Tuesday, 15 December 2009


Hunger, the debut feature from Turner Prize winner Steve McQueen, tells the story of Bobby Sands, the Provisional IRA volunteer who led the famous Maze prison hunger strike in 1981. We start the film as the prison takes in its newest inmate Davey. After being stripped of his clothes, Davey is thrown into a faeces-covered cell where he meets Gerry, with whom he shares a rebellious spirit. The two join the ongoing no wash protest, spearheaded by our uncooperative protagonist. Despite repeated challenges to their cause, the men refuse to be undermined, apparently growing hardier with every beating. In the film’s famous 17-minute shot, Sands speaks with his priest about his decision to initiate a hunger strike, and soon after we bear witness to the shocking effects of his self-destructive protest.

McQueen does not contrive events for effect; rather he removes them. The film eschews a political bias – the cause is all but forgotten, save for Sands’ exchange with the priest, and the occasional chant of “I-I-IRA”. Throughout the first half of the film, we are also shown the daily routine of Raymond Lohan, the guard with whom Sands clashes for forcibly cutting his hair. In one of the film’s most distressing scenes, Lohan is assassinated while visiting his elderly mother in her retirement home. The event is no less horrifying than the sight of a dishevelled Sands struggling to sit upright, typifying McQueen’s ability to balance objectivity with humanism. Visually unadulterated and magnificently acted, Hunger is an outstanding debut.

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