With the awards season upon us and much buzz and prediction for Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave, I thought it was time to take a look at the former Turner prize winning artist's first foray into film, 2008's Hunger.
It's a film that is as bleak as fuck. But then it has to be.
McQueen's flawless directorial debut is a dramatisation of the 1981 protests in the Maze prison against the then Thatcher led British government's continued commitment to the withdrawal of special category status for convicted paramilitary prisoners, and the subsequent hunger strike martyrdom of Bobby Sands. It's a harrowing, uncomfortable and powerful watch which sees McQueen approaching film making from a completely different angle, one more in keeping with his artistic background; McQueen seems preoccupied with harsh audio and visuals, scenes that simply exist on its own muscular and fluid character, as opposed to progressing or explaining the plot - a bold move I imagine given an international audience some 25+years after the event (and ten years after the Good Friday Agreement) It's almost as if he's asking the audience what is there for him to possibly explain? The meaning cannot be comprehended in the horrific events you are witness too. Man's inhumanity to man is just as impossible to measure as man's determination for a belief and cause. When the film does briefly shake free of the grotesque uncompromising confetti of clips, some fifty minutes in, the audience is rewarded with ostensibly the film's set piece, a key two hander between Michael Fassbender's Sands and Liam Cunningham's visiting priest which helps set out Sands motivation and commitment in brisk and efficiently played ping pong dialogue. The scene lasts for virtually twenty minutes, simply shot, before McQueen takes us back to his previous blunt audio and visual package showing Sands body slowly packing up to his eventual demise on May 5th 1981 aged 27.
My stance on the subject matter has never been truly unequivocal, because the history of the UK and Ireland is equally unable to be seen as clear cut. I don't want to get too in deep here, but whilst I utterly despise and hate the IRA for their campaign of terror that took many innocent lives (some in my own region here in the North West of England) I am equally totally and utterly aware of the wrongs my country has done to Ireland and its people, and I know I could never find myself agreeing with Thatcher on any level, including the one the events depict here.
One thing that is clear however, this film is a must see - even if you have to sometimes look away from the screen.