Hunger is the debut film from Steve McQueen who subsequently ruffled feathers and opened eyes with his second film Shame. Hunger is perhaps more controversial and certainly more harrowing than its follow up but no less great. It depicts the final few months in the life of famous IRA prisoner Booby Sands (Michael Fassbender) who died on hunger strike in Maze Prison in 1981. The film is a stark and sparse piece which provides little entertainment. It’s one of the most shocking films I’ve seen in recent months and is yet another example of cinema making me feel shitty about being British.
The film takes its time to introduce its central character and opens instead with a Prison Officer before taking us inside the cell of a newly incarcerated IRA prisoner who we follow through several months of a ‘no wash-blanket’ strike in which IRA prisoners who are being denied political status for their crimes, refuse to wash, shave or wear prison uniforms. The conditions inside the cells are enough to churn your stomach as you witness two men in cramped conditions, smearing faeces over their walls in protest. Their treatment at the hands of the guards is equally shocking and terrifying. When I watch films about the holocaust I find it hard to believe that those events happened, never mind so recently and while the stories depicted in Hunger are in no way as severe, I had a similar reaction to them. How could something like this have happened so recently, and in my own country no less?