On February 16, 2010, Criterion Collection released Steve McQueen's amazing film Hunger on DVD and Blu-ray. Although I saw the film a year earlier when it briefly enjoyed a theatrical run, the impact of its filmmaking and storytelling failed to quite sink in for a while; indeed, I unfortunately shelved even Criterion's glorious Blu-ray while I tended to other releases both home-video and theatrical. Following South by Southwest, however, I was renewed in my interest in these smaller, more substantial movies, which far too often get obscured by their more heavily-marketed, mainstream competition. As such, McQueen's film topped my priority list, and as expected the home-video release looks and sounds glorious, both in terms of presentation and content, even if I'm overdue to say so.
The single-disc set collects not only superlative presentation of the film, but an array of dense, concise bonus features, including interviews with director McQueen and star Michael Fassbender, a "making-of" featurette, a vintage episode of a BBC television show about the prison hunger strikes upon which the film is based, and a booklet featuring an essay by film critic Chris Darke. Regardless of all of this, however, the set would be worth buying if it only contained one single scene from the film, a conversation between chief striker Bobby Sands (Fassbender) and Father Dominic (Liam Cunningham) that occurs halfway through the film is one brilliant, unbroken take.
McQueen's beautiful direction to this point in the film is primarily comprised of dialogue-free sequences of the experiences of all involved, including the hunger strikers and the guards. But starting with Sands sitting alone in frame as Father Dominic joins him in a meeting room, the sequence unfolds as the two men warm to one another, push past polite, familial chitchat, attack one another's position and dissect their motivations and aspirations, and finally emerge upon greater human truths that trump the logic or passion of their respective positions.
Early in the scene, Sands casually mentions that he was a cross-country runner; while this would certainly have sufficed as exposition enough to provide justification for the young, emaciated man's seemingly indefatigable energy, the two men parry and argue for many minutes before Sands truly reveals himself to Father Dominic. He tells the priest that when he was a boy, he happened upon a young foal that was injured and made a difficult decision that needed to be made. It is in this moment that we, much like the priest, abandon the pretense that Sands will be convinced to desist from the strike, because we understand that some marriage of pragmatism and idealism, some core belief in action over rhetoric, is what he knows must be done, and he will never be discouraged from action if he believes it is necessary.
Of course, I can only recommend that you watch the entire film from start to finish, especially since the Blu-ray provides unsurpassed, gorgeous video and audio quality, but in the interim click on the link below to watch Fassbender's monologue as Sands describes this galvanizing moment in his life: