Friday, November 26, 2010
The film is worthy of study chiefly for its structure, besides the acting; this is where McQueen's training as an artist shines through. The film is divided into 4 parts: the prologue, prison life, interview/confession, hunger strike. The Prologue (not truly a prologue but I call it so because its power lies in its ability to conceal the inner chambers of the film and rather hints at the violence to come) has us contemplating the routine life of a nondescript, well-fed, well-dressed, seemingly honorable man who happens to be a prison guard. McQueen focuses not only on the trifles of his passing hours but most expressly on his bruised hands, which the prison guard constantly has to submerge in a sink of warm water to soothe their swelling when we see that they are freshly cut and bruised time after time. What does he do that hurts his hands so? Rather, who does he hurt to make his hands hurt so? This recurrent image is powerful enough -- of an irishman hurting, as we assume, other irishmen, and ends up bruising himself -- and its strength of expression gains resonance by indirectly suggesting an unseen, off-screen violence. The 2nd part, which I call Prison Life, follows a fresh prisoner into a cell where we are cast with him into the shit storm, literally. We're gradually made aware of the absence, the delayed introduction, of Bobby Sands: neither of the two young men with whom we inhabit the 2nd part of the film is Sands, and this makes the everymanness of the prisoners' ordeal poignant. When Sands is finally introduced we don't immediately recognize him: hardly any one in the film is referred to by name or cast into sharper light by dialogue: speech among the characters is sparse, arising only in the necessaries of actual human functions, when something vital has to be said. Who in prison would waste the energy to blabber when everything is at stake? The prisoners/rebels are displayed to us like monks in a cloister who practice the virtues of silence, endurance and forbearance; not merely because they are rebels thrown into the pen, but because they are irishmen sworn by blood to their country; something greater than them is in peril, must be preserved. The 3rd part, by which time we know who Sands is (played imperiously, magnificently by Michael Fassbender) leads eventually to the extended dialogue scene involving Sands and a Catholic bishop. This scene, acted with virtuoso solemnity by both parties, weighs everything down, and leads theoretically to the actual hunger strike, of which we see only Sands' martyrship. The ending, having nothing to do with the beginning (except in terms of cinematographic light, in their share of color and tone), flares out in birds and death; Sands' martyrship stays with us until the last credit rolls, and all that had happened before doesn't come full circle as other films do, and instead spirals outward into a haunted sky. What was done is done. "It is finished."
Thursday, November 25, 2010
"I'll tell you one thing, there's nothing like building an old automobile from scratch and wiping out one of those Detroit automobiles. It does give you a set of emotions that stays with ya. Know what I mean? Those satisfactions are permanent."
They are permanent because they are ennobled beyond the ordinary measure of practicality. Immeasurable because they are fast and constant.