Hunger is the story of IRA prisoners in a British Prison in Northern Ireland in the early eighties. Thatcher is in power and its a hardline approach. It's the midst of the Troubles. Between 1969 and 1981, there was a politically related murder every two days. Its not a pleasant environment in which to live. People are passionate about their beliefs, but this argument has been going on for four hundred years (and really centuries before). Things are stable, for now, but in the height of the Troubles, diplomacy is not the order of the day.
Steve McQueen is a visionary director. This films reeks with his creative touch and yet he never lets in get in the way of the story, if you can call it that. He almost lets the reins go, once or twice, but he never goes too far. In fact the film is enhanced by his mastery. It is almost a silent film, with most of the dialogue taking place in the centre (Act II). There is a 25 minute discussion between one particular prisoner and a priest, the first 16 minutes being in a single take. It is made more poignant because of the silent bookends of Acts I and III.
Prison is ugly and its easy to forget why these men are there. I'm sure it was easy for them to forget also. The fact that most held steadfast is a testament to their conviction. It's a battle between belief and self preservation.
Its not a easy to watch film, nor does it seek to shock like many similar films before it. It also doesn't dwell on traditional narrative structure, which would have let its commercial appeal suffer, (see The Name of the Father which contains a dynamic performance from Daniel Day Lewis or even Liam Neesen in Michael Collins), yet McQueen is not interested in the well worn path. The journey is less convoluted without the traditional character arcs and we are able to experience the horrific state of the Irish political prisoner. No matter what your stance on Northern Island, you will find it hard not to sympathise with these men who, in the end, take the only option left to them, hence the title of the film.
I had a chance to visit Northern Ireland in the mid 90's when a recent ceasefire still had people on edge. A group of young Catholic boys told me to f*ck off after I took a photo of a IRA mural. I did. I was also in England in the late eighties and experienced two bomb scares requiring mass evacuations. While those situations did not evolve into anything sinister, there were many such acts of terrorism in the seventies and eighties and even the nineties (the Omagh bombing), the impact of which we have had the terrible misfortune to witness. The point being that there are many faces to a politically charged environment, too many to go into here. And so Hunger exposes another side; What Came After.
Worth viewing purely for the artistic touches of McQueen... if you can stomach it.
Do you think
You are capable?
Can you imagine a Time
When you could go mad?
How far removed
Are we now?
How many steps?
What would it take?
A series of deaths?
A series of blows, mental, not physical.
We can take those.
How many stumbles
Into the mire,
Before we begin conversing with ourselves.
Preferring it over the conversation of others
Rather than deal with the World
That doesn’t care anyway.
Doesn’t exist anymore.
Only the reality
Of your own mind.
Are we really so far removed?
From those dirty, shuffling shadows
We see in the street
Could that be Us
Perhaps it won’t take anything…
Arise one morning
And everything you knew has changed.
But you don’t care
Because you don’t analyse
The way you used to.
And you don’t even know it.
How many steps?
a review by Anthony J. Langford
The Road has been a long time coming. It was shot in 2007. I don't know the reason for the delay, perhaps executives got tetchy when they realised there was no Mad Max style battle scenes. Saying that The Road is bleak, is like saying Grease is a musical. Of course it is. Did you think the end of the world wouldn't be?. The film, conscientiously based on Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, doesn't pull any punches. It drags us back, almost to the Dark Ages, back to the basics. Without adequate food and clothing, most people will resort to anything to survive. While others will simply give up.
The father and his son walk the freeways and forest trails, searching, always searching for food and perhaps a little bit of hope. But there are no options anymore. Gradually the old world falls away. For the boy, that old world is a distant, foreign place. Survival is not merely a battle, its a curse. He struggles to understand it. The father is caught between wanting to shield his son against the cruelty he knows exists and giving him the knowledge he needs to survive. His son is now his world, yet try as he might, he cannot escape his memories.
Viggo Mortenson holds this film together with an astounding performance, understated, minimalistic, but always captivating. The boy, Kodi Smit-McPhee also shines. His innocence is our link to this frightening universe as he struggles to understand what is happening around him.
John Hillcoat (The Proposition) proves once again, that he is a dynamic director, keeping faithful to the novel by concentrating on the relationship between father and son and not on the devastated moon like landscape and broken highways. As depressing as it is, there is a tenderness, which makes those personal moments all the more poignant. There are some wonderful cameos too, particularly by veteran Robert Duvall.
The only aspect that lets The Road down, and I never thought I would say this, is the music score of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. The two collaborated brilliantly on Hillcoat's last film, and both have had outstanding careers, but here they go for the obvious heartstrings in true Hollywood form. It's like being whacked over the head with a piano. At times the score does help to elevate a particular mood and is at its best when its subtle, but when that mood is predominately a downbeat one, we don't need to be so clearly prompted.
Aside from this, The Road is a film of intense detail. It is a difficult film to watch but unlike any other post apocalyptic films before it, concentrates on humanity rather than plot, realism rather than spectacle. It was an oversight, if not shameful, not to acknowledge it at this year's Oscars.