Hunger (2008)

Although I feel like it cannot be, I have to suppose that it is just a coincidence that this film, entitled Hunger, completely lacks any meat whatsoever. This film had me quite excited to see it; I am a total Fassbender fan and it had garnered a strong 82 Metascore. I thought it was going to be one of those slightly dull, but really fantastically unique and emotional films with great writing and better acting. Well, I got the acting out of Fassbender, but literally every other single aspect of this film fell heavily flat for me. Which did come as a surprise considering who the director is: the great Steve McQueen. With 12 Years A Slave, McQueen, in my genuine opinion, made one of the greatest movies of the twenty-first century. Everything just worked so well, from the otherworldly penmanship to the astounding, Oscar-winning performances. The Wolf of Wall Street was my favorite in 2013, but 12 Years was undoubtedly the best.

The biggest gripe I have with Hunger is probably the fact that it refuses to settle on a protagonist until about thirty minutes in. Inexplicably, the film starts with, and carries on with, the tale of two characters who ultimately become totally irrelevant. Granted, they do set up the scene; their situation portrays how terrible the conditions were for those imprisoned men. That does not change the fact that the exact same effect could have been as, if not more, easily achieved focusing instead on Fassbender’s character, Bobby Sands (the ultimate protagonist). The two initial characters essentially share a few lines of dialogue, smear their shit all over the walls of their cell, and grow long hair and beards.

There also isn’t very much dialogue throughout the film. There is one scene, which, admittedly, is solely focused on a back and forth between Fassbender and a Catholic priest who he evidently holds in high esteem. I can tell that McQueen was hoping for one of those super simple, brilliantly written, overextended, 25th Hour monologue type scenes where the audience is just left saying, “Huh, that was pretty damn enlightening.” He failed. The writing was honestly nothing special. We did not get any big picture theories on human nature or abstract commentaries on art. Instead, we listened to a seemingly endless discussion on the tension between Britain and Ireland and why Fassbender’s Bobby should or should not incite a hunger strike. Had this dialogue started specific and expanded into more macro, more general concepts, and had it been shorted significantly, it may have worked well. Alas, the only really impressive thing about what was apparently meant to be the “big” scene in this film was the fact that Fassbender and Liam Cunningham memorized and delivered close to 17 minutes of continuous back and forth dialogue.

Once the priest leaves, having given up trying to convince Fassbender not to do a hunger strike, the film surprisingly manages to slow down even more. There are maybe another three or four lines of dialogue in this final twenty to thirty minutes of the film. Fassbender is quite harrowing to look at, however. In a Christian Bale-esque effort, Fassbender drops over 35 lbs. for the emulation of real-life Bobby Sands, who did, in fact, die of hunger. Watching Fassbender writhe in his hospital bed is made deeply convincing and very difficult due to his own weight loss. While I frequently commend actors who can “hide in plain sight”, I cannot help but admire when they dive so deeply into their characters that they literally embody them.

This being said, I really cannot get on board with all the critical acclaim this film received. An 82 Metascore, a 90% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes, winner of the Camera d’Or at Cannes, and so on. Frankly, I simply do not understand all the love for this plotless, tedious, and poorly-written film. Some critics have called the smearing of shit on the walls “beautiful.” I thought it was repulsive, and not meaningful enough to warrant that repulsiveness. Does the beauty lie within the meaning behind the act? No, it does not. Every so often, as shown in the film, some guy comes in with a Hazmat suit and cleans it off the walls, and then they just go ahead and do it again. Clearly, no one really cares. Like this film, it is nothing more than a moronic cycle of shit smearing nonsense that is any and everything but beautiful.