Magazine article The Christian Century


Magazine article The Christian Century


Article excerpt


Directed by Steve McQueen.

Starring Michael Fassbender and Liam Cunningham.

The first feature-length film by video installation artist Steve McQueen (no relation to the late actor) presents a detailed and disturbing look at conditions inside Northern Ireland's Maze Prison in 1981. Angry members of the Irish Republican Army were jailed--some for relatively minor offenses--denied political-prisoner status and subjected to regular beatings by British guards. Hunger also chronicles the last days of Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender, in a chilling performance), the IRA leader whose frustrations with conditions inside and outside the prison prompted him to stage a hunger strike--which eventually led to his death.

Hunger is less a documentary and more a form of impressionism. It relies on potent visuals, extremely long takes and select shots framed like paintings to convey the sensory overload and emotional chaos of the prison. It was a brave decision to remove the expository element. This approach does more than provide a kick to the gut. It forces us to realize that while the story is about Northern Ireland, issues of torture and resistance, violence and revenge, resonate far beyond that conflict.

McQueen makes this point abundantly clear during an audacious 20-minute dialogue scene between Sands and Father Dominic Moran (Liam Cunningham), an acid-tongued Catholic priest who is torn between his sympathies for the IRA and his responsibilities to the church. During this extended talk, in which the camera barely moves, the two men chat about soccer and the old neighborhood before moving into political and spiritual territory. Issues of nationalism and sovereignty come up, along with protest, rebellion and the role of a man of peace in violent times.


But only when Sands reveals his plan to starve himself in hopes of drawing attention to the IRA cause does the dialogue soar. …

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