Hunger is a character driven biographical drama depicting the inner Irish prison world through various perspectives. Let's acknowledge the elephant in the room, it's not an easy tale to listen to. The meddled and explore subjects in here are not for everyone, it personifies the harrowing nightmares of each individual characters to a point where you start cringing on your seat.
Amidst all these negative emotions, there resides a beautiful poem within it, which McQueen extracts out and paints this stunning craft through it. There aren't much verbal sparrings (and when there is, it leaves you mesmerized as it reeks of the old theatre acts to the core) in here, it is all acted out, it relies completely upon physical sequences and proves the explicit writing it contains.
McQueen's world in here is "black and white", "0 and 1" and, purely opinionated where there is no room for "if's" and "but's", there is no diplomatic version that comes out of it. Its sinistes background score, the metaphorical cinematography and fine editing along with few jaw dropping shots that is a tale of its own, makes this feature rich on such technical aspects.
Fassbender makes you writhe on screen with his majestic performance and flaunts his unflinching potential to carry it off such a craft all on his shoulder. McQueen triumphs on originality of the structure of the script, it is dark opera house that is equally glorifying as much as sharp it is.
If it's heinous then it's because of the accuracy, if it's inedible then it's because of the honesty and if it's beautiful then it's because of the innocence. Eye popping art designing, poetic and jagged screenplay, McQueen's gut wrenching shots and Fassbender at the heart of it are the high points of the feature.
Hunger is a rare art that analysis the allegory with heart wide open and points out the reason why cinema exists.
McQueen did a great job at illustrating the horridness of this true event. He was not keen on hiding the brutality of the situation; the movie was filled with scenes that left you squirming in your chair, with your eyes burning a little, and your heart sinking and rising with the flow of the movie. He did not want to produce a movie that was only entertaining, he wanted to create something that would resonate with the audience, to show them how even with the cruel conditions the prisoners were subjected to during their imprisonment, they were able to transgress those physical boundaries constructed around them in a way that made them just as powerful as they were when free. This is, my favorite thing about the movie.
Now, before I delve into that, it is important to think about the less obvious but significant details, and that is the architecture of containment; the manner by which and the reason behind the imprisonment tactics that were used on the prisoners. Firstly, the design of the prison itself was a collection of individualized and identical cells arranged in the shape of an H, and that was done to achieve maximum isolation of the inmates; to create the perfect space that would produce the needed psychic effect needed for reformation; to limit their interactions with one another as much as possible, and, finally, to depoliticize them. This was so integral to the process of reformation because the British government realized that they must rid those prisoners of the thing that made them so malignant and powerful, the thing that fueled this political crime, which was their collective mentality. Another factor that contributed to the reformation and depoliticization processes was the administration's refusal to recognize the prisoners' affiliation to their organization. And it was this combination, along with the prisoners' clear vision of their cause, that led to the three major events of the movement, which were reflected in the movie: the no wash and blanket protests and the hunger strike that finally caused the British government to cave in to the prisoners' demands.
Our first contact with this defiance of oppression was the scene of a newly-joined prisoner, who was made to strip and don on the prison uniform, which he refused to take, and so was just given a blanket instead (this illustrates the blanket protest). Then the movie takes us along with that new inmate, where he was captured naked from a side shot, looking like Michelangelo's Statue of David. We follow him all the way to the inside of the cell, where the no wash protest becomes apparent when we see the disheveled state of his fellow inmate.
Later events in the movie lead us then to see literal examples of the prisoners dissolving the boundaries that were built around them, the mighty walls of their prison cells. We not only see them becoming one with the space that contained them, but we also see them dominate it in almost a territorial sense. The first time we see such a transgression was the sight of the walls smeared with the prisoners' excrement. This was not only limited to their individual cells, but was also extended to other areas in the prison as well, where at some point, we see a wall of excrement "art". It was arranged with such symmetry that zoned in to the center of the wall, it almost reminded you of a hybrid of Pollock's Number 5 painting and some type of optical art. Another instance where we see them break the walls (metaphorically) around them was when they would empty containers of their urine out into the corridor from underneath their doors. This was such a powerful scene for me to see because not only was it capturing with the symmetry created by the cell doors, but the gushing of the urine from underneath the doors in unison mirrored a violent body of water, a fierce and collective force in itself.
