Director: Steve McQueen
Year Released: 2008
Visceral - but hollow - film of the Irish hunger strike that took place in the early 80's, and in particular the (perhaps courageous, perhaps mad) leadership of IRA member Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), whose physical deterioration in The Maze prison is documented in the last 1/3 of the picture. McQueen takes the complex political subtext and minimizes it, brushing past particulars and arguments - aside from the movie's centerpiece, a 'discussion' between a man determined to die and a man whose earthly profession is to convince others life is worth living - for the arthouse bullying of intense imagery: gaunt, naked bodies wrapped in blankets, their shit smeared on all the walls, their spit used to roll up notes to each other, the blood in their scalps from the beatings, their collective piss pooling in the hallway corridor, Sands' gaping sores oozing and being treated with medicine, blood in the urinal and so on. Those details are alternatively memorable and confrontational - it's the film's insistence to shove one's face in the gutter, but not the mind, as these images mask deeper issues: the IRA killed women, children and innocents, that Sands' suicide was a call to arms (not a call for peace) and that violence, be it self-inflicted or against others, is a commendable way to resolve conflict. The picture all but renders any opposing viewpoint (the British, the "law") mute, turning the Irish guards into visibly conflicted men with batons, and a potentially illuminating subplot with a prison guard in desperate need of Neutrogena ends in the basest way possible. McQueen - one of the YBAs and an experienced video artist - forgoes the cerebral in favor of the grotesque and takes something gray and makes it black and white.