Hunger Movie Review
This fact is largely rendered moot, however: McQueen changes up his central character rather randomly, from Sands to a fellow inmate to a doomed guard. It's 30 minutes into the film before Sands is introduced and, thanks to the Gaelic accents, it's not even clear what his name is until the dialogue with the priest commences. The only other tip is that he is played by Michael Fassbender, the German-born actor of 300 fame. (For the many, like myself, who found it a somewhat tumultuous task to tell one Spartan from another, he was the one who answered "Then we shall fight in the shade.") Though we never witness a proper verbal retort to Margaret Thatcher's "A crime is a crime is a crime," watching Fassbender waste away speaks volumes. A Hollywood remake might highlight this line: "Then we shall use what God gave us."
Opening on a storm of clattering plates, a poverty-stricken Irish lower-class using what they have to demand food, McQueen's film sharply turns to a guard checking his car for bombs. With the IRA summarily executing loyalists, prison guards, and police officers, waking early to check if there's C-4 strapped to your engine block isn't the most ludicrous idea. This specific guard (Stuart Graham) gets his anger out during the ritualized beatings and forced grooming of the inmates at Long Kesh. But before Sands gets to the plate, the guards try their hands on newbie inmate and IRA devotee Davey (Brian Milligan). Davey is followed as the guards enact a mandatory end to the "no wash" protests, a forced bathing and cutting of hair. This is where we finally meet Sands.
Hunger is mainly constructed as a study in juxtaposition. McQueen makes visual splendor out of the most heinous of acts, pausing after a beating to watch a sink of clear water turn a hazy pink as the guard soaks his scraped knuckles. The stunning still shot of the inmates funneling their urine into the cell block could have been a powerful short film all on its own. Yet, this is not a film based solely on its imagery, as haunting and peerless as Sean Bobbit's cinematography is. A major facet of Hunger's seduction is dependent on its detailed use of sound. It is surely no mistake that the more Sands withers away, the more minimalist McQueen and sound designer Paul Davies render the surrounding commotion, at one point supplying nothing but the wind and Sands' cavernous exhales.
Chronicling the days leading to the strike up to the loading of Sands' corpse into the coroner's van, Hunger is a starkly realistic counterpoint to the often-lyrical treatment in film of the British/Irish "Troubles." Built almost entirely on verbal rhetoric, films have largely centered on the nationalist struggle (Ken Loach's The Wind That Shakes the Barley) or irate tragedy (Paul Greengrass' excellent Bloody Sunday), with a few obscurities between. (Where would one put John Boorman's massively entertaining The General in the lineage?) McQueen stages the argument centrally, but the film is steeped in the body -- the brawny flesh of the struggle. Starving the body to skin and bone, rubbing excrement and vomit on the walls, funneling urine into the cell block.... The body, itself, has become rhetoric.
That's not wallpaper.