Thursday, March 04, 2010


Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008) [10]

Living in a place like Binghamton can be hard when you really want to see a film. Even with an independent cinema in town, some films will always manage to slip through the cracks. Hunger has been on my radar for over a year and has finally seen the light of day on DVD. With no understatement, it is a masterful film. The best of 2008 as well as the best of the last decade. It is visually spectacular, no surprise considering McQueen's background. What makes it more than just visually striking is that McQueen tinkers with the idea of a message picture. Telling the story of IRA volunteer/prisoner Bobby Sands is going to fall in the realm of political picture. Yet McQueen never really makes the film solely about Sands and his ultimately fatal hunger strike. The film covers quite a bit of ground, giving a greater picture of "The Troubles" than just Sands' act of martyrdom. There's an examination of the stress and peril that the prison officials face, on the inside and the out. The film actually starts out focusing on other prisoners other than Sands. What I think McQueen is attempting to do is not make the Bobby Sands martyrdom picture that so many would expect and instead make a more nuanced, less black and white view of the situation. I approve of this maneuver even though some will not. Above all else however, the poetic nature of the visuals trump all themes and politics. The feces smeared walls of the prisoners' cells, the flying batons and crumpled bodies being beaten, Sands's (played with an act of physical bravado by Michael Fassbender) emaciated figure at the end, they're all ingrained in my mind with their visceral nature. There's a sixteen minute long take, between Sands and a priest, that is dazzling filmmaking, not just in its length but its composition of the figures bathed in shadows. For a first time feature director, McQueen has created an enviable result. Even days later, there are still moments I'm in awe over. I feel to really get Hunger, you have to really appreciate it a visual level, no matter how unsettling and jarring some of them may be. If you have strong feelings about Irish Republicanism, which I do, it may not be the type of film politically you'd expect. Yet, the film resonates for totally different reasons other than its main character.

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