Directed by Steve McQueen
Somehow the Irish Troubles, call them that, though they are much more severe and brutal than the word ‘Troubles’ implies, have generated a great number of films made about one or another of the Irish attempts at resistance to Great Britain, that compulsion to make the whole island one nation instead of being torn in two – one half belonging to England and the other free – which has made for some of the most powerful films and poems and plays ever.
I say all this because there’s a new film called “Hunger,” which is about the hunger strike that Bobby Sands was one of the leaders of in the notorious prison near Belfast. The IRA members who were there had petitioned their jailors to be treated as political prisoners, but we hear Margaret Thatcher’s voice at the opening of the film saying “Murder is a crime; it’s not political.”
The prisoners have smeared their cells with feces, with urine, with vomit; the cells are crawling with lice and maggots; the men are strip-searched and beaten and humiliated constantly; they have found a way to smoke pages from the bible, their only reading matter. Then one day Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbinder) and some others begin a hunger strike, in hopes that someone somewhere will pay attention. As the days go and Sands gets thinner and weaker, there is a scene in which he and a priest (Liam Cunningham) discuss what Sands is trying to do and what this very experienced older man can suggest as alternatives. The scene takes place in the lunch room and the camera does not move for 17 minutes; it is riveting.
The film was directed and co-written by Steve McQueen (no relation), an English video artist; it is his first film and it is remarkable. It is available to Comcast subscribers as a pay-per-view attraction, though if you live in New York or Los Angeles you can also see it in a theatre. It is a profound experience.