An Award-Winning Debut Screens at the Brooks 

One of the more audacious debuts in recent cinema, Hunger introduces British video artist Steve McQueen as a major new filmmaker.

A scene from Steve McQueen's Hunger

A scene from Steve McQueen's Hunger

The winner of the Golden Camera (for best first film) at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, McQueen's film tells the true story of Bobby Sands, an IRA activist held in Belfast's Maze prison (circa 1981) who died after a 66-day hunger strike in protest of his lack of status as a political prisoner. Nine other prisoners followed Sands to their demise before the British government made concessions that did not include the political recognition Sands and his fellow strikers were seeking.

McQueen's visual-arts background results in a debut of startling confidence and control — beautifully framed shots, a provocative use of sound and silence, purposeful rhyming imagery, absorbing long shots, and an inventive structure.

Though the film is ostensibly about Sands and his hunger strike, Sands (in a charismatic performance from Michael Fassbender) doesn't appear until a third of the way into the film, and his hunger strike isn't depicted until the final 20 minutes. McQueen first sets up the film's landscape with a series of linked protagonists leading to Sands.

First is Raymond Lohan (Stuart Graham, a knockout, nearly wordless performance), a Maze guard first seen eating breakfast at his home before checking the undercarriage of his car for a bomb. Next is Davey Gillen (Brian Milligan), a frightened new prisoner.

Through these two initial characters, McQueen depicts the normal life of the prison, where everyone fits into social roles that dehumanize both guard and prisoner. The inmates at Maze, who go naked after refusing to where prison garb, are resourceful, using what little they have at their disposal (feces, urine, food, insects, and their own bodies) to pursue their needs (creativity, dissent, communication, companionship).

Taut, pale, covered in facial hair, they might be cavemen, adorning their stone walls in shit tableaux, at least until a "no-wash strike" is ended by brutally mandated haircuts and baths, their cells pressure-washed. McQueen juxtaposes the raging, roiling, bloody bathtub waters where Sands — introduced here — has been forcibly washed against the calm but also bloodied sink water when Lohan soaks his bruised knuckles.

Following one particularly noisy protest, the inmates are subjected to a body-cavity search backed up by beatings from imported riot police, one of whom McQueen captures shrinking from his duty — recoiling, weeping.

Hunger's depiction of suffering and degradation is unflinchingly direct and can be hard to take, but never feels gratuitous. The film manages to be at once gritty and ascetic, the noisy violence and squalor of the early prison scenes and the quiet agony of the later hunger-strike scenes broken up by a bravura 24-minute dialogue (including one nearly 17-minute unbroken shot) in which Sands meets with his acerbic priest (Liam Cunningham) to announce his decision — an argument for martyrdom the film witnesses more than endorses. For a film in which dialogue (not sound, speech) is otherwise irrelevant, this oasis of talk contextualizes what happens before and after.

Hunger screens — only once — at the Brooks Museum of Art as part of an ongoing and very fruitful partnership between the Brooks and Indie Memphis.


Brooks Museum of Art, Thursday, June 4th, 7:30 p.m., $7 or $5 for Indie Memphis or Brooks members



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

    • Wonder Wheel

      Wondering about Woody Allen
    • Justice League

      DC and Warner Brothers Pay $300 Million For Massive Public Humiliation
    • The Disaster Artist

      James Franco’s hilarious love letter to the worst film ever.


Film/TV/Etc. Blog

Music Video Monday: Tutweezy

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

From My Seat

Frank's Faves 2017 — Part 1

Beyond the Arc

Celtics 102, Grizzlies 93: Five Thoughts

Tiger Blue

Louisville 81, Tigers 72

Beyond the Arc


News Blog

Public Picks Zoo Parking Lot Plan

Politics Beat Blog

Left Activists Intrude on Meeting of Shelby County Democrats

Politics Beat Blog

GOP Figure Bill Giannini Killed in Car Crash


More by Chris Herrington

  • Last Words

    In "Enough Said," James Gandolfini makes his last lead film role his best.
    • Sep 26, 2013
  • Masters of Sound

    New albums from two of Memphis’ most distinctive stylists.
    • Sep 19, 2013
  • Hayes Carll at the Hi-Tone

    • Sep 19, 2013
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • A Bigger Splash

    Tilda Swinton and Ray Finnes deal with First World Problems
    • Jun 1, 2016
  • The Mummy

    A bedtime story about Tom Cruise and a swimming pool full of money.
    • Jun 17, 2017
  • Maggie’s Plan

    Comedy perfection from director Rebecca Miller
    • Jun 17, 2016
© 1996-2017

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation