Sonic motifs, Structure and Identity in Steve McQueen’s Hunger

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Since its release in 2008, Steve McQueen’s Hunger has received critical acclaim forits powerful and uncompromising portrayal of the 1981 ‘dirty protest’ and subsequenthunger strike by Irish Republican inmates in Northern Ireland’s infamousMaze prison. In most instances, the focus of critics’ attention has been on the film’spolitical connotations, its set pieces – in particular the much talked about 22-minutedialogue scene at its heart – and, perhaps unsurprisingly given McQueen’s backgroundas a visual artist, its visual language. Yet it is the film’s use of sound, sowidely acknowledged by writers yet left relatively under-discussed, that is perhapsits most intriguing aspect. The relatively sparse use of dialogue in much of the filmaffords space for a rich and prominent use of sonic material – including musicalcues – and an attention to aural detail that mirrors that of the film’s visual imagery.In addition, a closer reading of the film reveals a more integral use of sound in theform of a series of recurrent sonic motifs that, over the course of the film, serve asan important structural tool, framing its narrative content while seemingly playingon established political associations to simultaneously affirm and nullify the sectariandivide of its characters. By exploring the motific content and context of bothHunger’s sound and composed, musical components, this article aims to provide aninsight into one of the most striking cinematic works to emerge in recent years.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-32
JournalThe Soundtrack
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Aug 2011


  • ritual
  • film structure
  • sectarian identity
  • the ‘Troubles’
  • sound motif
  • Hunger
  • Steve McQueen (director)


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