Film Comment reports: McQueen’s Hunger

“They had successfully created this world like a sphere that, wherever it rolled, would be right.”

-Steve McQueen discussing the actors’ performance in Hunger [watch a short clip of the NYFF press conference here]

Hunger (directed by Steve McQueen) is miraculously well constructed for a debut feature. It vividly (and all-too fecally) details the lives of imprisoned IRA members in a manner (at first) so relentless that the viewer is given no time to take stock of the events from a own perspective or outside of the film’s reality. The flashes of contemporary resonance give it urgency, but the lack of complexity in terms specific current events keep the viewer’s mind constricted to the point of incarceration. The extreme graphic violence (not to mention the political-zombie subtext), oddly recall George Romero, but in McQueen’s case quickly justifies itself before the gruesomeness becomes too much of a diversion. The action-packed first half, a thrill-ride of brutality, comes to a screeching halt, just in time to keep the movie from falling into torture-porn territory. In a 20-minute-long shot of absolute stillness and calm, we enter a zone (a visiting room) of chaperoned contemplation. At this juncture, a classic prison confession scene, the viewer is given a myriad of readymade perspectives to digest everything we’ve just experienced.

Hunger is undeniably impressive in its construction; many critics will call it monumental—and they’re probably right. But, unlike the Hungers of the past, both Knut Hamsun’s and Tony Scott’s, McQueen’s impenetrable perfection of form allows for no leakage of thought. The failures, extreme subjectivities and ambiguities of more open-ended artwork permits slippages in and out of the narrative world, promoting complex and unpredictable responses. The Hunger of ’08 never takes a misstep, and thus the film, with its viewers following closely in tow, can only take one route. In its depiction of both sides of the struggle, McQueen refuses to reveal his hand, thereby playing it all too safe.

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2 Comments on “Film Comment reports: McQueen’s Hunger”

  1. J Says:

    A stunning film. Beautiful/horrific pure cinema.

  2. Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa, Film Comment Says:

    What determines a film’s purity?

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