Art is long, life is short
Do you want to see a 16 minute and 30 second uninterrupted shot of two people talking in a room? Do you want to see Michael Fassbender withering away and becoming a skeleton? Do you want to see faeces smeared all over the wall?
Well, then you’re in luck. Hunger is here!
Ok no, Hunger actually came out in 2008 and it just took me this long to actually see it. I also don’t hate it like that intro might make you think, but the film does have some overly artistic moments. Let’s start with the plot:
“Irish republican Bobby Sands leads the inmates of a Northern Irish prison in a hunger strike.”
That Irish republican is played by none other than the ‘everywhere-these-days’ Michael Fassbender. I’m going to say something controversial right now, but I wasn’t actually as impressed by Michael Fassbender here as I usually am. His dialogue scenes, the few that there are, seem very rehearsed and school-playish. Over the top reactions and perfectly timed interruptions make for a very wooden performance. That being said, whenever he is performing action instead of dialogue, he’s spot on. As most of the movie is non-verbal, it ends up not becoming a very big issue.
The movie is directed by Steve McQueen, who later went on to direct Shame. McQueen has a very interesting background. He came out of visual arts, which can sometimes be a tricky transition. People who paint or write poetry, for example, often end up making very pretentious films that consist largely of symbolic imagery rather than coherent storytelling. This is not the case here. McQueen understands how to make a movie both metaphorical in nature as well as graspable to a regular audience.
It’s actually more than that. The film manages very successfully to get into the characters head simply by using the cinematic tools available. There is one scene that hit me very hard, where Fassbender is writhing in his bed. As he is lumbered by painful convulsions, the camera sways back and forth and the music peaks and random intervals. This use of movement and sound manages to truly get across the feeling of what it’s like to have these kinds of recurring attacks. Anyone who has simply laid in bed with a strong stomach virus will know the feeling.
The other interesting aspect of Hunger is the decision to follow different characters. You might think that a movie centred around one person would follow that one person to the bitter end, but no. Instead, it frequently deviates, often following the story of various prison guards before returning to the inmates. This shift in narrative helps to convey the idea that these people are all pawns, caught up in policy that is set by external government bodies. It’s a very tragic realisation, and adds to the uselessness of the whole situation.
That’s the good stuff, now for the bad stuff. I felt there were certain very pretentious moments that I could have lived without. I mentioned the 16 and a half minute shot. Yeah…there’s a single take of two people talking for 16 and a half minutes. Here’s the thing; the rule is generally that a scene is never meant to last more than roughly 2 minutes. Any longer than that and the audience will start to get bored. The pacing will drag and people will begin to question the necessity of the dialogue. Not only that, but if your film features over 16 minutes of dialogue in one scene, it’s usually an indication that you’re not getting straight to the point. That’s exactly how I felt about this bit of the movie, it doesn’t get to the point. There’s a lot of chit chat that I didn’t care about, and it takes them a solid 8 minutes to start talking about Fassbenders intentions and motivations. When the shot finally changed I was so relieved, and not in a good way…a very bad way. A friend of mine expressed admiration at this scene, because of the extreme lack of dialogue up to that point. I can understand that argument, but to me it’s just clunky script design which holds no respect for the audience. People need to understand what’s going on, and be interested in it. If you waste their time with 8 minutes of “Ey”, “Ey”, “How are ya?” “Not bad, you?” “Not bad, where you coming from today?” “Oh, you know…”
No. Just no. Get to the point, that’s all I can say.
So, in the end I think Hunger is a good film, if a bit up its own ass at times. I don’t think it’s as good as Shame, and the two are fairly similar in tone and atmosphere.
Hunger (2008) trailer