By Joan Ellis
The Hunger Games? Should you bother? Suzanne Collins’ successful trilogy has been crafted and acted by talented professionals. I add, with appreciation, that the filmmakers have used restraint in presenting a violent story. In lesser hands the movie could easily have become a blood-soaked ordeal. Although it rolled into town on the kind of expensive hype that tends to repel independent minded moviegoers, don’t be fooled. There’s much more going on here.
Imagine that a terrible war obliterates millions leaving survivors to design a new nation. Those survivors carry in them the seeds of character and culture that existed before the catastrophe. These are the seeds of selfishness, war, and self-promotion that had become dominant in the first decade of the new century.
With this DNA, what kind of a small nation do the few survivors build? It’s a nation based on a national spectacle (think television’s Survivor), one conceived and manipulated by government, media, and the money. From twelve residential districts, one boy and one girl are chosen by lottery each year to fight each other to the death (think ritual sacrifice) in “tribute” to the peace that followed the great war. Twenty-three will die; the winner will bring honor to his suffering district. As the contestants are chosen and trained, they see the opulent decadence that fuels the lives of their Establishment mentors (think the Occupy movement). Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, and Stanley Tucci, all contribute to a deliberately repulsive portrait of a culture that flourished way back in 2012.
The movie is carried by Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, a lovely outdoor tomboy whose natural presence promises leadership on screen and off. In cautious alliance with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) she races through woods and water, using bow and knife when necessary. Whenever she is involved in the killing, she does it indirectly. It is clear she has the skills and tools for victory, but she also has an embedded fairness and value system that promises hope for the future.
In one of the ugliest themes of this story, each “tribute” sacrifice has been inoculated with a tracking implant that allows the Establishment to televise this disgraceful national savagery. Beginning with live TV coverage of the Vietnam War, the uncomfortable practice of watching our soldiers die in action from the comfort of our living rooms has gained acceptance. In The Hunger Games, this type of reality TV has morphed into a savage national entertainment. It has become a polished media event fueled by enormous amounts of money from sponsors and covered by ravenous media giants eager to fill their screens.
In the real, as well as in this fictional world, government and media feed off whatever is startling or cruel. Here’s a salute to writer Suzanne Collins, director Gary Ross, and actor Jennifer Lawrence for reminding us that we better clean up our act if the future of a broken nation is to hold any hope at all.
Rating: PG-13 (Really?!)