On a literal level, Steve McQueen's feature debut, Hunger, delineates the events surrounding the 1981 IRA Hunger Strike, led by Bobby Sands. It is also a meditation on the human body as political weapon, as well as an abstraction on what it means to die for a cause.
In spite of McQueen's celebrated status as a Turner Prize winning artist who has a long experience working in the film medium, the journey to realising his creative vision with Hunger was far from problem-free. At a Q&A session I attended towards the close of 2008, the film's producers, Laura Hastings-Smith and Robin Gutch, described the difficulty they encountered in trying to raise funds for the project. McQueen's perceived "radical" ideas, which included exploring the possibility of making a silent film, made some potential sponsors feel jittery.
The first third of the film is almost devoid of any dialogue at all whilst it works to set the scene. Silence is contrasted against the centrepiece of the film - a twenty-two minute duologue between Bobby Sands and a Catholic priest, in which both men discuss the utility or futility of a hunger strike. This is followed by a monologue by a doctor's detailed description to Sands' parents about the effect of starvation on the human body. The third act observes the six-week disintegration of Sands' body during his hunger strike, which proves to be both engrossing and almost impossible to watch. Hunger, in the end is an indelibly powerful, poetic and provocative work - both emotionally and intellectually.