HungerFeature Film | Steve McQueen (Artist, Filmmaker) By Eric Schneider
Grim, gritty, and completely mesmerizing.
A fascinatingly bleak study in mood and minimalism, Hunger, the feature directorial debut by British video artist Steve McQueen, conveys the true story of Irish Republican Army activist Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), who led a 1981 hunger strike in protest of being incarcerated as a criminal. Largely set within the cold halls and cells of Northern Ireland's Maze facility, the film touches on the politics of the situation, but is far more concerned with the morality and minutiae of prison life, not only from the perspective of the prisoners, but the guards as well. Artfully shot with an eye for arresting images over narrative movement, Hunger lingers on small moments—snow falling on bloody knuckles, a tiny feather floating in the air—while hitting the inevitable dramatic scenes—a fierce prison riot and its subsequent brutal crackdown—with just the right amount of force. Although some extended shots threaten to follow their subjects almost too long—most notably a drawn-out sequence solely consisting of a man cleaning a urine-soaked hallway—McQueen generally uses this approach to great effect, particularly in a stunning 17-minute shot that remains unbroken as Sands discusses his plans to starve himself with a priest (Liam Cunningham) intent on dissuading him from the undertaking. Though he is only on-screen for the last two-thirds of the film, Fassbender is never less than riveting, with his emotional intensity expertly matching the extreme physicality of his actions. While it is far from easy viewing, Hunger is utterly unforgettable and should be seen by anyone who believes in film as an affecting art form.