So not only were they successful in breaking the boundaries that separated them from one another, the stench of their urine and excrement, which they got used to at some point, made a heady combination for the prison staff. This made it more difficult for them to walk the corridors of the cell, creating a type of off-limits area which was commanded by the prisoners. So, this territorial behavior resulted in somehow disrupting the once stable power dynamic between the prisoners and the prison staff by 'containing' the areas to which they are allowed access.
Furthermore, yet another excellent instance, where they showed another transgression of boundaries, was during a powerful and angry scene where they all exploded by throwing and breaking chairs and bed frames in their cells after they are given 'clowny-looking' clothes to wear. Just when they were oppressed and mocked for their rebellious actions, for refusing to conform to the identity created for them to grow into as prisoners, the ruckus that they cause as a reply is just another demonstration of their unison and their perseverance as an activist group against all kinds of restrictions and boundaries placed on them.
Overall, I believe that McQueen provided one of the most realistic representations of this historical event where he accentuated the power of transgressing boundaries as shown through the actors themselves and through the artwork that he has alluded to in this film. And this, to me, sends the message that these forms of communication and narrative, such as art and cinema, have the ability to transgress boundaries, such as time. This realization almost acts as a nudge to the audience to become aware of any boundaries that were imposed on them by society and to, perhaps, transgress them in some way.
Physical containment in Hunger works on both parties in the conflict, prisoners, and prison guards. The architecture of the H-block was purposefully designed to negate "free association" of Long Kesh, in an attempt to "foster the development of reason and self-regulation in its inmates". The serial arrays of cells where prisoners are in solitary confinement aims to ensure the isolation of the prisoners from one another, and allow silent introspection and unhindered interventions by prison guards in order to erase the individual identities of the prisoners. Yet, prisoners were still able to transgress these boundaries of containment. The necessity to overcome the boundaries of the prison lead to the bodies of the prisoners, and those of their loved ones, becoming transmitting devices. Radios found their ways into the prison, and kisses were used to smuggle tiny messages.
Despite the reformers' excessive emphasis on individuation and isolation, prisoners also found means to confine the prison guards. Cell walls were smeared with excrement and urine to disgust, horrify and provoke the guards. Hunger doesn't excuse or rationalize the prison guards' inhumanity, but it does reveal the corrosive effects of their behavior on themselves. The prison guard that is humanely depicted in the beginning of the film, is later shown with his hands bleeding followed by a still shot of him smoking a cigarette outside in the freezing cold snow. Later into the film, a young policeman is seen shaking, shaking and in tears, separated by a wall away from the continuing violence. This scene shows the basics humanity of the situation, and how the architectures of containment do not only affect the prisoners, but also the guards. What the policemen are doing by brutally hitting the prisoners is in itself a transgression of the basic qualities that define us as human beings.
At the center of the largely silent film, a dialogue between Hunger Striker leader Bobby Sands and a Catholic Priest, Father Dominic Moran, introduces the audience to the nature of the situation. Their conversation, which progresses from awkward small talk, to playful banter, to ideological challenge and counterchallenge, carries with it the varying layers of transgressing architectures of containment. Most profoundly is the decision Bobby Sands makes to reverse the Master-Slave dialectic by leading a hunger strike. The essence of the Master-Slave dialectic is that slaves are only slaves because they consciously make a decision to follow a master. The moment slaves choose not to follow the master, the master is no longer a master. In the context of a prison, the slaves are the prisoners, and the master is the collective entity of the reformers. Bobby Sands was so strong about his cause that he found himself with no choice but to do a hunger strike.
