Steve McQueen's Hunger resides in the solely physical realm. Feelings don't matter in this prison where Bobby Sands is held, bruises matter. Interactions with guards are entirely non-verbal. Beatings and forced baths take the place of negotiations and conditions.
Little background about the prisoners is offered as we enter the film: a guard bathes his bruised knuckles and proceeds to check under his car for a bomb every morning, a newly imprisoned man refuses to wear prison garb and enters his cell with little more than a blanket. Here, he enters his confined surroundings to find context smeared all over the walls.
The world's smallest war is being fought in the corridors of this prison. Chaos versus order. Food is made into mush to channel urine into the halls. Resistance is then swept away with the flick of a wrist. The innocence of a babe swaddled in cloth is instantly corrupted by the transfer of messages by any means possible. These men are fighting this war not over resources, reputation or slight. These men are fighting for recognition and they are losing that battle. They are losing their dignity. They are losing their souls.
Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), the fiercely confident leader of the movement, finds himself reaching at straws now. He knows his efforts to gain status as political prisoners are nearing futile. Margaret Thatcher is perhaps the only person more stubborn than Sands.
His nuclear option is to revisit the hunger strikes attempted earlier in his incarceration. If the Irish Republican Army is to gain back its recognition, they will have to do better than the 53 days from their first act of protest.
Very few performances manage to captivate with doing so minimal an amount of action. For a majority of Fassbender's screentime he is doing nothing more than focusing his breath, but those moments are breathtaking. A hush falls over Hunger as Sands physical transformation takes place. Fassbender actually underwent the drastic weight loss that is seen onscreen.
The moment where Bobby's true determination is captured occurs earlier than the hunger strike though. A twenty-two minute one-shot-take features Sands and Father Moran (Liam Cunningham) discussing the value of life while sitting across from each other. That they are bookends in the frame designates a shifting point of Steve McQueen's directorial debut. The conversion where a film ostensibly about depicting small details of a movement shifts into a profile of one man's transcendence.
***1/2 out of ****