A combination of a free Quickflix subscription and a recent discovery of the uber-hotness that is Michael Fassbender* saw myself and Mr BG sitting down to watch Hunger, a film about the 1981 hunger strike in Northern Ireland which saw 10 prisoners die.
The film opens with a man preparing to go to work, getting dressed, eating his breakfast (a fry) and getting into his car. The street scene is a typical suburban Belfast street, with the hills in the background (so much like my granda’s street I almost did a double-take). You’re alerted to something being slightly amiss by the fact he checks under his car to ensure no bombs have been placed there, and the grazes on his knuckles.
The scene is further set by a new arrival at the Maze prison, who refuses to wear the prison garb and is taken into his new cell. You are there to witness his first look at the excrement-covered prison cell and his cell mate, virtually unrecognisable under a blanket and filth. You are thankful you can’t smell it.
Bobby Sands (Fassbender) makes an appearance about a third of the way through the film as he is dragged to a bathroom to be forcibly washed, shaved and his hair cut. Through the blood, the dirt and the hair, you begin to see the man emerge.
Much of the movie is without dialogue, and there is no incidental music. The silence forces you to simply watch and observe what unfolds before you on the screen. You see the physical deterioration (Fassbender lost up to 16 kg to play the role) – the silence adds to the reality. The only voiceovers you get is the voice of Margaret Thatcher and her hardline stance against the prisoners and negotiating with the IRA.
The greatest length of dialogue is between Sands and a priest, Dom (Liam Cunningham). With both characters backlit by the window, their profiles are in shadow. While it is frustrating in that you can’t see their faces, you are forced to concentrate on their words, the initial quick banter which leads to Sands outlining his plans to stage a hunger strike to force the British government to recognise those prisoners who have been imprisoned for acts of terrorism as political prisoners, rather than criminals.
In many ways it is quite sympathetic to the Republican cause- you develop an empathy for the prisoners who endure a great deal of physical brutality. However it is hard to ignore the reality that a toll is exacted upon the other players. The prison guard, who in an unguarded moment alone, stares blankly into the distance, one of the policemen brought in form a vanguard through which the prisoners must go, breaks down, and a hospital orderly’s tenderness towards a dying Sands are also revealed in this quietly powerful film.
The film also brought home a long lost memory. My granny died in Belfast in 1981 and my dad went ‘home’ to go to the funeral. He also attended Bobby Sands’ funeral- one of 70,000 who did so. I remember my mum pleading with my dad to walk down the middle of the street to be safe from bombs.
*X-Men:First Class, Jane Eyre, and Band of Brothers are all Fassbender movies/appearances I can recommend. Saw Prometheus in Belfast and still wanting to see Inglourious Basterds!