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Archive for the ‘Suzanne Collins’ Category

The Hunger Games movie posterFor a carefully engineered pop-culture phenomenon and money-minting machine, the movie version of The Hunger Games ain’t half bad.

As you likely know, the film takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where the United States has become the totalitarian nation of Panem (a country that seems to be built from equal parts Walker Evans photography and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis).

Every year, the rulers of Panem hold the Hunger Games, a live televised gladiatorial spectacle for which 24 teenagers are chosen by lottery to participate. These children are required to fight and kill each other until a single boy or girl remains alive.

The movie follows 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen who volunteers for the games to save her younger sister, and who joins the boy chosen from her “district” to participate in the games – a boy we’ll discover soon enough has a crush on her.

What The Hunger Games Gets Right: Totalitarian Brutality, Katniss, and Haymitch

Gary Ross’ film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ novel gets many things right. The bland, calculating ferocity of Panem’s leaders – who use the games to terrorize the half-starving masses and distract the luxury-addled ruling class – is persuasive as is the palpable fear and loneliness you can read on the children’s faces each time no one, except the audience, is watching.

Ross and the actress Jennifer Lawrence also get Katniss right. She is brave and resourceful, but she is not a preternatural self-confident and decisive Alpha girl. Katniss possesses an awkwardness and uncertainty that make her seem like a real teenager, too, although these qualities can also make Katniss a blank sometimes.

Woody Harrelson, as former Hunger Games’ winner Haymitch Abernathy and Katniss’ mentor, does more with a smaller role, suggesting both the damage the games have done to him and the caginess of a man who knows that the rulers of Panem still want to use him as a pawn.

Finally, and thankfully, the deaths of the Hunger Games participants’ are brief and discrete, rather than exploitive, although this discretion is much more about making the movie safe for mass consumption than it is about making a statement concerning the violence itself.

What The Hunger Games Gets Not-So-Right: Moral Quandaries and Teen Romance

Rendering The Hunger Games safe for mass consumption requires more than not lingering over the dramatization of children killing children, however.

It also requires contortions to prevent the moral depravity of the movie’s premise from tainting its heroine and our sympathetic identification with her (not to mention our willingness to pay $12.00 to watch fictional children slaughter each other).

To do this, the movie turns some of the Hunger Games’ victims into villains: specifically the kind of sadistic bullies that have populated movies for teenagers every since Hollywood started making movies for teenagers, except instead of insulting your clothes or hitting you in the nuts during dodge ball, they – you know – stab you in the heart with a sword.

This same requirement also demands that Katniss never have to make a morally compromised choice. She only directly kills one on the villain-victims as an instantaneous, defensive reflex. She is the indirect cause of the death of two other bullies, both of whom were threats to her. And she is the stalwart protector of the games’ youngest and most vulnerable participant as well as that boy with the crush on her, a doe-eyed but strapping young fellow by the name of Peeta.

Peeta is, of course, the other great concession the story makes to the imperative of mass consumption, in this instance to the ostensible requirement of young female audiences that a movie have a romance no matter how utterly out of place it is.

For example. When a girl is trapped in a high-tech colosseum run by dystopian dictators, what does she need more than food and shelter? More than medicine? More than better weapons or allies? More than a Deus-ex-machina revolution breaking out to save her?

She needs a boyfriend, apparently.

Anyhow, following the old formula, Peeta is sexually non-threatening, but following the newish formula (I’ll date it from the 1997 appearance of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on TV), he is less lethal than Katniss, but still able to throw a pretty kick-ass sack of flour in a pinch. I’m not making that up.

So The Hunger Games distorts itself around the creation and preservation of this relationship, to the extent that even the ruthless despots running the Hunger Games are helpless before it.

When Katniss and Peeta decide to go Romeo-and-Juliet on the murderous bastards, rather than decide who will die for the other, the bastards cry “Uncle!” and declare both can live.

Thus it appears the moral of The Hunger Games is that when Power Lust throws down against Puppy Love – Puppy Love wins. It sure sells more tickets, in any case.

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