I was at the premier of the Steve McQueen film Hunger last night in Belfast and recorded this vox pop with people coming out. I think their fresh responses to the film give a sense of the power of it and the readiness of audiences to believe in its integrity.
Many questions have been raised about whether this is IRA propaganda. In fact, the suicide of Bobby Sands is depicted as the fanatical resolve of a man who is past being able to share the concerns of the outside world, where even other republicans want to avert a hunger strike.
(Note for techos – the vox pop was recorded on a Marantz PMD 620 using the built in stereo mics and the manual recording level control to reduce the back ground. I think it worked well.)
I am reviewing the film for Fortnight. Here’s a clip of that review:
We see a new prisoner being admitted to a shit smeared cell and feel ourselves almost sickeningly present with him.
We follow this new prisoner through his induction into the practice of smearing the wall, pouring urine under the door, channelled by a wall of greasy foetid food, to his first secretive wank in a shared cell and his first hammering by prison officers who are trying to get the place cleaned.
This prepares us to imagine that we are going to follow the stories of these individuals through to the end but we are not. We will see the prison officer stand sweating in a light snow shower, suggestive of Auschwitz ash. We will see the prisoner learn to exchange messages and parcels in the visiting area, where they are concealed in mouths, rectums and vaginas. In one scene, a woman shuffles under her skirt to withdraw a parcel and passes it across to a prisoner who shuffles it deftly up his own hole. And the woman smiles, enjoys a joke, perhaps even imagines that this is intimacy.
For her this is novel and even fun; he is only thinking about the practicalities.
When we get to the allegedly interminable scene in which Bobby Sands debates the morality of hunger strike with a Catholic priest, it comes as a relief from the audience’s own sense of confinement in the ghastly world of filth and violence.
Sands, joking about the wounds on his face implicates the priest unwittingly in a joke about the man who has been murdered by the IRA.
There are a few difficulties in the exchange between Sands and the priest. Sands’ recollections of Gweedore include barley fields and woodland. Mine don’t. These are local incongruities, like the prison officer leaving his home in Gransha off the Glen Road, details that won’t trouble foreign audiences.
The priest tells Sands that he has become an obsessive fanatic, unable even to love his own child. He accuses him of planning his own suicide. He throws every argument a sane compassionate person could muster against a ruthless man who is prepared to march boldly to his own death and take, potentially, dozens after him.
When the camera then turns to close-up on Sands the effect is almost unnervingly intimate. Then Sands delivers his reply with a story from childhood to illustrate his own courage and individual moral conscience.
From then on we are into the story of his grotesque deterioration.
Just got home from Dublin to read the tirades against the above on Slugger.
Republicans will not use the word suicide to describe Sands’ decision to die because the word was used accusatively against him and was central to the argument with the church about the morality of what he was doing.
But it was a decision to die, made in the light of an understanding that Thatcher would not move before at least one hunger Striker had died. So, if I am not concerned about the need to defend the morality of the republican cause or to make their case to the church, why should I avoid the word suicide?
Because it implies despair? OK, but I don’t think it necessarily does imply despair. Is Hari Kiri suicide? It is the ending of one’s life in acceptance of a principle and may not necessarily entail despair.
We have similar pressures from Jihadis to avoid the use of the word suicide in relation to what they call ‘martyrdom operations’. Many of them are motivated by strong conviction and don’t see themselves as discarding their lives and hopes.
Maybe we should equally avoid the term suicide to spare the feelings of those people too. Indeed, maybe we should avoid it altogether since families of all people who kill themselves are entitled to consideration.
I was rebuked recently – and I take the point – for using the term ‘commit suicide’, the word ‘commit’ implying sin or offence – presumably on the understanding that the word ‘suicide’ itself doesn’t but is just a technical term for taking your own life.
Whatever – I am not going to contort language to defend the reputation of Bobby Sands.
As for whether I have simply sold out to take money from some notional master – who is this master who pays me so well? Where can I pick up the money?
And bitter? I don’t think so. I write very little about republicanism these days. But I got an invitation to this film out of the blue and went along and thought that is was really good. Worth commenting on.