Hunger- A Sensual Experience
Hunger is a film of the senses. Steve McQueen's first feature-length film focuses on the last six weeks of Bobby Sands' life in the Maze Prison at Belfast in 1981. Michael Fassbender plays Bobby Sands and gives one of the best physical performances I have ever seen.
Most of the film stays on the cell block where Sands and other IRA members are harassed, humiliated, brutalized and treated like sub-humans by the guards of the Maze prison. Hunger is structured into the three parts: the first part, which is mostly silent, introduces the viewer to the Maze prison and the perpetual torture the IRA prisoners endure; the second part is a 17-minute static shot between Bobby Sands and Father Moran where Moran and Sands argue over the moral and political implications of the hunger strike that begins with Bobby; and the third part chronicles the decline and deterioration of Sands' body over 66 days.
The film begins with clanging pots on asphalt which crescendoes to a high-pitched reverberation that overwhelms the aural senses. We then meet one of the prison guards in his bathroom at home soaking his wounded hands in a sink. McQueen lingers on the day-old wounded hands to invoke the sting one feels when he or she puts fresh wounds under water. The prison guard eats his breakfast, at his table, by himself and McQueen films the crumbs falling from his mouth to the napkin under the table. McQueen enters the Maze prison and we see the maggots, the feces, the piss, the scarred bodies. The feces smeared on the wall. Rivulets and lakes of piss in every pore and crack in the prison. Maggots feasting on feces, devouring the remnants of human waste. McQueen's camera does not flinch. We see it, we taste the sourness, we smell the debilitating stench, we can feel the wounds on the body. This is no longer just a prison cell, it is a place of protest.
We see a prisoner at the barred window attempting to caress a buzzing fly. I could feel the tickle of the wings and the legs. It is scene about touch and the humanity of a soft touch. I see the doctor attending to Sands' sores and feel the bite every time he rubs a white, viscous creme on his open wounds. Bobby touches his skeleton and I can hear his bones rearrange.
Steve McQueen is truly a visual artist. Sometimes it seems he overstays his welcome, but he allows the viewer to
process what he or she sees without interruption. McQueen begs us to ask the question: How can a human being protest when his only resource is his own body? McQueen does not cast Sands in a heroic light, nor does he see Sands' act as a selfish one. The phenomenal scene between Sands and Father Moran complicate the viewer's notion or idea of Bobby's motives for going on the hunger strike. Moran poses legitimate questions that demand thoughtful answers. Sands responds (I paraphrase here) "I have an unyielding love for a united Ireland. It is not the only thing I can do. It is the right thing to do."
Never has a film demanded or sustained my undivided attention. Hunger is probably the best and most astounding work of art that I have ever experienced or perhaps ever will.