Steve McQueen's 2008 film Hunger is about the 1981 IRA hunger strikes that took place in Long Kesh prison that resulted in ten dead men, including Bobby Sands, who was elected to British parliament before his death. Hunger was probably one of the best films of 2008 and was almost certainly better than all of the Academy Award best picture nominees of that year.
Long Kesh prison included a set of buildings called the H-Blocks, 'H' shaped structures where IRA prisoners were held. During the late 1970s and early 80s, the IRA prisoners waged a series of protests within the H-Blocks to obtain political prisoner or political status and its associated privileges. McQueen's film, representing these protests, is composed of two long segments. The first features the blanket protest, where prisoners went without clothing to protest their being denied civilian clothing in prison, and also the dirty protest, when prisoners kept their body waste in their cells. The second segment represents the hunger strike with an emphasis on the experience of Bobby Sands, whose commitment to the strike was fatal but still intensely meaningful to those agitating for a united Irish republic. This later segment largely shows
Sands on a bed in a white room, as though he's already in heaven, an apotheosis and a counterpoint to the hell depicted in the first segment of the film.The two sections are divided by a prison meeting-room conversation, about the hunger strike, between Bobby Sands and a Catholic priest. This scene comprises the majority of the film's dialog. This scene is also a single take, is long, possibly nearing twenty minutes in length, and as a piece of film-making, is incredible.
The rest of the film is largely silent, there are bits of dialog here and there, but otherwise if there are vocal sounds, they're shouts of anger or pain. Otherwise the focus of the film is on the emotional intensity of the prisoner's resistance to the authority of their institutions and the minutia of prison life. The small details of the protests are emphasized, the shit on the cell walls of the dirty protest,
the insects that collect, the architecture of the prison, the damaged knuckles of the guards. This film targets the senses, with disgusting smells, textures, and tastes implied through much of the visual imagery, and the aural compressed into the dialogue scene. The dark and filthy aesthetic of the film in its representation of these protests recalls music videos like Poison by Prodigy,
or David Fincher's video for Nine Inch Nails' Closer.
Those videos take place in a metaphor, while mcQueen's Long Kesh H-Blocks are a dramatic representation of a real and still existing site.