Hunger (2008)




Director:     Steve McQueen. 

Starring:      Michael Fassbender (Bobby Sands),  Stuart Graham (Ray Lohan),  Helena Bereen (Ray's mother),  Billy Clarke (Chef medical officer),  Larry Cowan (Prison Guard),  Liam Cunningham (Father Moran),  Ciaran Flynn (Young Billy),  Geoff Gatt,  Paddy Jenkins,  Helen Madden (Mrs Sands),  Des McAleer (Mr Sands). 

last ten weeks of the life of Bobby Sands, an Irish Republican Army hunger striker who starved himself to death


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Northern Ireland, 1981.  2,187 people have been killed in "the Troubles" since 1969.  The British Government has withdrawn the political status of all paramilitary prisoners.  (Political status means different treatment for who who commit ordinary crimes and those who commit "political" crimes for political reasons.)  Irish Republicans in the Maze prison are on a "blanket" and "no wash" protest. 

A Brit gets up in the morning and gets ready for work.  His name is Roy Lohan.  He has his breakfast and goes outside to his car.  He looks around the neighborhood checking for any signs of trouble.  He then checks underneath his car for any possible bombs.  There is tension about starting the car wondering if the car will explode.  He goes to Maze prison.  In the locker room he gets changed into his prison guard uniform.  He smokes outside in his uniform.  The knuckles of his right hand are scabby and bloody and one wonders if this man has been hitting prisoners with his hands. 

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain declares that there is no such thing as political violence.  There is only criminal violence.  She declares:  "There will be no political status."

A new Irish Catholic is brought into the prison.  He says he will not wear the uniform of a criminal.  Instead, he demands to wear his own clothes.  The guard writes down by the man's name:  "non-conforming prisoner".  The fellow starts slowly taking off his clothes.  As he is moved out, we see that on the top of his head he is still bleeding.  The guards give him his clothing: one single blanket.  The new prisoner is Davy Gillen.  He has been sentenced to six years in prison.  He meets his cell mate, Gerry Campbell, who is serving a twelve year sentence.  Gerry comments on the different lengths of sentences:  "You lucky bastard."

The walls of the cell are entirely covered with feces.  It is quite disgusting.  Davy tries to get a fly to walk on his finger.  The prisoners pour urine out onto the hallway floors from all the prison cells.  Davy and Gerry write messages and roll them up into small little packages and cover them with a water proof material.  They stick these little packages in various orifices.  When visiting day comes the prisoners and their visitors pass messages between themselves.  Gerry gets a teeny, tiny radio with ear plugs.

The guards are preparing to extract prisoners from their cells.  A naked Bobby Sands is the first to be taken out of his cell.  Bobby resists and the guards viciously hit him with their fists and smash his face into a prison door.  The prisoner is brought over to see Ray and Bobby spits in his face.  Ray hits Bobby in the face as hard as he can.  He goes to hit Bobby for a second time, but Bobby ducks and Ray hits his hand on the wall.  Oh, that hurts!  No wonder the man's knuckles are all bloody and scabbed.  The guards throw Bobby into a bathtub filled with water.  Ray gets what is a scrub brush on a pole and starts washing Bobby with it.  That must also hurt as it tears Bobby's skin!  When the fellows are extracted from their cells, men with power washes comes in to get all the excrement off the walls and floors. 

Bobby meets with his father and mother on visiting day.  He has a black eye and his lip and part of the skin above the lip has been badly cut.  He also has another nasty wound on the side of his head on the left side.  His mother asks him if he is okay and Bobby dismisses any expression of concern for him.  He says it's nothing. 

To protest the actions of the guards the "political" prisoners start destroying everything in their cells and making a real racket.  In response, guards in full riot gear and then with some extra padding are called in to punish the prisoners.  They extract Davy Gillen from his cell and force him to run a gauntlet of the riot police where they viciously beat the prisoner as he goes by or tries to go by.  One of the younger guards is upset over his assignment and hides behind a wall.      

Ray brings daisy flowers to his mother who is in an old folks home.  She appears to be almost catatonic.  As he tries to talk to his mother, a man comes up behind jm and shoots him in the head.  The assassin then calmly walks out. 

