“Hunger,” divides itself neatly into three acts. The first act, almost entirely absent of dialogue, observes a bunch of dirty, naked men in prison who paint the walls with their feces and routinely get beat up – er, I mean, “cleaned up” — by the prison guards. The third act, also almost entirely absent of dialogue, observes one man as he voluntarily starves to death, sores opening up on his body as he grows shockingly thin and begins to hallucinate.
The middle act is a twenty minute conversation between one of the prisoners and a priest. It attempts to explain both the scenes that came before, and the ones that come after. He is an Irish terrorist, or activist, depending on your point of view, and he and his compatriots are trying to get the British government to consider them political prisoners, and not the normal type. This is why they’re naked in the first act; they refuse to wear the prison uniforms. And this is why they starve to death in the third act. We are told at the end of the film that the British government granted all of their demands, one at a time, while never giving them the title they longed for.
For what it is, I guess “Hunger” is well-made. The takes are long, the performance intense, the lighting and mise-en-scene impressive. Yet I struggle to understand who would enjoy watching this movie. If you were to take the evisceration scene from “Braveheart” — easily the most powerful scene in that movie — and stretched it out for two hours, you would have “Hunger.” So much of the movie is devoted to brutal beating, open sores, feces-stained walls and desperate looks in bloodshot eyes, it feels more like a tour through a third world hospital than a trip to the cinema.