A close-up of what appears to be a pan rhythmically banged on the floor and then a close-up of a woman’s face; she is the one banging. But she is not the only one. The increasing sound of many rattling pots and pans in this prison protest fills up the narrow space that the director creates for the audience as he cuts to the floor once more.
The title, Hunger, written in white over black, abruptly cuts all sound and image.
The film starts with the shot of a washbasin being filled with hot water. A man takes off his rings and puts them aside. He turns the running tap off and carefully places his hands in the water. We see his mirror reflection as he takes a deep breath, opens his eyes and looks at himself.
Next, he is in his room, getting dressed. We catch a glimpse of the bruises on his hand as he buttons his shirt up. Then his breakfast is readily served by a woman who quickly goes away without returning his half-smile. As he solely sits and eats, the only sound we hear is of the radio and the crunching noise he makes when biting his toast.
Before he gets in his car, he looks both ways in front of his house. The same woman who appears to be his wife anxiously watches him from the window as he lies down on the floor by his car to check its bottom. He turns the engine on; the woman seems relieved as he drives away.
There is no dialogue in this opening scene that lasts about three minutes, but Steve McQueen almost effortlessly lays out all the significant elements in this prisoner officer’s life with such skillful visual and verbal reticence.