Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008) [Film Journal 2017 #1]

After completing, and being fascinated with Shame (McQueen’s 2nd film from 2011) last night, I decided to not stop there and continued straight on to the first collaboration between director Steve McQueen, actor Michael Fassbender and cinematographer Sean Bobbit – all three would later work together on 12 Years A Slave.

I think it’s safe to say that I hold McQueen very high in my list of currently working directors. These are three of the most demanding and provoking films I know of in recent memory, it’s hard to pick my favourite of the three – but I think it’s Shame, for it resonated the most with me. Addiction, especially to that of pornography and other instant gratification-giving mediums is so common and not discussed enough in cinema. The relationship between Fassbender’s successful-on-a-surface-level corporate character, and his equally broken sister is tragic and I’m still running it through in my head a day later.

But onto Hunger, which I was intending to write about. McQueen is a master of the long-take, just like Kubrick or Welles. He lets the camera linger on fictional moments long enough that they start to feel real. He documents realities that we can’t visit in a way arguably more penetrating than a documentary filmmaker could.

Hunger tackled issues of Northern Ireland, not something I’ve been that exposed too. Bobby Sands’ tale of self-sacrifice for his nation, bethren and beliefs is evidently an influential one, a modern day myth. I find it hard to believe how a country could be so split down the middle by religious divide, and reading more into Sands’ life after watching Fassbender’s harrowing portrayal of him, I understand the kind of torment the man must have faced to lead him to make such an extreme decision for his own fate.

If a film like Hunger exists to educate the historically and politically naive such as myself, then it is serving a higher purpose than just to entertain, and that therefore makes it not just great cinema, but great art.

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