Hunger

Posted by schnolis on April 22nd, 2009 filed in Reviews

HUNGERHunger doesn’t really do very much conventially. The first one-third of the film introduces us to the utterly inhumane and unbearable conditions for prisoners in Northern Ireland in 1981. And how awful they are. A new prisoner is shown to his cell to find no bed, feces smeared over every wall, and a pile of maggot infested refuse. It was nauseating just to watch. The guards were ruthlessly brutal at every turn, including the riot brigades brought in to augment the regular guards.

The second act was a single lengthy conversation between one inmate and a priest. Bobby Sands is his name. He is trying to win rights for the prisoners who are imprisoned for what he considers political crimes. During most of this smoke filled scene the camera stays motionless as the priest and Bobby Sands converse. We see only a shadowy profile for both as the two exchange witty but serious sentiments. Our takeaway from this meeting is that Bobby is planning a hunger strike. He is convinced it is his only course of action. He wants results.

The final act is Bobby’s ordeal during his hunger strike. He becomes emaciated. Sores develop all over his body. He has trouble hearing and staying awake. Visions begin to fill his few waking moments. Toward the end he cannot even bear the feel of a sheet over his body, which must be draped over a cage above his prone form. We’re told at the very end of the film it takes 66 days for him to succumb to this form of self-torture. His final moments are memories of other times, hardly aware his parents are with him. Also stated before the final credits was the fact that the demands of the hunger strike were eventually met, but without any acknowledgment by the English government.

What I liked: The passionate convictions of Bobby Sands. The gritty storytelling and some unconventional camera work. The scene with the priest was one very long shot with lots of sharp dialog. Actually, it was the only real dialog of the entire film.

What I disliked: Needing to witness to awful treatment that people endure over political conflicts. It’s amazing that within my own lifetime in “civilized” countries there are still disagreements so fundamentally cruel that people are willing to die in incredibly painful ways to try to earn more rights for their countrymen. That’s not a criticism of this film, however. I think more coverage of the stories that led these people to be in prison would have been useful for truly understanding the source of the conflict.

Rating: 8 of 10

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