Certain places and people are given labels that define them. Those labels are not always accurate of what they represent. In prisons it is commonly associated that the prison guards are providing protection while the prisoners are a deadly force. While not the first nor the last film to challenge that notion it is a film you experience rather than simply seeing it.
Hunger is about Irish republican Bobby Sands leading the inmates of a Northern Irish prison in a hunger strike. Like mentioned earlier Hunger is more of an experience than it is a traditional film. Minimal dialogue, a deliberate slow pace to build up an atmosphere, action speaking for emotion, and a non-traditional narrative. It shows very little of anything that occurs outside of prison working towards it purpose. Attempting to emulate the same isolation, dreary, and violent mood of the very harsh Maze prison its representing. Becoming able to get across characters psychology without much words. Slowly demoralizing the inhabitants both who are entrapped in it and those working there. Yet despite all of its desolate emotions a glimmer of hope is given resulting in a difficult viewing of Bobby Sands decaying body to serve a greater good. The hardest thing to stomach is not what the film does show, but rather what it doesn’t show. We’re introduced to a prison guard in the beginning of the film who becomes minor character. He’s never given an arc of any kind that shows his psychology or what drove him to commit his action. Another character introduced is newly incarcerated inmate Gillen whose vision of the prison never comes full circle. Gillen serves to present how one would first view the dreadful room that traps and consume sanity, but shifts in focus to follow another inmate forgetting his part of the story. Hunger does not say allot words which it makes up for how it chooses to express itself.
Steve McQueen is relentless and cold in his depiction of the Maze prison. His frequents use of one-point perspective and wide shots remain motionless for lengthy periods of time. This technique is wonderfully engrossing allowing to witness harmful treatment and environment detail for great lengths of time. Never do we see the outside of the prison, giving the viewer the impression that our characters have been locked away so long that they don’t know how the outside even looks like anymore. Becoming claustrophobic into isolationism where the sight of a cells smeared with feces becomes routine instead of seeming out of the ordinary. Another technique that McQueen uses is showing brief snippets of a scene, then cutting away, to let the viewer imagine how the rest will play out; but the key is that he never cuts too early, so that the viewer is left to imagine as to what is going on. Michael Fassbender gives an extraordinary performance as Bobby Sands: to make his hunger strike credible the actor lost weight to the point of emaciation, and yet this physical portion of his role, appalling though it is, does not compare to the nonverbal language of his face while he ends his life.
Hunger narrative doesn’t match its atmospheric strength and focus, but visually captures the harsh reality of its environment. It’s as moving as it is depressing to see becoming routine seeing the true ugliness a person’s life can be reduced too. More than just film you view as Hunger is a dreary, but absorbing atmospheric experience.