Hunger is a really tough movie to watch. From Steve McQueen, the guy who directed 12 Years a Slave, as well as the great and underrated ‘Shame’, I expected nothing less. Hunger follows Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), who was an Irish republican prisoner during the IRA hunger strike and the no wash protests. These were attempts for Republican prisoners to regain political status in 1976, after their rights were revoked. The prisoners were beaten, abused, and thrown into abysmal conditions while being locked up. Piles of old moldy food, infected with maggots, sit in the corners of their cramped cells. Some prisoners cover the walls with their own feces, and urinate on the floor they sleep on. It’s a haunting depiction of the events, and with McQueen at the helm, you know he didn’t pull any punches with just how bad these prisoners were treated.
One of the most shocking parts of the movie is of course, Michael Fassbender. While he isn’t introduced until about 30 minutes into the movie, he commands the screen every second that he’s on it. Especially later in the film, after Bobby Sands begins his 60+ day hunger strike. Ulcers cover Sands’ body, as he can barely hear, walk, or even function like a normal person anymore. Plates of food arrive and disappear at his bedside, as he lies there unabated by the temptation. it’s an incredibly powerful performance by Michael Fassbender, who I think at this point, will never do wrong. He lost over thirty pounds for the third act of ‘Hunger’, in which he looks similar to Christian Bale in ‘The Machinist’. I don’t know how these guys are able to lose so much weight and then go right back to looking like Batman and Magneto, it blows my mind.
The directing in ‘Hunger’ is also marvelous. There is a scene about halfway through where Bobby Sands is talking to a priest friend of his about his plan to start the hunger strike. I clocked the single shot at around 16 minutes long, totally uncut the whole time. It’s a really incredible accomplishment; I think even Alfonso Cuarón would be impressed by it. Aside from that scene, the film follows the signature McQueen style of showing, not telling. He always makes very quiet movies, that like to explain with visuals and great cinematography instead of having talking heads and exposition galore.
Hunger is an unforgettable entry into Steve McQueen’s directing resume, and I’m excited to see his follow-up to 12 Years a Slave. So far, he seems to be following a trend with the types of movies he makes. With Shame, Hunger, and definitely 12 years, he looks at the darker side of humanity. I’m really interested to see if he keeps up this interesting trend, or if he’ll ever decide to do a slightly lighter movie. Part of me really hopes that he doesn’t. There aren’t many directors that illuminate the dark alleys of human behavior as well as Steve McQueen.