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Grainne Burns gives Hunger a definite thumbs up.

Hunger has generated much fanfare since its launch, with five star reviews being thrown around by even the most hard to please critics. But has not every film surrounding the troubles in Northern Ireland brought up some form of emotional and political debate by all viewers, as has been the case with In the Name of the Father and Some Mother’s Son
So what makes this film so special compared to the others depicting the physical, psychological and emotional abuse endured by those on both sides of the conflict that tore the province apart for over 25 years? To even compare this film to other similar ‘Troubles’ films is almost an insult as this is, without doubt, clearly in a league of its own.
As the title suggests, the film is about the hunger strike in Long Kesh prison in 1981 with Bobby Sands (played ingeniously by Michael Fassbender) as the central character. There are no popular pictures of Sands winning a parliamentary seat, or how the country was gripped by his 66 day struggle – this was about the inner struggle, and the resulting physical deterioration.
Hunger opens with the sound of dustbins lids banging off concrete streets with this acting as the sole indicator of any conflict. The first shot is of prison officer Raymond Lohan (Stuart Graham) soaking his red raw knuckles before eating breakfast and checking his car for any hidden bomb devices before driving off to his place of work.
A few text lines indicate the time and place, before we are thrown into life behind bars with grotesque images of prisoners’ excrement on the cell walls as part of their protest to be recognised as political prisoners. This is nothing new to such films but Steve McQueen goes that one step further with prolonging such visuals, which is continued in the beatings and Sands’ ultimate decline.
The limited dialogue allows the pictures to tell the story, with the central section of the film only providing the historical context of Sands’ reasoning as he converses with Fr Moran (Liam Cunningham) in a 20 minute scene. It’s a simplistic one, with a rickety table dividing the men while the camera never leaves their faces as Sands struggles with the morality of his decision and the outside effects of him going on the strike.
The remainder of the film follows his demise, with intermediary shots of his mother and father staying in the prison days before his death. Through his own eyes we see his son and former cell mate visiting. No words are spoken throughout – just Sands looking out at the rest of the world.
The only voice from the outside world is through Margaret Thatcher from the House of Commons condemning the struggle, while the short images of a policeman crying as his work mates carry out beatings only serves to demonstrate the effects from the ‘other side’.
Hunger is a powerful and overwhelming film, yet simplistic too. At times it is hard to watch, but it is a must for all.

Hunger is now on general release.


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