Movie vs Reality: Hunger

By Felix Quinonez Jr.

October 29, 2012

Magneto has seen better days.

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We’ve all heard movies described as “based on a true story” but what does that actually mean? I’m always surprised by the fact that some people seem to equate this to watching a documentary. Sure, some movies stick close to the source material but even the most faithful adaptations make changes to the story. And of course there are some movies that alter so much that any similarities to the actual events seem to be accidental.

In each entry of this column I’m going to be looking at a different movie “based on a true story” or whatever phrasing is attached to it and compare it to the actual story. Hopefully I’ll be able to separate fact from Hollywood. But I’m also going to be talking about what those changes mean and why they were made. Do the changes have some artistic merit or are they just attempts to make the story fit into a neat Hollywood package?

Northern Ireland has had a very rocky history. For many years, the nation has been embroiled in violent political and social unrest. A particular instance of restlessness was the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike. Hunger, starring Michael Fassbender focuses on this event. The movie, released in 2008, was directed by Steve McQueen (no, not THAT Steve McQueen).

As I’ve pointed out, Northern Ireland has, throughout time, been fraught with violence and turbulent problems. But as is usually the case, their history is quite complicated and I won’t try to fully explain the nation’s troubles or even pretend to be an expert on it. But I will point out that these hunger strikes were a result of years of protest during what is known as “The Troubles.” The Troubles was a conflict in Northern Ireland that at various times found its way to the Republic of Ireland, England and even mainland Europe. It is generally accepted that it lasted from the late 1960s until 1998 with the Belfast “Good Friday” agreement. Obviously, that is a very succinct summary of a very long and complicated conflict. The topic merits its own column - at the very least - and is definitely worth reading about.


Aside from focusing on a very interesting topic, Hunger is also a very good movie. It has a 90% rating at Rotten Tomatoes. And it was named the "Best Film of 2009" by the Toronto Film Critics Association Awards, an honor it shared with Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. But how accurate is it? Let’s find out...

What the Movie Got Right

At the beginning of the movie we see a new prisoner, Davey Gillen, arrive. After being interviewed, Gillen is labeled a "non-conforming prisoner." This happens because of his refusal to wear the prison uniform. The guards send him to his cell naked with only a blanket. There he meets his cellmate, who has smeared the walls with his own feces. This was something that the prisoners had taken to doing as a form of protest.

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