Hunger - Witness The Strength of Human Spirit

                                 In 1981, Irish Republican Army (IRA) men behind bars seek identification as political prisoners. As a protest, they won't wear prison clothes (the uniform of common criminals) but demand their own. They decorated their walls with great caveman swirls of their own waste. In this protestation against Margaret Thatcher and the British government, Bobby Sands, an Irish republican, locked up in Belfast prison, began starving himself. Sands died after starving himself for 66 days, at the age of 27. Nine other inmates followed him to death. 

                              The movie "Hunger" tells the devastatingly powerful story of Bobby Sands. Artist Steve McQueen's debut feature, Hunger might be the bleaker movie you have ever seen. It is uncompromisingly bold and commands our attention for its elaborate mise-en-scene and shockingly beautiful imagery. The movie advances more by images than dialogues, and most of its sounds being unintelligible moans and screams. 
                          Even though it is a Bobby Sands story, we don't even see Sands until 30 minutes into the movie. First, we follow a taciturn prison guard Raymond Lohan (Stuart Graham), from his home (he checks under his car for bombs) to his job "interrogating" inmates at The Maze. His knuckles bleed red from beatings and enforced bathings on prisoners, but his face betrays a keen sense of regret. He is constantly under threat because the IRA exacts revenge. Then we dwell in prsion with two imprisoned Irish Republican Army members, Davey Gillen (Brian Milligan) and Gerry Campbell (Liam McMahon), watching them smuggle tiny messages to headquarters and paint the walls with their own excrement.

                       After half-an hour of the movie, the sudden arrival of Sands (Michael Fassbender) as a kicking and screaming new inmate jolts the film into a whole other realm. He is the IRA leader who reached international headlines when he starved himself to death over a two-month period. 

                      Director McQueen is a famed British artist who has, before, focused his film-making on non-narrative, meta-cinematic art installations, many of which use multiple cameras and simultaneous projections in enclosed spaces. With 'Hunger,' he realigns his visual artistry by changing enclosed spaces into a claustrophobic visual vocabulary that dominates his frame. The script by McQueen and Irish playwright Enda Walsh, is insistent on seeing all the characters as humans, torn by their competing desires,obligations and impulses. 

                    Cinematographer Sean Bobitt, uses long-takes to depict mundane routines of prison-life, on both sides of the spectrum, such as a masked guard cleaning up the urine in hallway, cell by cell, are most impressive. In the last moments of Booby Sands, the camera focuses intimately on his shrinking frame and bedsores. This scene inter-cuts with brief images of Sands' self-vision as a child sitting in the room. Bobitt creates some of these haunting images, which have a disturbing painterly quality. 

                    There is a brilliant scene mid-way through the film. In this 22-minute extra-ordianry scene, Sands and his priest (Liam Cunnigham) battle over moral and practical issues of protest, personal and collective responsibility, micro and macro politics, and the sacredness of life and death. In this audaciously compelling sequence, McQueen's camera just hangs back and watches it build. The priest demands "I want to know whether your intent is just to purely commit suicide here." After a long pause, the prisoner replies, "What you call suicide, I call murder." That one sequence makes "Hunger" what it is: a force of acting, writing and riveting moral complexity. 

The Monologue :

                      Michael Fassbender gives a astounding performance as the heroic and humble Bobby Sands. He went on a medically supervised crash diet and lost over 50 pounds. He was blessed with a clear elocution and eloquent voice. Even though his transformation to skin-and-bones is shocking, it is not sensationalized.                                                                                                                                                                                                        We might not agree with the political stance of Sands, but his obstinacy and the willingness to use his own body as a canvas of protest, is a excruciating experience, and deserves our great respect. Through "Hunger" we learn about human spirit and the strength of human resolve. The unflinchingly realistic "Hunger" leaves an indelible impression on us. 
Hunger - IMDb 


Jayashree Srivatsan said...

Hi Arun

This seems to be another dark and heart wrenching movie. Its great to see such reviews but it would be interesting if you could post your best picks on Feel Good movies. A reader request may be?

Vinita Apte said...

Wow must be a difficult Movie to watch I am sure.
I might watch it. Still on the fence about this...

Lazy Pineapple

ArjunaUbacha said...

I had read about Sands in newspapers at that time. I never knew that a film has been made on him. I guess it would be interesting to watch.

Haricharan Pudipeddi said...

I fell in love with Steve McQueen after this film :) Truly one of the best films that allows you to witness the strength of human spirit

Arun Kumar said...

@jaish_vats, Thanks for the comment.

@Vinita, Thanks for the comment. If u like realistic dramas, then you must watch it.

Arun Kumar said...

@Indiawilds, On the contrary, i didn't know about Sands, and after watching this movie, I read about him.

@Haricharan, Thanks for the comment.