The decision Bobby Sands makes is not an easy one, and this was also conveyed on the level of form. In the twenty-nine minutes long scene of dialogue, during which the camera does not move angle for the first seventeen minutes, visual symmetry which is strikingly similar to that of the H-Block can be observed. This is further backed up by that fact that the shot that comes straight after the overload of dialogue is one of the H-Block. If the setting where the dialogue takes place is visually similar to that of the H-Block, and the design of the H-Block is an architecture of containment, then one can deductively deduce that the setting where the dialogue takes place is an architecture of containment. Hence, the thought-provoking exchange between Bobby Sands and Father Dominic is one that transgresses architectures of containment.
The transgression of the architectures of containment in Hunger is not limited to physical containment, but also extends to the containment by the boundaries and ideologies instilled in the society. It is both shocking and disturbing how IRA prisoners were stripped of the basic right of being recognized as war prisoners. The struggle for political status is summed up early in the film by when Margaret Thatcher's said: "There is no such thing as political murder, political bombing, political violence. There is only criminal murder, criminal bombing, and criminal violence. There will be no political status." Through this, Thatcher aims to manufacture consent on the situation of the prisoners, mystify the reality of the situation, and generate false consciousness in the society to justify the approach of the British government. Hence, by going on a hunger strike, Bobby Sands went on a mission against a full society, a full world which required a transgression of the architectures of containment.
Steve McQueen successfully plunges the audience in the lives of IRA prisoners. The first half of the film is silent to provoke the imagination of the audience that get hungry for the richness of dialogue that is later offered to clarify the prisoners needs and what they are fighting for beyond the walls of prison. The audience do not simply observe the atrocities of the situation, but also live them. To achieve that, Hunger transgresses the architectures of containment through employing both form and content in unique and interesting ways.
I just thought this movie was alright on my first viewing. There were a few aspects I really liked about it such as the middle scene and the depiction of the hunger strike. However, I originally disliked how attention was taken away from most of the characters introduced in the first act. Overall, it feels like an odd choice to introduce multiple characters only to have them leave the film half an hour later, doesn't it? However, after I revisited this movie a couple more times, I loved it to such great of an extent that it's now one of my favorite films of all time.
Northern Ireland, 1981. After the government withdraws the political status of all paramilitary prisoners, the inmates of the Maze Prison retaliate by forming a blanket and a no wash protest, ultimately leading to a hunger strike led by one of the inmates, Bobby Sands.
This movie is clearly an unconventional film due to the lack of dialogue and the plot structure. One thing I've learned from watching unconventional movies is that while they may have glaring flaws on the surface, the director might have a good reason for making the film that way. For instance, Bela Tarr and Michael Snow had good reasons for drawing out Satantango and Wavelength as much as they did and Stan Brakhage had good reasons for including no sound in most of his films. Sometimes, if I think more about aspects which seem like glaring flaws in unconventional films, it starts to make sense that a director would make their film that way. That was how I warmed up to this film.
What I love about this movie is its unique story structure. I initially thought it was a traditional three-act structure. However, I make the argument that the first and the third acts are bookends to the dialogue sequence in the middle. The first act showed the failed protests and the consequences they had on both the guards and the prisoners, the second act showed a prisoner revealing his plans of a more organized protest, and the third act showed that protest in action. By featuring only one prisoner in the third act, I think the statement McQueen is making here is that the hunger strike protest worked better as, since there were less people involved, it was more organized. I initially criticized the movie for taking attention away from several of the characters introduced in the first act, but I now think that this decision helped the film.
Another point which McQueen appears to be making here is that both sides are tired of the protest but are unwilling to back down. This is conveyed in numerous places such as how Raymond Lohan can be seen cleaning his bloodied knuckles a couple times in the film. There's also a powerful moment where a prison guard can be seen crying while the rest of the guards beat numerous prisoners with batons. This implication also extends to different prisoners such as Gerry as his emotions convey fright and determination as he smears his faeces on the wall for the protest. These scenes add a layer of humanity to this film.