Bobby Sands meets with a Catholic priest he knows.  Bobby calls him Dom.  Dom has brought some real cigarettes and says these smokes are better than the Bible that the prisoners smoke by rolling the thin sheets up into the shape of a cigarette.  Bobby says that the efforts of the prisoners, the "blanket" and "no wash" tactics and the first hunger strike were all failures.  They just didn't work on hard-hearted Maggie Thatcher.  So Booby is planning a new hunger strike starting March 1.  That's why he asked to speak to Dom.  The priest asks what makes this new planned strike different from the other one?  The real difference is that this time the hunger strikers will be committed to starving themselves to death.  Bobby says he has 75 volunteers to participate in the hunger strike.  The striking prisoners will begin their protest at two week intervals.  Those who die early or fall out, will be replaced by other strikers.   

The priest is not sympathetic to this new hunger strike.  He says that Bobby has already set himself on dying.  In fact, says the priest, Bobby is already dead, right? He says he supported the first hunger strike, but he will not support a pre-designed plan to die.  The priest also asks Bobby if he has thought of the effect of the deaths on the families?  He says that the British don't care if the strike results in many deaths.  Dom asks Bobby: is it his intent to commit suicide by this action?   Or is it martyrdom that Bobby is looking for?  Fame, possibly?

Bobby tells Dom that he doesn't understand a thing.  He says that at least Jesus Christ had a backbone.  Dom says that Bobby is deluded.  But whatever the priest says, Bobby Sands will not be dissuaded.  He tells a story to the priest about the time he went with his school team to a cross-country race in Ireland.  He says they went to Donegal, which, he thinks, it the most beautiful place in Ireland.  He says his Belfast team and an Irish team stood on opposite sides of a stream watching a skinny foal with a broken leg struggle against the stream to get himself to safety.  Everyone just stood there watching, but doing nothing.  Bobby knows that the Belfast boys will end up getting blamed for harming the foal, if they do anything to the small horse.  Despitie, this, Bobby jumped in the stream and drowned the foal to put him out of his misery.  Bobby tells the priest:  "I knew I did the right thing by that wee foal."  He goes on with:  "I will act and I will not standby and do nothing."  The priest says that he doesn't think he will ever see Bobby again. Bobby only says:  "There's no need, Dom." 

A guard pours disinfectant on the hallway floor to combat the urine protests.  Margaret Thatcher says basically that she will have no pity for the hunger strikers.  They have turned their so-called political violence on themselves to starve themselves to death.  The parents of Bobby Sands come in to listen to the doctor as he describes in detail the effects of starvation on the body.  It's bad news for the body with all systems seeming to be negatively affected.

At every meal Bobby is brought his food, and the staff has to take every untouched meal back to the kitchen.  Bobby now has a lot of blood in his stool.  He is retching and throwing up.  A friend comes to visit him, but Bobby only hears what his friend is saying as muffled sounds.  Bobby has a medical staff person with him for all his different activities.  One of the guys is very good to Bobby, but some tough guy associated with the Ulster Defense Association doesn't even bother to catch Bobby when he faints and falls on the floor. 

Rosaleen Sands and John Sands bring their son's clothes in for Bobby's funeral.  Bobby can only catch glimpses of his mother.  Bobby dies. 

"Bobby Sands died after 65 days on Hunger Strike.  During this time, he was elected to the British Parliament as M.P. for Fernanagh and South Tyrone.  After seven months, the strike was called off.  A further nine men had died.  Sixteen prison officers were killed by paramilitaries during the "blanket:" and "no wash" protests.  In the following days and months, the British Government effectively granted all the prisoners' demand but without any formal recognition of political status." 

Very good movie.  I enjoyed it a lot.  My wife also liked it.  She said it was a very ugly movie because of how the British treated the Irish prisoners.  I take a different approach.  I am very grateful that the movie showed how badly the Irish catholic prisoners were treated.    It was just simply brutal, in harmony with the eight centuries of the brutal treatment of Ireland and the Irish by the British.  I had not known that the British were that bad to their prisoners.  I am also grateful that the movie went into the details of how Bobby Sands suffered by starving himself to death.  I had no idea how painful such a death is.  I come away from the movie with even greater admiration for the Irish heroes of the Hunger Strike.  (P.S.  I already knew that Margaret Thatcher was a reactionary, but this brought the truth of this statement even to greater clarity.)

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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