It revolves around the Maze Prison during The Troubles, and the various ways they protest to regain their political status (revoked by the British government in 1976), starting with "no-wash" protests and ending in a hunger strike — as led by Irish Republican Army member Bobby Sands (Fassbender).
Hunger premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, winning the Caméra d'Or award (an honor for first-time filmmakers) as well as several more awards throughout the 2008-2009 European circuit.
Tropes used in Hunger include:
- Adult Fear / And I Must Scream: Imagine being Raymond Lohan's catatonic mother, completely unable to communicate or move, and witnessing your own son getting shot in front of you, his corpse slumping into your lap, his blood completely covering you, while all you can do is stare blankly ahead...
- Animal Motifs: The image of black birds flying is used throughout Bobby's strike as his condition worsens, perhaps symbolizing his soul leaving his body as he slowly dies.
- As he convulses in his bed, the image flashes momentarily several times.
- Immediately after he dies, we see the birds fly off and disappear into the sky.
- Ass Shove: We see multiple naked prisoners get less-than-sanitary cavity searches, having gloved fingers shoved up their rectums before having their mouths checked by the same fingers.
- Bilingual Bonus: Longtime prisoner Gerry Campbell attempts to converse with his new cellmate Davey Gillen in Irish, but it becomes quickly apparent that Gillen has no knowledge of the language.
- Boom, Headshot!: Prison officer Raymond Lohan visits his catatonic mother in a retirement home. An IRA assassin shoots him in the back of the head.
- Body Horror: Of a variant made all the more harrowing by its 100% basis in reality. Bobby's body undergoes graphic deterioration during the strike, with effects including but not limited to gaping sores forming on his skin.
- Dies Wide Open: Bobby in the end.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The prisoners' puddles of urine all flow into one continuous stream on the floor of their cellblock, which later on in the film is swept away by a prison guard.
- Excrement Statement: The purpose of the "dirty protests", where the prisoners smear their feces all over the walls of their cells and urinate out into the hallway.
- Fan Disservice: Continuous Male Frontal Nudity would be appealing to some, except in this case the males are unwashed, unnaturally thin, and often abused by prison officers.
- Foregone Conclusion: The American DVD box tells you that it involves "[Bobby] Sands' last days." Needless to say, he dies in the end.
- Leave the Camera Running: Long shots of walls, corridors, hands, and the like being washed populate the film.
- Imagine Spot: Just before Bobby dies, he vividly experiences a memory of himself jogging in the woods as a child. He also imagines being visited by his child self several times.
- Invulnerable Knuckles: Averted; prison officer Raymond hurts his hand pretty badly after punching the wall by accident.
- Mercy Kill: Bobby tells the story of an injured foal that he and his friends found at a young age; he took the initiative to end its suffering, knowing that it was the right thing to do.
- Mood Whiplash: At multiple points, the tone of a scene shifts dramatically at an instant.
- Bobby, Davey and Gerry are all sitting idly in their cells...before Bobby begins screaming, shouting, and trashing his room, inciting Davey and Gerry to do the same.
- Prison officer Raymond Lohan is visiting his catatonic mother in her nursing home...before an IRA assassin calmly walks in and puts a bullet in his head.
- My God, What Have I Done?: During the riot squad scene, the focus subtly shifts to one officer who seems more antsy and erratic than the rest. When he gets headbutted by a prisoner, he immediately lashes out, beating him viciously with his nightstick. We then see him isolated outside of the room, breaking down in tears, horrified at his actions.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Some of the prisoners get brutally beaten by a collection of riot officers.
- The Oner: Several count as Leave the Camera Running. Particularly notable is a scene where Bobby Sands and his priest discuss the upcoming hunger strike; it goes for 17 and a half minutes, a record length.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Almost. Bobby Sands dies, 9 more men die after him, and their goal (the status of political prisoner) is never completely accomplished. They do, however, get equivalent rights granted to the prisoners.
- Silence Is Golden: Much of the film goes by with little to no dialogue.
- Traumatic Haircut: Bobby's introductory scene shows him getting one while having his head pinned to a seat, ridding him of the hair he'd grown out during the dirty protest.