Hunger (2008 film)
United Kingdom release poster
|Directed by||Steve McQueen|
|Produced by||Laura Hastings-Smith
|Written by||Enda Walsh
|Music by||David Holmes|
|Editing by||Joe Walker|
Northern Ireland Screen
Broadcasting Commission of Ireland
Wales Creative IP Fund
|Distributed by||Icon Film Distribution|
|Running time||90 min.|
Hunger is a 2008 British drama historical film directed by Steve McQueen and starring Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham and Liam McMahon, about the 1981 Irish hunger strike. It was written by Enda Walsh and McQueen.
It premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, winning the prestigious Caméra d'Or award for first-time filmmakers. It went on to win the Sydney Film Prize at the Sydney Film Festival, the Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics, best picture from the Evening Standard British Film Awards, and received two BAFTA nominations, winning one. The film was also nominated for eight awards at the 2009 IFTAs, winning six at the event.
The film stars Fassbender as Bobby Sands, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer and M.P. who led the second IRA hunger strike and participated in the no wash protest (led by Brendan "The Dark" Hughes) in which Republican prisoners tried to regain political status when it was revoked by the British government in 1976. It dramatises events in the Maze Prison in the period leading up to the hunger strike and Sands' death.
The film opens with prison officer Raymond Lohan (played by Stuart Graham) preparing to leave for work;cleaning his bloodied knuckles, checking under his car for bombs, putting on his uniform in the locker room and ignoring the camaraderie of his colleagues. There are short clips of Lohan at various points throughout the day and it is shown that his knuckles are bloodied and cut.
Davey Gillen, a new IRA prisoner arrives and is shown being categorised as a "non-conforming prisoner" for his refusal to wear the prison uniform. He is sent to the cell naked with only a blanket. He arrives at his cell where his cellmate, Gerry (Liam McMahon), has smeared the walls with feces from floor to ceiling. The two men get to know each other and we see them living within the cell, and a visit by family members where we see Sands speak with his parents and the other inmates and their visitors passing messages across tables and through mouths. Gerry's girlfriend sneaks a radio in by wrapping it and keeping it in her vagina.
The prison regime is depicted with the prison officers forcibly and violently removing the prisoners from their cells and beating them before pinning them down and using scissors to brutally cut their long hair and beards, grown as part of their no wash protest. The prisoners resist, Sands spitting into Lohan's face, who responds by punching him in the face and then swings again, only to miss and punch the wall, causing his knuckles to bleed. He cuts Sands' hair and beard, the men throw him in the bath tub and scrub him clean before hauling him away again. Lohan is then seen smoking a cigarette, as in the opening scenes, his hand bloodied.
Later, the prisoners are taken out of their cells and given second hand civilian clothing. The guards are seen snickering as they are handed to the prisoners who respond, after Sands' initial action, by tearing up the clothes and wrecking their cells. For the next interaction with the prisoners a large number of riot officers are seen coming into the prison on a truck. They line up and beat their batons against their shields and scream to scare the prisoners, who are hauled from their cells, then thrown in between the lines of riot police where they are beaten with the batons by at least 10 men at one time. Lohan and several of his colleagues then probe first their anuses and then their mouths, using the same pair of latex gloves for each man. One prisoner head-butts a guard and is beaten brutally by a riot officer. One of the riot officers is seen crying while his colleagues, on the other side of the wall, brutally beat the prisoners with their batons.
Lohan visits his catatonic mother in the retirement home sitting and talking to her. He is shot in the back of the head by an IRA assassin and dies slumped onto his mother's lap.
Sands is then shown meeting his priest Father Dom (Liam Cunningham) and discussing the morality of a hunger strike. This meeting is lengthy and addresses why Sands chose to do what he did and how strongly he believed in his cause. At the end Sands tells the priest about a trip to Donegal where he and his friends find a foal by a stream who has cut itself on the rocks and broken its back legs, it is on the brink of death and none of the other boys will act. Sands then tells Father Dom that he drowned the foal and, although he got into trouble, he knew he had done the right thing by putting it out of its misery. He then says he knows what he is doing and what it will do to him, but he says he will not stand by and do nothing. The rest of the film shows Sands well into his hunger strike, with bleeding sores all over his body, kidney failure, low blood pressure, stomach ulcers, and the inability to stand on his own by the end. The film spares no detail in Sands' condition and suffering. In the last days, while Sands lies in a bath, a larger orderly comes in to give his usual orderly a break. The larger orderly sits next to the tub and shows Sands his knuckles, which are tattooed with the letters "UDA", Sands tries to stand on his own and eventually does so with all his strength, staring defiantly at the UDA orderly who refused to help him up, but then he crumbles in a heap on the floor with no strength left to stand. The orderly carries him to his room. Sands' parents stay for the final days, his mother being at his side when Sands dies.
