Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Hunger is an Irish drama and was Irelands submission for the Best Foreign Feature Oscar this last year. In it, the awesomely named director Steve McQueen, gives the viewer a graphic look at true stories from the Non Compliant Prisoner wing of Ireland’s infamous Maze prison in 1980-81. In this wing, a group of 75 prisoners stage two strikes so they can be classified as political prisoners. First, they strike by not adhering to any of the prison’s hygiene rules. This means no bathing, no cutting hair, no using the latrine, no clothes or shoes, and so on. They then switch to a hunger strike that lasts weeks and leads to some terrible outcomes for some of the participants.
While I appreciate that McQueen didn’t explain everything, I would have liked this movie immensely more if he’d at least explained something. The viewer has no idea who these prisoners are, why they should be considered political prisoners, why they want political prisoner status, why the prison won’t grant them it, or, really, anything else. There’s literally one scene with dialogue in the entire movie and most of it is inconsequential. I like it when filmmakers hide the ball a bit and make me do some thinking and guessing, but this was ridiculous. And I like the point he was trying to make, that the point is how horrid the conditions were and that the ‘who’s and ‘why’s of the story don’t matter as much as ‘what’ happened. Ok, I get that, but if you wanna make a story that is engaging and interesting, make a proper feature. If you want to simply show the viewer the stark realities of Irish prisons or to expose the seedy underbelly of the Irish prison system and skip the story stuff, then make a documentary.
This movie was visually fantastic, but was way to austere with the story development. The end result was a moderately interesting and forgettable peak into a dark time and place in Ireland.