Hunger - a very political and frustrating film (but well-made all the same)


Hunger (2008, UK/Ireland)

Seen: Monday, 18th January 2010 (cinema)
Runtime: 96′
Director: Steve McQueen
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Stuart Graham, Liam Cunningham
Production House: Blast! Films, Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, Film4, Northern Ireland Screen, Wales Creative IP Fund
Plot: (from imdb)

The last six weeks of the life of the Irish republican hunger striker Bobby Sands.


Impressions In Short
Very tough watching. I guess in some ways there’s a lot to admire in how this film was made, but on the whole it is completely not my kind of movie. I should have realized that would be the case - after all, Ziggy recommended it to me ;)

More About the Film
I found Bobby Sanders an extremely unsympathetic character. Watching him starve to death (by his own choice) was very agonising, but not because I felt for him - because it went on for so long. I kept hoping he would die quicker. I don’t think I’m exaggerating much if I say that he was dying for about a third of the film.
The film was generally very tough going for me because there were no characters there that I could get properly involved in. And the really frustrating thing was that the moment somebody did catch my interest they were immediately removed from the story. Like the prison guard the film starts with. At the beginning I felt very detached from him. And then there’s this whole sequence where the guards violently force the prisoners to wash (they were staging a no wash protest, which meant they were litterally sitting in piss, shit and maggots). And there’s a scene where you can see the violence taking it’s toll on the guard. He goes out for a smoke to unwind and suddenly you know he’s human. That’s when he becomes interesting. You start wondering - why is he doing this, how else is this effecting him, how much does his wife know… Of course we never get any answers. We only get one more scene with him after that.
Bobby’s parents are kind of sympathetic, but again they don’t get much screen time. The priest is interesting, but he only gets one scene… and it goes on like that. There are plenty of characters one could get attached to or intrigued by, but as soon as they hook you, they get removed from the story. Very frustrating!
The style was on the whole well executed, but also difficult viewing. Very static shots, almost no dialogue.
What puzzled me though was the huge dialogue scene inserted about mid-way through. After almost no dialogue for the whole film, you suddenly get this very long conversation between Bobby and the priest. According to imdb’s trivia page the dialogue scene lasted 16min. - that’s almost unheard of. Especially when the majority of it plays out in a wide static shot with no cuts (they finally started cutting a bit later on in the scene, but I think it was over 10min. of the scene before they did - or that’s what it felt like). I’m probably in the minority with this, but I didn’t like that scene at all… I could literally see the actors stressing over how to hold the audience’s attention cause the whole way it was written and shot was kind of against them. They were talking extremely fast and not waiting for the other person to finish their line properly. Not that they had many other options. If their delivery had been slower (and a little more natural) then the scene would have probably been over 20min. I thought this was very limiting and tough on the actors. I suppose they did well with what they got, but it could have been much better if what they got had been more “performable”.
Of course, I suppose what the film really makes one think about is the whole political situation of that time - why all this happened in the first place. And I guess the one compliment I can give this film is that it’s pretty even-handed. What the prisoners forced upon themselves in protest (starvation, sitting in shit, piss and maggots) was much more extreme than any of the brutality the guards enforced IMO (although of course the brutality and the way the prisoners’ basic human rights had been taken away was also disgusting). In the end what I found myself thinking was that it’s a film about two groups of people (Thatcher and her government, Bobby Sanders and IRA) who blindly thought they were in the right and stubbornly went through with their agenda no matter what the consequences. The people who really suffered the most were the ones in between - the families of the prisoners who had to watch them starve to death, the prison guards who followed government orders and then got murdered by IRA for doing so, the families of the guards who had to watch all this unfold knowing they might not see their husband or father again etc.

Definitely yes if you’re into political kind of movies or like very static and silent sort of films. But otherwise approach with caution.
It’s a tough film for people like me, who need to feel involved in the characters to enjoy a film. It really doesn’t let you do that. It’s very drastic also. And naturally, it’s very much an art house film.

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