soaking in water after the beating of a prisoner. The lack of music is also worth mentioning. The film, with the exception of the central dialogue scene between Sands and Father Moran is effectively a silent movie. Music is almost entirely absent throughout the films run time but when it does come it packs a greater emotional wallop as a result.

Easily one of the best films of the year so far and deserving winner of the Camera D’or at Cannes earlier this year Hunger is essential viewing, though I doubt those with delicate sensibilities will be able to stomach it (I apologise for the awful pun, but it had to be done).

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