Movie Review: Hunger

Hunger. Great art, terrible movie.

Hunger. Great art, terrible movie.

I saw the movie Hunger the other day. A darling of the film festival circuit and recipient of rave reviews, I went in with high expectations.

Unfortunately, what I witnessed was nothing but pretentious art-house bullshit.

Now, I’m not saying it was entirely bad with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Far from it. For all intents and purposes, it was very well crafted. The cinematography / framing / mise-en-scene was outstanding, the acting was excellent, and delivered powerful, raw, gut-wrenching imagery and messages about the treatment of the IRA prisoners and the effect the hunger strike had not only on them, but the prison officials as well.

But it simply wasn’t my cup of tea.

While I’m not saying that every film should be a formulaic summer blockbuster piece of tripe, I do appreciate it when movies have certain essential elements — you know, things such as plot, characters I want to care about, dramatic conflict? Yeah, Hunger really could have used some of that stuff.

Regarding the issues of plot and character, I know it’s based off the real life of Bobby Sands, but in my opinion, the goals of Sands and the rest of the prisoners were rather ill-defined. Sure, they wanted to be recognized as political prisoners / prisoners of war, and in the bigger picture, for the IRA to win and the British to leave Ireland, but that’s a big pie-in-the-sky type of goal that the characters in the film can never actually physically achieve. I would have liked to have known about their hopes and dreams on a more personal level, the day-to-day goals of the prisoners, how they interacted with the “criminal” prisoners, whether all of the IRA prisoners were on board with the hunger strike … in other words, the type of stuff that can make us actually care about these characters and, as an added bonus, form some semblance of a flowing, cohesive storyline.

On a related note, it doesn’t help that the main character isn’t introduced until halfway through the movie. We first see Sands get beat down by the guards, and then the next time we see him it’s for a 15-minute conversation with the priest about his decision to start the hunger strike. It’s a wonderful scene which is amazing done in one continuous take, but why should I give a damn about him or his cause when we’ve never really been introduced to the character?

If the movie is supposed to be about Bobby Sands and his death then make the movie about friggin’ Bobby Sands — don’t waste half the picture on some prison warden and a couple of random prisoners. Even when the movie switches to the Bobby Sands story, we never really know all that much about him. From a quick Google search, it appears he wrote a diary during the first few weeks of his hunger strike. The filmmaker could have used this material, but why flesh out his character when we can see some more bed sores?

Sorry, but I don't know anything about you guys, so I don't really care what happens to you.

Sorry, but I don't know anything about you guys or what makes you tick, so I don't really care what happens to you.

At times it felt like I was watching a live-action art gallery exhibit, in that it was nothing more than a series of images about a common theme or topic. Case in point — the scene where the prison official is mopping up the piss in the hallway. Normally, a scene in a film is designed to advance the plot or alter the level of dramatic conflict between characters. Not this scene, however, which is simply a guy mopping up piss in a hallway. For five whole minutes.

While watching that scene, I couldn’t help but think of Family Guy — in specific, the scene where Peter scrapes his knee and spends a minute wheezing in pain, or the scene where Peter randomly cuts to a Conway Twitty song and the show proceeds to play the entire song from start to finish. I thought to myself, they’re not really gonna show him mopping the entire goddamn hallway, are they? Really? Seriously? Come on, get to the point already!

In conclusion, Hunger is a gritty, yet appallingly beautiful, piece of art that showcases what life was like for the IRA prisoners and how the human body can be used as a form of protest. In addition, by not really taking sides, it allows the viewer to form his own impressions and draw his own conclusions as to who’s right and who’s wrong. However, as a function of cinema, it fails terribly, as it was structurally weak and overall quite aimless and meandering, not really sure where it was going or why it was going there.

In the end, this movie can only be recommended for pretentious art-house types. You know who you are.