2009 Film: Hunger

I’d take the privilege to deliberate a common sense: a story always has a beginning, middle and an end. This is simple, but in the case of Hunger, the director Steve McQueen doesn’t want to take it for granted. Almost a third of the film is filled with trivial things about how a new inmate is being welcomed in a prison. Not just an ordinary prison but a detention facility for IRA activists. They are criminals, said the British Government. No, we are here for a cause, namely politics said the inmates. The film pointed out a period in the history of United Kingdom where some IRA members held hunger strike for getting a political prisoner status.

Then come the second part of the film, the middle. McQueen explains the prisoners’ cause in a lengthy conversation between the one of the inmates, Boby Sands with a reverend that Sand invited to see him in the prison. In this very intense conversation delivered in a long take, the entire premise of the film is revealed in dialog, and dialog only. Screenwriter guru, Syd Field, will easily call this scene as a wasteful-“talking head” approach but I’d daresay that spoken words has its own magic and McQueen is showing it to us.

The third part of the film, the ending, is again filled with trivia on how the hunger strike is being through by the inmates, especially Boby Sands (Michael Fassbender). This young man whose parents regularly visit him in prison has gradually changed his shape due to the strike. Boby with his strong will must meet the Iron Lady (yes, as in Margaret Tatcher the Iron Lady – only appeared in her voice in the radio) who will never be moved by any kind of threat. The result is severely devastating.

Hunger is a showcase of a storytelling capacity beyond any basic formula in film. McQueen cleverly use detailed-shots to set up information for some bigger revealing moments. The trivia he presented in the beginning and at the end of the film fit perfectly into the premise which he put in the middle. This is how the lengthy dialog in the middle is importantly suspenseful. The third part, the closing act, which Boby Sand gradually turn into a living skeleton became a very devastating, if not painful, catharsis for the audience; and this is delivered with scary punctuation by Michael Fassbender’s acting. More than believable, Fassbender has brought us the real impact of collision between immovable object and unstoppable force. What has been hurt is the audience’s basic understanding of human endurance. Since the visual is so strong, it is impossible not to putting your feet into Boby Sand’s shoes. This has automatically raised question on your own self-determination to make your cause materialized in the world. With this question we understand: there is something in human being we might never understand.

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