The Hunger Games (2012)

Untitled-1There is perhaps a flaw in The Hunger Games that prevents its themes and messages from reaching the surface. This flaw doesn’t come from the movie or the filmmakers; it comes from the source material, Suzanne Collins’ award-winning novel of the same name. The flaw: Setting the story of The Hunger Games in a fictional world known as Panem. First of all, Panem sounds like Pan-Am, and I had to remind myself that no, it’s not a retired airline. And secondly, the world painted by Collins is too far removed from Earth. Whatever message she has hidden within her text is lost on me. Criticising the class system you say? Well, it’s a class system that doesn’t belong to Earth. I see no reason to feel for these characters.

That’s a shame though, because the characters are interesting. Our young heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), is saddled with the responsibility of protecting her sister. Although, along with all the other youngsters from the 12 Districts, she isn’t as intriguing as the colourful residents of Capitol, the, well, capital of Panem. This place is astounding, both in production and costume design. The buildings rise up high into the clouds, and there are large open courtyards that resemble chariot arenas from the ancient Roman times. The people look like mimes poured over with paint. Everywhere you look, there is colour in the costumes but not in the faces. There’s the Gamemaker Seneca (Wes Bentley), whose stunning red and black suit can’t distract our attention from his amusing beard. There’s Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), whose only role as far as I can tell is to announce the “tributes” for each Hunger Games, and she looks like a dolled up marionette whose strings have been cut. And then there’re the two reporters (announcers? commentators? whatever) played by Toby Jones and Stanley Tucci. Jones looks like a shrunken blonde version of Dracula, and Tucci has hair that would fit Katy Perry.

So there are 12 Districts in Panem. Each of them specialises in a specific skill or workforce — the citizens of 11 are farmers, the ones in 12 are miners, and so on. The movie tells us in the beginning that all the Districts attempted a coup against Capitol. As penance for their crime, they had to submit a boy and a girl, aged between 12 and 18, to compete in the Hunger Games, a brutal contest where 24 children enter and only one comes out alive. We are now at Hunger Games #74, because let’s face it, people enjoy watching other people die, and as soon as the first Hunger Games became a reality TV hit, Capitol decided to keep it running annually.

The games take place in an “arena” somewhere on the outskirts of Capitol, in a forested area that could very well be the forests of Indonesia or the Amazon. All 24 kids run around with weapons trying to kill each other. No doubt Katniss is one of them. I’m not even going to begin discussing the ethical implications of such an event. Here, the kids compete against their will, which makes the idea awful. In Battle Royale, the Japanese movie that no doubt inspired Collins (and I’m sure plagiarism is in order somewhere), the kids enjoy the hunt. They kill out of pleasure. When the winner gets interviewed by the press at the end, she smiles sadistically. For her, the games are fun. They’re not dangerous. In Hunger Games, there are a few blood-thirsty hooligans as well, but put them in Battle Royale and they’d soil their pants. There is one similarity though: In both movies, the general public craves the gore.

When it comes down to it, this idea is perhaps the movie’s strongest, not the political critique on the class system. No one in the movie, not even Katniss or her young sister Primrose (Willow Shields), questions the ethics of pitting young girls against macho male sadists. No one questions the barbarity involved with televising death and brutality. Here is a snuff movie that could go on for days. Children fight; some are brave, some are scared. All but one will die, and the people love it. They love it to bits. It’s been happening for 74 years. Don’t you think the adults of the Districts would have organised another coup in that time to save their own children? Apparently not. If they did, and they succeeded, we’d never get to see the visual brilliance of Capitol. And what a crime that would be.

Best Moment | When the games begin. The movie sets up the tournament wonderfully. It takes its time. And then when the buzzer goes and the games begin, the first few kills are shocking. Also, Stanley Tucci’s laugh/smile is hilarious.

Worst Moment | The pointless love triangle.

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