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(No longer in theaters)
The winner of the Camera D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Steve McQueen’s stark debut Hunger recounts the last days of Bobby Sands (played by Michael Fassbender), the Irish Republican Army member who starved himself to death in prison in 1981. The movie is a triptych. In the first section, IRA soldiers who insist on being treated as political prisoners (not Thatcher’s “hooligans”) smear their cells with excrement and are brutally beaten by guards. It’s excruciating but extremely stylish; even a long shot of a guard hosing layers of fecal matter off a wall looks like an art-school project. The central section is all dialogue, fourteen minutes worth, a debate (done in one take) between Sands and a priest (Liam Cunningham) about the purpose and ethics of a hunger strike. (The priest thinks it’s self-serving and immoral, the bullheaded Sands charges on.) The final section is nearly wordless: Bobby slowly shrinking to a skeleton, his tight white skin erupting in angry sores. When he finally takes his last breath, he is bathed in white light. The movie is a political remake of The Passion of the Christ, only more aestheticized: It’s rigorous, evocative, and, in spite of its grisly imagery, elegant. It’s a triumph—of masochistic literal-mindedness.