2008 // UK - Ireland // Steve McQueen // September 13, 2009 // DVD - IFC (2009)
A - On a purely sensory level, Hunger functions as a grim, riveting depiction of humanity's capacity for depraved indifference to others and to the self. In portraying the conditions inside a British prison during the IRA's "blanket strike" and "no-wash strike" in 1981, first-time director Steve McQueen conveys a searing sense of place through texture and sound, especially minute details such as a single snowflake melting on skin. Hunger is a film of pregnant silences and violent outbursts, but the fulcrum of the film is a mesmerizing conversation where IRA zealot Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) explains to a priest (Liam Cunningham) why he is about to start a hunger strike. In this peerless sequence, which consists mainly of a single shot and lasts more than fifteen minutes by my count, McQueen drills down into the humane essence of the film, beyond the spectacle of the grueling battle of wills between guards and prisoners. Hunger's concerns are ethical, even transcendental, conveyed with the authority of a supremely focused and confident film-maker. With disturbing intensity, McQueen asks us to consider the meaning of sacrifice, and whether it is morally superior to dehumanize oneself rather than suffer the cruelties inflicted by others.