Reality TV becomes social political commentary in the 2012 film Hunger Games. It’s a bruital Truman Show with show hosts, sponsors, and producers ruling like a mythological godhead. Then like in the Gladiatorial arena, the thumb lifts selecting life or death.
No. I haven’t read the books. Now I don’t think I can. I almost walked out of the theater three times. There I sat, knowing conceptually that the games were a Shirley Jackson-esque Lottery ending in murder, but the promise of a “bloodbath” was sure to be fulfilled and suddenly more than I could take. It felt like seeing Clint Eastwood‘s Million Dollar Baby. I knew it was about boxing, but I’d forgotten until I was sitting there in the theater that girls would be punching each other in the face. Certainly, the director handled the carnage in Hunger Games like a Bourne or Bond film with fast hand-held camera shaking around the action followed by a montage of dead children. Dead children. Children murdering children. That’s what this film is about. I’m wrecked, disgusted, befuddled. Why the hype? Why the encouragement? Why will we all take time to see this? From concept to box office, however, this has not been a hard sell. Why?
It released at midnight, and I saw it less than 24 hours later. As I’d hoped, the theater was full of fans, the best and worst crowd to see a movie with because they know what is coming and because they know what is coming. I heard anticipatory sobs before pivotal deaths happened.
Okay. So, it’s brilliant. It’s a could-be post-apocalyptic America. It’s the French Revolution. The commoners must rise up against the aristocracy. Big Brother must not win despite his sci-fi magic dogs and hallucinogenic killer bees. So, the people must fight. Sacrifices will be made. A hero must rise up. The chosen hero is Katniss Everdeen. She will be a symbol of relief and freedom. She cheated the games – a true tribute. I love that she only fights defensively and ever out of mercy. We love her first for breaking small rules, for showing skills with a bow, for loving her sister, for parenting her family, for surviving. We love her would-be boyfriend for loving her, for his beauty. Oh, that Hemsworth family…
Casting is possibly perfect. Woody Harrelson endears himself like he hasn’t since Cheers. His character redeems the story – a true mentor who knows well the special world of the arena, a true coach and friend. I like that his character is messy, honest, crude, and trustworthy.
Lenny Kravitz steps in as the stunner with heart.Stanley Tucci, as usual, can do no wrong. Wes Bentley‘s facial hair stands alone. I love him. Well done, costuming and make-up.
Even young Josh Hutcherson stands out as a precious Peeta. I believe that he loves her and always has. Lovely. And, Jennifer Lawrence remains the new it girl.
Donald Sutherland, as always, gives the cast credibility. I’d cast him as F.D.R. someday, the beloved father and strong politician. These characteristics make Sutherland a viable villain as well. He calmly tends his roses as we figure out that he‘s the thumb calling life or death. He’s the dictator offering a socialist hope while disguising a communist regime. The quintessential line of the film is his. He comments that the only weapon greater than fear is hope. Katniss represents the hope for the common people, those still starving to death in prison camps beyond the gates of the golden city. War will be the inevitable outcome of these Hunger Games, but I hope the war doesn’t manifest off-screen in evermore gratuitous youth violence.
stephanie. you HAVE to read it. you have to give the first one a try, at at least. you know well the heart of a written story can so very rarely be translated whole to the screen. i loved the movie. but it’s a shadow of the story. it’s a satire; a commentary on our society and our willingness to idolize youth while sacrificing their innocence. a commentary on what celebrity is and the new rules to the game in our technologically advancing society. it’s gruesome and ugly and horrifying…it’s the world we live in. but!! there are those who will fight against it, and love, and lose, and never compromise…aaaaah! you can borrow if you decide to give it a try. and i liked this article i read today: http://popwatch.ew.com/2012/03/24/the-hunger-games-book-movie/
I trust you, Erin. Bring the copy. I’ll prepare my heart. Love you. Your comment was worth writing this post that took so much of my day to write. Thanks, sweet friend.
That is a great article!
I also haven’t read the books. That being said, I enjoyed the movie quite a bit. I do appreciate your review. You made some good points on the substance of the story. Check out my review if you get a chance.
I think it looks an absolutely brilliant film and unfortunately, I haven’t been able to watch it yet. They have made the film sound brilliant with all the trailers being released, I haven’t read the books either. Should I read them before I watch the film, or would it be better to watch the film first, or does it even make a difference?
I wish I could tell you which experience would be better in this case… to read or not to read. Each experience is unique and worthwhile: reading & watching. I would have to make the decision based on timeframe. How fast do you read? It’s most likely that the film will only be in theaters for another month or so.
I haven’t read the books, and I most likely will never see the movie. My sisters went and saw it, and told me everything that happens. I cannot get over a society which thinks watching children brutalize each other for food is a good thing. This was an extremely well-written review, I enjoyed it very much.
Thank you! Check out the review that my friend Erin sent me – a few comments before yours. Glad you enjoyed!
Well, didn’t see a movie and I can’t read your review (because I expect to watch it in future and I don’t like spoilers 😀 ) But I think it’s another hyped trilogy for teenagers. 🙂
Interesting review with lots to think about. (I’m curious why this is in the ‘horror’ category of your blog, though…)
While you’re obviously right that both ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘The Truman Show’ explore the role of reality TV, I think it’s problematic to call the former a “brutal” version of the latter. Truman was a star for decades before even suspecting he was being watched, but the tributes know it from the beginning. Also, although both shows-within-the-movies provide escapism for their audiences, they take them in very different directions; Truman viewers seemed to love Truman and his world, and probably wished they could live that idyllic life, whereas viewers of the Games were probably relieved they didn’t have to take part. Viewers probably saw Truman as a beacon to follow, and so they might have tried to bring bits of his kindness into their own lives. In contrast, the Games were more like a threat that probably made viewers think their own lives were pretty good in comparison and kept them quiet.
You’re right in that control and power definitely play a big role in both shows, though.
I like your perspective. I suppose I was the one taken off guard. I felt like I knew what I was in for, but suddenly the perverse nature of children killing each other took over and any sense of “entertainment” was gone. It became a tragedy. The 2nd in the Games series didn’t feel the same, I suspect because it was adults. A fellow whom I respect named Stuart Mcallister calls our violence-viewing society one that craves a “perverse sense of justice,” which many super heroes including Batman stand against in never allowing themselves to kill, even the bad guy. But in Games, I never felt that it was a choice. In a way, Truman’s ignorance was his prison. The children were never ignorant. They knew they were the entertainment for the Capitol. Perhaps choice is my gage here for what separates Truman’s experience from Katniss’s.