The Hunger Games (2012) Directed by Gary Ross from the novels by Suzanne Collins
“And it was decreed that each year, the 12 districts of Panem should offer up a tribute of one young man and woman between the ages of 12 and 18 to be trained in the art of survival and to be prepared to fight to the death. We honor your bravery, your honor, and your sacrifice. May fortune ever be in your favor.”—President Snow
War and economic collapse has eliminated America, and from it’s ruins rose Panem. The totalitarian elite of the Capital keep the twelve districts in line by carefully managed privation and the crushing despair leavened with a spark of hope that is The Hunger Games. This is the seventy fourth year.
In the coal mining district, 12, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) hunts illegally to keep her mother and sister Primrose (Willow Shields) alive. Her beau is Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) another malcontent. This year is especially stressful; it’s Prim’s first year to be in the selection, and Gale has 42 tickets in the drawing. You can apparently get more rations by putting in more tickets. One also suspects you can earn more as a punishment. So Primrose = 1, Gale = 42.
Primrose “wins” on the first draw. Katniss offers herself in her sister’s stead, the first volunteer ever from District 12. The male chosen is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). They are then whisked away to the Capital to be prepared. Their mistress of protocol is the hideous Effie Trinket (amazingly portrayed by the lovely Elizabeth Banks) their mentor, a fellow District 12 survivor, the sodden Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), and the stylish Cinna (Lenny Kravitz, who looks the best I have seen him in YEARS). Together, they prepare them for what’s ahead. Effie shows them what is expected…she expects them to be impressed by heaping platters of food and platinum doorknobs. Haymitch finally sobers up enough to clue them into the real game; stay alive…distance is more important than shiny blades, and you have to get them to like you, because sponsors, members of the government, can get you supplies when they are needed. Cinna, Cinna is a genius. As the 12th district, they go last. Their district mines coal. What are they supposed to do, dress up as miners? No, he dresses them in simple, elegant black, and when they are in procession, they are lit on fire. Literally. It makes an impression, follows a theme, and gets them NOTICED.
Nor is Peeta a lost cause. He may not be a tough survival minded hunter like Katniss, but he has natural charm, something she lacks. And he introduces an element Katniss was totally oblivious to; romance. With literally the entire nation watching, he admits he has a crush on Katniss. Brilliant.
And then they are in the arena…24 children between the ages of 12 and 18, in a winner take all fight to the death.
There are several things that amaze me of about this movie; it’s relevance to our world. It was born when the author was flipping between Reality TV and news coverage of the war in Iraq.
I am amazed by the fact that the heroine is more than two dimensional, and not just through the bust area. Often the heroine is a competent tomboy who is unaware of her own attractiveness, and that is taken for purity. Katniss is not pure. She may be a virgin, but she is also a complex person. She hates. And she hates for the right reasons. Nor is her hatred derailed by shiny objects, pretty clothes, or pastry trays. She is not pure, she is uncompromised. There is a difference, and frankly the later is harder to hang onto than the former.
And I am amazed by the political message of this movie; rule through scarcity, privation, want, and fear of reprisal. Does this sound familiar? Create a society where 12 districts support one. They have bare sustenance, if that, while the capitol wallows in luxury. What does that sound like?
I have yet to read the books (believe me, they are going to the top of the pile) but they strike me as the love child of Brave New World and Lord of the Flies, with a side affair with Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.
Best of all, it harness teenage distrust of the status quo, and hones it to a razors edge. It is not built so much on political demagoguery, but on a feeling; a feeling that there is something seriously wrong with the world and something needs to be done. That is way to reach the teen mind, not through rhetoric.
And the message is just as sharp as Katniss’ arrows, and just as on target.
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Movie Mood: Action Movie
Viewing Method: Sneak Preview at My Local Theater
Film Completeness: Looked complete to me.