“Hunger” is satisfying

The debut film by Steve McQueen brings the story of a political struggle to the Walker

Both the prisoners and the guards are shown with painstaking detail in “Hunger.

Ashley Goetz

Both the prisoners and the guards are shown with painstaking detail in “Hunger.” PHOTO COURTESY BLAST! FILMS – HUNGER LTD. 2008 IFC FILMS

DIRECTED BY: Steve McQueen STARRING: Michael Fassbender, Stuart Graham, Brian Milligan, Liam McMahon RATED: R SHOWING: Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave. April 10, 7:30 pm April 11, 2 and 7:30 pm April 17, 7:30 pm April 18, 7:30 pm April 25, 7:30 pm April 26, 2 pm Visual artist Steve McQueenâÄôs harrowing but powerful debut feature, âÄúHunger,âÄù is an artfully constructed film taking a roaming, fly-on-the-wall approach to its grim subject: IRA leader Bobby SandsâÄô fatal 1981 hunger strike in Northern IrelandâÄôs Maze Prison. The film begins not with its protagonist, but instead by silently accompanying a prison guard, played by Stuart Graham, through his daily routine. Viewers watch as he somberly submerges his knuckles, raw from interrogating, in a sink of water before eating breakfast. A skewed view looking up from a crumb-covered lap soon shifts to one of the under chassis of a car as he lowers himself to check for bombs beneath his automobile. McQueenâÄôs use of little to no sound for long visual stretches serves to accentuate his almost obsessive attention to detail. âÄúHungerâÄôsâÄù aesthetically rich camera work and the compelling cinematography of Sean Bobbit also donâÄôt hurt the cause. This wandering wallflower approach continues throughout the first half of the film, the focus shifting from the guard to the cell of two inmates, Davey Gillen (Brian Milligan) and Gerry Campbell (Liam McMahon). Clad only in blankets, the incarcerated IRA members have collectively chosen to be naked and unshowered as a form of protest and resistance to their status as criminals instead of political prisoners. The meticulous boredom and loneliness of imprisonment is eloquently portrayed in âÄúHungerâÄù by long, creeping, lethargic shots of the prisoners in silence, or the guards performing menial but symbolically significant tasks, including a five-minute, single shot scene of a guard mopping urine from the halls. This silence and inactivity then serves to starkly define the moments of intense violence scattered throughout. Luckily, though, âÄúHungerâÄù never delves too far into art house territory. McQueen instead prefers to stay grounded in unflinching realism as he plunges into a dark and desperate captive hell complete with the terrifying monotonous ravings of a voiced-over Margaret Thatcher. By the time Sands is introduced, his steadfast dedication and sense of leadership are already understood. FassbenderâÄôs powerful command over his role as Bobby as well as his own increasingly emaciated body is impressive. Fassbender is accompanied by an onslaught of strong performances from the rest of the cast. The film isnâÄôt anti or pro IRA. It successfully transcends any strong political stance. It shows the demoralizing effect of prison on both the guards nudged into committing atrocious acts of violence and the prisoners reduced to filth out of frustration. It may evoke thoughts of the situation in Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib, but also of DostoyevskyâÄôs âÄúCrime and PunishmentâÄù or even âÄúThe Passion of the Christ.âÄù âÄúHungerâÄù is more than a film about the IRA or Bobby Sands; it is a dialogue on the nature of captivity and freedom. The film shakes and convulses with a shatteringly clear and literal beauty.