The film explains that Sands had been elected to the United Kingdom Parliament as MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone while he was on strike. Nine other men died with him during the seven-month strike before it was called off. Shortly afterwards, the British government concede in one form or another virtually all of the prisoners' demands despite never officially granting political status.
- Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands
- Liam Cunningham as Father Dominic Moranv
- Liam McMahon as Gerry Campbell
- Stuart Graham as Raymond Lohan
- Brian Milligan as Davey Gillen
- Laine Megaw as Mrs. Lohan
- Karen Hassan as Gerry's Girlfriend
- Frank McCusker as The Governor
- Lalor Roddy as William
- Helen Madden as Mrs. Sands
- Des McAleer as Mr. Sands
- Geoff Gatt as Bearded Man
- Rory Mullen as Priest
- Ben Peel as Riot Prison Officer Stephen Graves
- Helena Bereen as Raymond's Mother
- Paddy Jenkins as Hitman
- Billy Clarke as Chief Medical Officer
- Ciaran Flynn as Twelve-Year-Old Bobby
- B.J. Hogg as Loyalist Orderly
- Aaron Goldring as Young Bobby's Friend
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After financing for Hunger was turned down by the Irish Film Board, the film was instead co-funded by Northern Ireland Screen, Broadcast Commission of Ireland, Channel 4 and Film4 and the Wales Creative IP Fund.
The film is notable for an unbroken 17-minute shot, in which a priest played by Liam Cunningham tries to talk Bobby Sands out of his protest. In it, the camera remains in the same position for the duration of the shot. To prepare for the scene, Cunningham moved into Michael Fassbender's apartment for a time while they practiced the scene between twelve and fifteen times a day.
The film premiered at Cannes, where it opened the official sidebar section, Un Certain Regard, sparking both walkouts and a standing ovation. The film was released in the UK and in Ireland 31 October 2008.
Critical response 
Hunger has received widespread critical acclaim. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 90% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 114 reviews, with an average score of 7.8/10, making the film a "Certified Fresh" on the website's rating system. At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted mean rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an average score of 82, based on 25 reviews, which indicates "Universal acclaim".
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The film appeared on some critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2008. Andrea Gronvall of Chicago Reader named it the 3rd best film of 2008, and Scott Foundas of LA Weekly named it the 3rd best film of 2008 (along with Che).
Hunger was voted the best film of 2008 by the British film magazine Sight & Sound, and that year McQueen received the Discovery Award and $10,000 at the 33rd annual Toronto film festival. It also won in the best film category at the 2009 Evening Standard British Film Awards. The film also was named the "Best Film of 2009" by the Toronto Film Critics Association Awards; it shared the award with Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. Director McQueen won the Carl Forman BAFTA Award for "Special Achievement by a British Director, Writer or Producer for their First Feature Film".
- Thorpe, Vanessa (2008-05-11). "Anger as new film of IRA hero Bobby Sands screens at Cannes". The Observer (London). Retrieved 2008-05-14.
- "Bobby Sands film wins Cannes award". RTE.ie. 2008-05-26. Retrieved 2008-05-26.
- "Awards for 'Hunger'". IMDb. Amazon.com. Retrieved 2012-03-09.
- Charlotte Higgins (15 May 2008). "Visceral Brit offering opens Un Certain Regard section". The Guardian.
- "Hunger". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 2011-13-31.
- "Hunger". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2011-13-31.
- Eric M. Armstrong (May 13th, 2009). "Hunger (2008)".
- "Metacritic: 2008 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on 2009-01-27. Retrieved 2013-01-27.
- James, Nick (January 2009). "Films of 2008". Sight & Sound. BFI.org.uk. Retrieved 2012-03-09.
- "Toronto film fest honors 'Song,' 'Hunger'". UPI. 2008-09-14. More than one of
- "Standard success for Sands movie". BBC.co.uk. 2009-02-09. Retrieved 2012-03-09.
- "Film Winners in 2009". BAFTA.org. British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 2009-02-08.
- Hunger at the Internet Movie Database
- Hunger at Rotten Tomatoes
- Hunger at AllRovi
- EyeForFilm.co.uk – New York Film Festival press conference with Steve McQueen on Hunger
- Life and death in Long Kesh – Ronan Bennett's memoir and film review, The Guardian
- Hunger nominated for Index on Censorship Film Award 2009