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I am not sure whether “Hunger” is an excellent movie, but it is definitely excellent. A counter-concept to other Northern Ireland-related productions like Paul Greengrass’ frantic “Bloody Sunday”, “Hunger” is a very calm film at most times.  It is more a series of impressions, actually, than a film with a narrative. The focus on the main characters shifts, from some newly arrived IRA prisoners to Bobby, played by Michael Fassbender, who is a leader figure and decides to organize a hunger strike to protest against the imprisonment conditions for the IRA members and fighters.

You could direct this as a dramatic build-up to the resolution of the government caving in (which happened), but McQueen is not interested in this form of drama, he seeks to find and show dramatic situations that do not need historical context to be powerful. The forms of creative and artistic protest in the prison cells, the meetings of the inmates with their families and the well-trained handover techniques of contraband, the courageously long and calm centerpiece of the movie where Bobby tries to defend his hunger strike plan against a priest, the process of dying by deprivation. All these elements are not really related by anything other than they happen in one place, a prison specializing in taking in, torturing and degrading IRA terrorists.

How strongly both sides rely on rituals to continue their fight behind the prison walls is stunning: choreographed beating of prisoners, dedicated beaters to treat the prisoners while they get a bath and a haircut, coordinated prisoner action to flood the corridors with whatever kind of liquid they can produce. Finally a crass process of watching a “leader of man” die, with a little bit of grace, but really hunger strikes do not leave much room for that. The collapse of every single organ is not a process leaving the person a glorious liberation fighter – it leaves them ugly and dead after long suffering.

Fassbender’s transformation is frightening, I very much hope he had some contractually guaranteed excessive meals after the shooting wrapped. He plays Bobby not with outbursting leadership attitude (no inspirational “Braveheart” speeches to be found here), but as someone who silently does what he needs to do, only very rarely losing his composure. With him and Viggo Mortensen around, who can be worried about modern cinema?


  1. Fassbender seems to be everywhere which isn’t a bad thing since he’s such a competent actor. I haven’t seen this yet but I very much want to.

    • it’s great in a very bleak and almost non-cinematic way. And Fassbender is only one of several great performers in it – the film shifts attention between characters in its course, a very interesting script!

  2. yes, it is astonishing how he can move between blockbuster and arthouse world, he is one of the few who can pull that off and stay effective on both sides – even though I do not care much for his X-Men thing, that was kind of shallow.

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