There ate very little words spoken in Hunger. Found within the deafening silence is another form of language. Always right before your eyes, the visual vocabulary of films often makes itself invisible. Hunger, directed by steve mcqueen with cinematography by sean boppit, achieves a level of depth and magnitude in its materful visual articulatuon.
Scenes like the prisoners being ganges up on by armed guards, anally and orally probed with the same set of gloves or the degeneration of Bobby’s frame over the course of the hunger strike, and even the coordinated piss-spilling in the hallway – all of these scenes are wordless, but they speak volumes. The entire film carries an air of sophistication that may be undervalued when taken for granted.
I for one have a hard time paying attention to long and worst dialogue, and talking that fills the air throughout some films. Hunger, however, had my eyes and ears and mind linked and synced to every action on the screen. In a way I felt like I was reading a novel, albeit a visual novel, but the relation is that I was very much “reading” the story. Descriptions or updates or dialogue wasnt being fed to me, but with the right pair of eyes, which I’m sure many people have judging by the acclaim the film has gotten, every shot is a phrase and every scene is a chapter.
The film is absolutely polarizing. That we are sure of just from watching it but also from the reviews – the Tiff screening in 2009 inspired both walk-outs and standing ovations. Where the film may push boundaries the furthest is the 17.minute long uncut dialogue between bobby andi a priest. The scene is somewhat brutally minimalist and focused, reflecting the surroundings of the prison and the overall tone of the film. What makes it special is that it pays off. If someone doesn’t like it, they can walk out, but for the others who have the faith, audacity, or self-control, whatever it takes to stick around for just. While longer, one can find themself invested in the story.
The feeling of enjoying Hunger is not unlike being swept up in a novel so good that the only option is to power through it in one sitting.
Anything learned from this film in regards to telling a story visually should be highly valued.