Heroes of the Zeroes: Hunger (2008)
Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.
Plato’s cave allegory received punishing political subtext in “Hunger,” the 2008 debut of writer-director Steve McQueen.
Many boys born into the Troubles (a deceptively innocuous name for Northern Ireland’s political- and religious-based violence) were hopelessly chained in Plato’s cavern — believing their blood was to be shed in hopes of earning political recognition for the Provisional Irish Republican Army.
Paramilitary prisoners protested by lining walls with feces, choking the air with unwashed musk and enduring brutal beatings with heads held high. But those protestations became dismissible routine to the British opposition and lost meaning outside the walls to those in whose service they’d fought — who’d replaced concern for the cave’s reality with the sunshine outside.
As a last resort, prisoner Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) led a 1981 hunger strike — a decision Sands debates with a priest during a haunting, 15-minute unbroken take.
Fassbender’s 30-pound depletion drew less attention than Christian Bale’s crash-diet for “The Machinist.” But it propelled a graphic, gut-wrenching 20-minute montage of jutted bones, sticky bedsores and a fading brain, during which McQueen found lamentable symbolism for lost childhood in a ceiling crack traced to a smooth wall. (McQueen alternated raging violence with vacuums of quiet to depict the prisoners’ zoned-out isolation and the reticence of some jailers.)
Politically, Sands’ suicide meant nothing, but it illustrated poisonous lengths to which someone would go in protecting the only reality ever presented to him. This is terrorism’s pox, and why the Troubles — though largely stabilized — still bear the scars of shame.