This article argues that Steve McQueen’s Hunger (2008) represents an unexpected but compelling mutation of the genre of postindustrial labor film. Hunger depicts the protests of Irish republican prisoners inside the Maze Prison that culminated in the 1981 Irish hunger strike. At the same time, the film develops an extended representation of the labor of the prison workers who beat, humiliate, care for, and counsel the prisoners throughout the protests. By combining and reworking the genres of labor film, prison film, and Irish Troubles film, Hunger imagines the prison as a microcosm of a deindustrialized Northern Irish economy where labor has left the factory and become conjoined to the disciplinary power of the state, either as police work or as care work. In this way, Hunger attends to the “spirit” of what Lenin called the “labor aristocracy,” here reduced to the work of maintaining the very boundary between itself and those excluded from it. McQueen’s attention to the body and to the affective dimensions of labor and struggle, the article argues, allows Hunger to achieve a uniquely committed, totalizing representation of the political economy of Northern Ireland.

You do not currently have access to this content.