The mind often carries a heavy load as it is, whether it is trying to remember a simple birthday or navigate through a complicated relationship – interesting how my own mind places these two examples on opposite sides of the spectrum. But the load only gets denser with stinging images of men forced to their lowest, and undoubtably the men that forced them there. Powerful is an easy word to throw around amongst these films. Someone will use it in their description, causing all the heads around them to nod in an unknowing, but flattering agreement. Yet, “why” is never asked and thus “powerful” is never validated.
I cannot truthfully brag about my unfaltering knowledge of the IRA during the 70’s and 80’s. Many Americans of my generation most likely share this characteristic, which in my opinion is no reason to scoff or hold contempt. However, it only takes one individual to see importance in an issue, person, or idea. In the case of Hunger, Steve McQueen clearly claims the title of that individual, designating this project as his inaugural feature film – of course later following up with Shame. McQueen shows his soft spot for the actions taken by a group of men, giving dues to those he believed were owed. The result, well, something unforgettable.
Hunger examines the quality of life in Maze Prison of both Irish prisoners and British guards. Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) eventually becomes the film’s highest interest, pinpointing him as the leader of the hunger strike and man of reason. McQueen makes the unique choice of hiding Sands’s existence until the film is well under way, tricking the audience into making the mistake of picking the wrong protagonist. While McQueen casts shades of individualism among his various characters along the way, this technique in particular helps show the conformity of their situation. By mirroring protagonists, we are very much aware this is not a singular issue, therefore injecting wealthy amounts of importance into the hunger strike itself. The only downside to this stylistic choice being that Fassbender gets less screen time.
Believe me, this is a downside, for Fassbender’s performance is unfathomable, giving the depths of himself to the role, creating a multi-dimensional character experiencing the entire wheel of emotions. At times, the sheer pain and anguish Fassbender brings to the screen makes it a struggle to watch his character’s actions – a weird compliment to give an actor. Especially in today’s era of cinema, it is lucky enough to have one great performance in a film, but Hunger is blessed with a magnificent cast. The mainstream audience would probably not recognize their names, but from the smallest role to the largest, each actor wastes no screen time, always contributing to the film in any way they can.
Some of the best scenes in Hunger are the hardest to watch. There are disgusting images both violent and vile, but we must remember the necessity of these moments. McQueen holds back no truths as he recounts the events that took place behind closed doors. The stunning part for me was knowing these actions took place only thirty years ago.
However, that being said, my favorite scene is actually one without violence or disturbances of any kind. This scene was simple technically, but amazing to behold through, once again, the performances of the two actors involved. Fassbender’s character has a conversation with Father Dominic Moran (Liam Cunningham). Obviously, this does not sound interesting, but their conversation lasts around twenty-one minutes with sixteen of those minutes being one continuous shot. These two actors put on a masterclass of precise timing and impeccable focus as they talk and talk and talk without ever missing a beat.
McQueen’s gritty style works perfectly for the content he is addressing. He is unearthing what is unknown, realistically portraying what one can only hope is true. Since I am a fan, I will give him the benefit of the doubt. Riveting, enthralling, distrubing, go check out this film… it’s powerful.
Hunger (2008) directed by Steve McQueen
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