Other than a titanic 20-minute scene filmed almost entirely in one take, “Hunger” contains very little dialogue. But it isn’t a quiet movie – it is a painful, unsettling discussion of the immediate and physical sacrifices that some people make for the causes they believe to be just. It doesn’t spend much time dictating a particular political viewpoint, instead focusing its attention on its characters and their struggles in order to communicate something more visceral. It is loud and uncompromising in its vivid visual depictions.
“Hunger” portrays the buildup to the 1981 Irish hunger strike, as well as the effect it has on its leader, Bobby Sands, played by Michael Fassbender in one of the best performances in recent memory. It is an inherently political film, but its primary interest is in the nature of protest and conviction. That long, 20-minute discussion about suicide as protest, between Sands and a priest (Liam Cunningham), works beautifully as a hinge for the movie’s narrative arc and pacing. But it refrains from being didactic and instead plays out naturally, in the process revealing the tragedy of these conflicts. Sands already knows where his intractability will get him, and we know it, too.
Director Steve McQueen shows the brutality of the prison workers and the effects of no-wash protests and hunger strikes in unique detail. It is, at times, incredibly difficult to watch, but it is necessary for what the film aims to represent. There are no easy answers.