Steve McQueen | 2008 | 96 min | UK + Ireland
Steve McQueen won the Turner Prize for his photography at some ridiculous fucking age like twenty-seven and it most certainly shows in his feature film debut. Every frame looks like it could hang in a gallery. A good gallery, even. Yet Hunger still sticks as one of the most brutal films I have seen in a long time.
Bobby Sands was an inmate in Northern Ireland's notorious Maze Prison from 1977. This was a period in which IRA prisoners had been stripped of their recognition as political prisoners by the British government and the inmates were organizing themselves to carry out a series of increasingly disgusting protests. Hunger begins during the "dirty protest" in which prisoners refused to wash themselves and smeared their excrement of the walls of their cells. Following the fallout of that protest Bobby Sands assembled prisoners in a hunger strike. He began refusing food on March 1, 1981 and his health dramatically deteriorated until his death two months later.
This isn't a step by step accounting of events in that way that In The Name of the Father was, though. Events are told via visual cues, speeches, and archival sound clips of Margaret Thatcher denouncing the IRA. There is very little dialogue, aside from one outstanding scene, and the end result feels like a collage of emotions one travels through far more than it feels like a biopic.
The film's presentation is ruthless. It will likely cause you to involuntarily recoil a number of times. But for all of the brutality, Hunger is poetry of a kind you rarely get to see on screen. It is so slow and methodical that it earns comparisons to the Cremaster Cycle. That is a compliment, but also a warning. Hunger is a movie that one invests in, but it is as rewarding an experience as you are likely to find in theatres this year.