Hunger is not a feel-good movie. It’s not a sweeping epic, a beautiful romance, or an action thriller. It’s a simple, depressing, dark portrayal of the hunger strikes that took place in Northern Ireland in the early 1980s. It will disgust you, it will fascinate you, it will pull you in, and it will leave you wanting more–not of the disturbing imagery, of course, but of Michael Fassbender, the film’s star.
Fassbender is the hottie of the moment, or so I’ve been told by several dependable sources. In fact, a friend of mine went so far as to say that she’d been on a Fassbender bender for quite some time, consuming everything this guy has done in his career. After seeing this movie, I can understand why. It’s an interesting introduction to his body of work, and his body for that matter, since he shed a ton of weight for the role. In healthy form, he’s a beautiful man, reminiscent of Alexander Skarsgard on True Blood (in my eyes, anyway). But gradually, the role of Bobby Sands, Irish martyr, consumes him, and he stops just short of skeletal. It’s actually terrifying to watch someone waste away like that, knowing full well that it’s a movie. I don’t know how he managed to survive shooting the movie, let alone living his everyday life in that state. And he probably had decent access to other comforts; the thought of Sands actually going through this whole ordeal is almost unbearable, though it was a choice.
I did not study the hunger strikes in school, so this movie was basically the first I had heard of them. But I can say that it paints a stark, gritty portrait of them. Inmates were brutally beaten and regularly tortured, and they lived under the most crude of circumstances. One scene in particular portrayed Sands’ cellmate using his own shit to draw a portal-like hole on the wall of their cell. Or maybe it was Sands himself; with all the initial scraggly facial hair, it was hard to tell all the withering bodies apart.
The script was short; director Steve McQueen basically let the images speak for themselves, with the exception of this beautifully executed, simply filmed exchange between Sands and Father Dominic Moran, played by Liam Cunningham. The man of the cloth tried to convince Sands to abandon his plans for striking and inevitable death, but Sands had made his decision long before the conversation took place. It underscored the tragedy and the selfishness of the whole thing, and only made the subsequent scenes of Sands’ deterioration that much more unbearable–and enthralling.
Hunger isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s an exercise in brutal cinema, and it’s a magnificent centerpiece to Fassbender’s resume, though I’m sure I’ll say that about other things he’s done once I see them. For the sake of entertainment, though, I just hope they’re slightly more uplifting.