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Steve McQueen’s Hunger

A HUNGER STRIKE IS AN EXTENDED, anguished diminuendo. The body, with nothing to eat, slowly eats itself. In Ireland, the memory of the Great Hunger, as the historian Cecil Woodham-Smith called it, is an angry sediment in the national consciousness, stirred when hunger strikes again. As it did with Bobby Sands, the incarcerated protagonist of Steve McQueen’s first feature-length film—indeed, titled Hunger—which arrives in American theaters this winter, after winning the Caméra d’Or at Cannes last May. Sands wanted, among other demands, political-prisoner status. He and the nine young Irish Republican Army comrades who in the early 1980s followed him to their deaths by self-starvation were never granted it. To Margaret Thatcher, the British prime minister at the time, they were nothing more than criminals who had turned their violence on themselves.

The theme of Hunger elicits a profound

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