Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008): UK

Reviewed by Kevin Tran . Viewed at The Arc Light in Hollywood, CA.

It’s been several weeks since I last saw Steve McQueen’s Hunger at the AFI Film Festival, but still, till this day, its images are fresh and vivid in my mind. McQueen (no relation to the icon from the sixties) is an artist by trade who primarily works with photography and film, and taking on his first feature film, he takes a similar approach. Which is fortunate for us, because Hunger is a special kind of film experience that I have never felt before. It feel like the film should be shown on repeat at the Museum of Art, because visually – it’s that astonishing.

The film’s narrative is entirely non-traditional. There is almost zero story. Essentially, it’s about the true story of the Irish republican hunger strikes from the 1980s and encapsulates the last six weeks of one of their most committed protester and organizer, Bobby Sands, played by Michael Fassbender (best known for his work in the film 300). The majority of the film, we are with these protesters inside a prison where they organize the strike, while planning their hunger strike.

However, it’s not McQueen’s goal to tell a straight narrative, we don’t even see Bobby until a third way into the film, but instead he attempts to share an experience. As a filmmaker, his vision is incredibly harsh and brutal. He puts an incredible amount of pain and agony on the screen that rivals films like Salo: 120 Days of Sodomy and The Passion of the Christ. And it’s done with such breathtaking cinematography that you want and don’t want to look at the image at the same time. The attention to detail and texture, especially when it’s looking at the human body are so haunting, as we see Bobby’s body deteriorating. It’s an amazing physical performance from Fassbender.

There is a vital scene in Hunger, where Bobby is talking to a catholic priest while he is in prison. The scene is nearly 15 minutes long and where the camera is completely still. It doesn’t cut. The characters don’t move. It doesn’t pan left or right. Everything just stays put. Which doesn’t sound exciting, but it works. It’s like watching a tennis match. And it’s demanding the audience to listen to dialogue and participate in the story. It is one of the most memorable scenes in the film.

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