Published Apr 09, 2009A certain dead actor has not come out of retirement — the Steve McQueen at the helm of Hunger is a respected visual artist making his feature film debut. His dogged repetition of apparently minuscule phenomena can at times wear on you but he's still made the most formally rigorous and provocative English language film I've seen in years.
Hunger takes a weirdly microscopic approach to the final days of IRA martyr Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), who's tossed in prison, engages in a repulsive "no wash" protest, is brutally abused by prison guards and goes on a hunger strike that kills him. But the film is obsessed with the bodily minutia of these acts and the disgusting, mundane details of the people saddled with cleaning them up.
The clever structure, razor-sharp cinematography and meticulous competition are pretty hard to assail. Still, the film threatens to miss the point when the avant-garde impulse to deal with a single obscured phenomenon threatens to overtake any other perspective. That is until the film's first lengthy dialogue scene, which contextualizes everything and makes it seem less like elegant hair-splitting.
Hunger is so distanced and alien that I'm not sure the film is quite the political statement it wants to be; it's like watching oppression through a powerful electron microscope that reveals so much detail that it loses the whole. There are also times that McQueen outsmarts himself with a beautiful image that distracts from its purpose, as if the might of his precise artistry alone could mean as much as he wants it to.
But there's nothing in narrative film quite like this and it will keep you occupied for hours discussing its approach and what it gets very right, as well as slightly wrong. (Maple)