Film | Review: The Hunger Games
Arts & Culture, Film & TV, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Friday, May 4, 2012 0:00 - 2 Comments
By Casey Selwyn
The Hunger Games has dominated the moviegoer agenda the world over for the past month, preoccupying not only its target tween and young adult audience, but twenty- through seventy-somethings alike. The movie depicts the first book in a trilogy about a dystopic future in which twenty-four kids – ‘tributes’ – from poor, laboring towns are chosen in a Reaping to fight a battle to the death for the amusement of the decadent Capitol city of Panem.
The Capitol is populated by a fluorescent, cracked-out version of the French aristocracy pre-1789, and presided over by a stone-faced Donald Sutherland as the evil President Snow. A pitch-perfect, blue-haired Stanley Tucci interviews the tributes to showcase their personalities and help them to attract sponsorship before cheerily sending them to their deaths.
The plot begins when bow-and-arrow wielding Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence in a brunette, fiercer incarnation of her character in Winter’s Bone, takes her sister’s place when the young and delicate girl is chosen against all odds to partake in the Hunger Games, a fate bleaker than execution. Katniss is joined by the male tribute from her district, Peeta Melark, as she is torn from her family (and her strapping hunting partner). Katniss and Peeta are led to their fates on a high-speed train with their drunk mentor, a convincing Woody Harrelson, and their histrionic escort, a surprisingly well-cast Elizabeth Banks.
Katniss is paraded around the Capitol in flaming costumes before she must enter the Hunger Games arena to fight for survival against her competitors and the man-made elements. Gamemaker Seneca Crane manipulates the children’s surroundings and encounters with each other, encouraging terror and violence for the entertainment of the audience (played by Wes Bentley, in his first major appearance since he famously watched a plastic bag in American Beauty).
The story is decidedly macabre, and while we are privy to moments of hope and true kindness, we also witness displays of cruelty and blind celebrations of sadism. Early parts of the film depict life in District 12 and the Reaping with a sort of a Depression-meets-Nazi-Germany motif. A week later, I read the books and found that while Jennifer Lawrence and her enigmatic expressions were mostly on target, she did not adequately capture Katniss’s constant and overwhelming fear and self-doubt (save for a palpably terrified moment in a glass tube before she is rocketed into the arena). It seems an important omission. Katniss is lauded as a modern heroine who is (finally) more preoccupied with her survival and that of those she loves than with the two boys who are clearly in love with her, but part of what makes her so believable and the story so compelling is her bravery despite her fear, her selective compassion, her preference for saving those she loves over sparking a rebellion, and her utter disgust with the Capitol’s moral bankruptcy. While these themes are present in the film, they do not resonate quite loudly enough.
As full disclosure, I am the target audience for these types of series and books: I ate up The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Ender’s Game. But I always find it slightly disturbing that myself and so many others are enthralled by such displays of violence and vengeance. The Hunger Games actually attracted criticism for not being violent enough –the onscreen rendition toned down some of the bloodier scenes to secure a PG-13 rating – though one would think that the premise and at least two scenes of small children being gutted might sate moviegoers. It’s not a new thing, and the popularity of the movie Battle Royale and required grade school reading of Lord of the Flies set precedents for this type of fanfare.
In our world, feelings of sympathy for those suffering in far-off lands seem to spark little more than one-time donations and Facebook statuses, while wars of unnecessity are carried out to punish populations for crimes they did not commit. The infamous incidents of racist tweeting from Hunger Games moviegoers, angry that certain characters were depicted as black onscreen, provides a good demonstration of the fact that cheering for the good guys in a book or a movie does not necessarily translate into real life.
Ironically, what I found the most revolutionary part of this pop culture phenomenon was that the characters transcended race and gender barriers. Girls and boys are equally matched in the arena with no clear advantage for either side, and nothing is made of race except as a descriptive fact.
Yes, The Hunger Games is a great if grim movie to see in theaters, and the books are an addictive read. But will they transform our society and actually make people act differently? Probably not, though they might make them think a little.
One thing, however, is certain: they will entertain them.
The Hunger Games (2012)
Cert (UK): 12A
Runtime: 142 mins
Directors: Gary Ross
Cast: Alexander Ludwig, Elizabeth Banks, Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hucherson, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Woody Harrelson, josh hutcherson