Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hunger (2008) DVD / a Steve McQueen film; starring Michael Fassbender & Liam Cunningham

"There is no such thing as political murder, political bombing or political violence. There is only criminal murder, criminal bombing and criminal violence.” --Margaret Thatcher (1980)

By 1980, The Troubles had reached a crescendo. The previous year had witnessed the deaths of a Northern Irish MP, a member of the Royal Family and 27 British soldiers. All were killed in IRA-orchestrated terrorist attacks. In an effort to combat the extremism, the Thatcher-led British Parliament overturned the "special category status" for the IRA members, essentially declaring all IRA sponsored terrorist attacks as "criminal" in nature rather than "political". The legislation removed a multitude of hindering compliance procedures from the due process of apprehending and interrogating Republican Army prisoners. Without "special category", wartime laws of the Geneva Convention counted for nothing. Prison conditions were solely determined by the British Government who didn't hesitate to use their advantage. Many Irish loyalists (some yet to be convicted) were already under heavy lock and key, kept isolated in maximum security prisons like Northern Ireland's Maze facility where staunch resisters like Bobby Sands were among the first to feel the affects of the new policy. In protest, Sands and the other inmates revolted against their ever-worsening circumstances by refusing to shave, refusing to bathe and ultimately by refusing to eat. In October of 1980 and then again in January of 1981, the 26-year-old Sands, a devout Catholic and the leader of one the most resolutely determined sections of the Provisional Republican Army, orchestrated a hunger strike, a steadfast rejection of all food in hopes of prompting a reversal of the special category status.

In what might best the characterized as a docudrama or politically-tinged art film, the movie described above is, more than anything, incredibly disgusting. Not "disgusting" as in cinematically or conceptually bad; on the contrary, it's very nearly perfect in that regard. It has to do with the truly revolting on-screen subject matter, scenes depicting a viscerally repugnant, subhuman atmosphere operating within the Maze prison walls. Two prisoners inside a sealed-off 6 x 8 ft cell squatting (literally) in their own undisposed-of waste 24/7 is all you need to know. Very little dialogue highlights the film; images do most of the talking, the moments of merciless, stomach-churning realism speaking for themselves. Fassbender had to go on a medically monitored crash diet to portray the emaciated Bobby Sands in his final hours. It paid off. He gives a truly gut wrenching (pun intended) performance to complement the record breaking cinematography--the film had the longest single scene in movie history at 16 and half minutes. It's an unforgettable viewing experience, that being if you can stomach the putrid scenes of prisoners painting cell walls with their own rancid feces. Sands' legacy as a political prisoner, martyr, criminal and/or terrorist is still up for debate. Margaret Thatcher certainly didn't think that Sands' death warranted hero status. But if the film is an indication of anything, it's a testament to the near insane lengths men will go to for what they believe in. Sands died in Maze prison on May 5 1981 after going 66 days without eating. Nine other prisoners followed his lead, dying from self-imposed starvation in the weeks following until Thatcher finally relented, re-granting special category status to IRA prisoners. (DVD HUNGER)

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