Hunger

Hunger (UK/Ireland, 2008, 96 mins.): Viewers should be forewarned: Hunger is brutal: its story is heart-rending, its imagery stomach-turning. Despite its grim tone, viewers shouldn't miss this challenging examination of the complex links between politics and terrorism. Director Steve McQueen brilliantly recreates the atmosphere at the Maze prison in Northern Ireland, where, in 1981, the Irish Republican Army militants engaged in a series of “dirty protests” against the British authorities. McQueen, who is most well-known for his work as a video artist, puts his painterly eye to good use in this, his first feature-length directorial effort. Whether focusing on maggots wriggling across a cell floor, or a stolen moment of intimacy between an inmate and his wife, McQueen's imagery is both punishing and beautiful. Refusing to eat, bathe or wear clothes, the prisoners smear their cells with feces and rotten food, turning their walls into bleak canvases of resistance and their emaciated bodies into a battle ground. The body and its excretions become symbols of solidarity and tools of defiance. Using a powerful observational tone, Hunger is also replete with virtuoso performances: Stuart Graham as the all-too-quiet and introspective guard, Raymond Lohan; Michael Fassbender's brilliant portrayal of Bobby Sands, the prisoner at the center of the protests; and Liam Cunningham as Dominic Moran, the Roman Catholic priest who begs Bobby to end the protests. Hunger refuses to take sides or to offer an easy explanation for the “dirty protests.” Instead, McQueen simply presents searing images that leave the viewer to speculate about the motivations and meanings behind these historic events.

Synopsis by April Miller