Thursday, April 12, 2012
The Hunger Games Review
I love distopian stories. From Brave New World, to 1984, The Handmaid's Tail, The Giver, Anthem, Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, all portray a bleak and troubling vision of the depths to which humanity can descend when we trade reason for fear and freedom for safety. Suzanne Collin's "The Hunger Games," the first in a trilogy of books is the latest offering in a long tradition of stories to take place in a future in which something is fundamentally wrong, and people are in desperate need of a dramatic example to rattle the cages shake them out of apathy and submissivness. Recently adapted into a major motion picture that, if I am not mistaken, has become the highest grossing film starring a female character ever, this harrowing tale of sacrifice, survival, and defiance in the face of insurmountable odds has certainly struck a chord with people everywhere.
Set sometime in the far future where a totalitarian regime has emerged from the ashes of what was once North America, now known "Panem" The Hunger Games tells the story of Katniss Everdeen, a young women who barely manages to scratch out a living for herself, mother, and younger sister in the poorest, coal mining province of a rigidly stratified class system, the uppermost percentage of which reside in a glistening city state called The Capitol, a veriable Roman Empire of sorts representing the pinnacle of societal acheivment and decadence. In a heroic act of self sacrifice on behalf of her younger sister whose name is drawn at a town assembly refferred to as "the reaping," Katniss volunteers to compete in her place in a yearly event known as The Hunger Games. A high stakes, winner take all gladatorial competition featuring one young man and woman under the age of eighteen selected at random from each of the twelve districts. Serving the double function of a cruel punishment against the more impoverished districts who once tried and failed to throw off the yoke of Capitol opression in a past uprising and a celebrated pastime for Panem's wealthy uppercrust who wager big money to sponsor their favorite players, the nationally televised event provides something of an ultimate reality show for the immoral, elitist and hedonistic Capitol residents who train, encourage, and expect the young tributes to savagely dispose of one another so that only one victor may make it out alive.
Borrowing themes from Lord of The Flies and The Running Man, the story explores the moral implications of young people being forced to kill one another for other people's entertainment, specifically the residents of The Capital, who, in a critique on modern society and our obsession with youth, go to extreme and unnatural lengths to alter or modify their appearances in pursuit of some distorted ideal of perfection. Despite being dismissed as subhuman and inferior, it is Katniss and the people from the lesser districts who are closer to true humanity as exemplified in their closeness to the land and their faith and dependence in each other.
I thought the movie had really good performances all around. Jennifer Lawrence did a great job as Katniss and managed to strike the perfect balance between strength and vulnerability. Unlike the main female character in another wildly popular series which shall go unnamed Katniss does not define herself by whichever broody looking guy she happens to be with at the time but is tough, decisive, resourcful, and clever. Not to mention she happens to be a crack shot with a bow and arrow. Woody Harrelson makes a memorable supporting role as the boozy, irrascible mentor to the tributes of district 12 while the usually stunning Elizabeth Banks looks creepy and clown-like as the insidiously cheerful Effie Trinket.
I was only part way through the book when I finally broke down and spoiled it for myself by seeing the movie. I am glad I did. This is truly a unique film and not one to miss. Not that I mean this as an endorsment to give up on the book, I sure haven't.