It's also hard not to talk about the number of memorable moments found in the film such as the captivating and well-acted dialogue sequence in the middle which feels like the film's centerpiece. Besides that scene, however, dialogue feels unimportant to absorbing the rest of the film and its characters, so the mostly dialogue free film seems to thrive on this restriction. There's also other chilling moments outside of the dialogue such as when Lohan is killed by an IRA assassin in front of his catatonic mother who seems unaware of her surroundings. Another great scene is the long, stationary, and expressive shot of a prison attendant cleaning up multiple puddles of urine. Finally, it's hard not to mention the painfully realistic depiction of Sands' hunger strike. To film that sequence, Fassbender went on a diet of less than 900 calories for 10 weeks to give the illusion of starvation. This sequence was filled with clever moments such as a montage of Sands' food servings slowly getting smaller as he inched closer to death, images and sounds of flying birds as he convulsed in pain, and what I think was his hallucination near the end of his strike.
In conclusion, I think this film is a masterpiece, and it's, currently, my favorite film of the 2000's. It's also one of the best debut films I've seen before. While this film can be hard to watch due to the brutal and disturbing content found throughout, it remains so compelling for a variety of reasons that you can't turn away from the picture. Not for the faint of heart, but a must-see for older viewers.
With little dialogue the film forces you to empathize with the characters and take in the brutally and horror.
Fassbender shows his commitment as an actor and why he's a house hold name by physically embodying his role.
Â A somber look and study of human tragedy.Â
Hunger, as the title suggests, deals, ultimately, with the famous hunger-strike of Bobby Sands, during the 1980's Troubles in Northern Island. However, Bobby's hunger-strike does not actually begin until 20 minutes before the end. Before that we must contend with a largely silent film, with the notable exception of a 29 minutes long scene of dialogue in the middle, during which the camera does not move angle for the first seventeen minutes.
This film should come with a robust warning - do not attempt to eat whilst watching it. Nor for 30 minutes before, for that matter. Even coffee - no, especially coffee, will become a vomit-risk. A more honest title for this film would be Faeces.
And it's with the gross-out shock tactics that my reservations lie. I don't mind harrowing films - Requiem for a Dream is in my top three favourite movies. But one gets a sense that after the first few repulsive scenes, incredibly powerful in their silence and squalor, that Steve McQueen, rather than being the 'brave artist' that some would suggest, is actually a gleeful little boy, shoving a slug down his sister's blouse. There is one, long, silent scene in which a prison guard sweeps up the urine-flooded floor of the jail corridor. I can see how effective this would have been in the cinema, the puddles of piss getting ominously closer, the camera angle set to make you feel like they're going to pour off, out of the screen and into your lap. But it's exactly this that makes me suspicious. We have already established, oh boy have we established, that the place is a horrifying hell-hole of excrement. This scene added absolutely nothing, but to make you squeal in disgust.
When we finally do get around to the title-theme, we are treated to oozing sores and more body-fluids. Was I supposed to have found some sympathy for Bobby at this point? For I'm afraid, I had not. He had been dehumanised by earlier scenes. Even in his monologue in which he seeks to explain his mind-set, we hear he drowned a deer. Despite the altruistic reasons, we are no doubt that this is a violent, stubborn man.
Perhaps it is my position of white, British, middle-class privilege that makes me unmoved. And yet, when I recently watched a documentary on the race-riots in 1970's LA, I finished it embarrassed to be white. With Hunger, I sat through 90 minutes of faeces, urine, open wounds and maggots and left it feeling merely irritated and in need of a shower.
This is one of those great happy date movies you want to watch with your special someone if you want to get them in the mood, if you know what I mean. All joking aside though, this movie is very serious and doesn't let go of that feeling. It's also pretty dreary and grim. But aside from all the negative, it's a very important movie that shows how determined and unflinching protesters can be and how one man can influence and change the outcome of something greater.
I probably won't be watching this one again, 1-timer, one and done.