The Hunger Games
By Jenna Brower
March 23, 2012
Fans of The Hunger Games series have eagerly but nervously awaited the release of its film version. As with any beloved book-to-movie adaptation, the worries and questions flooded in: How will they portray the dark subject of children murdering children in a PG-13 rating? Will the violence be minimized to almost nothing? And when Jennifer Lawrence was cast as the Games heroine, some worried her age and perhaps-too-pretty face would spoil their vision of Katniss Everdeen.
Fans, take a collective deep breath. It’s going to be OK.
For those who aren’t mega-fans or just haven’t cracked their Hunger Games spines in awhile, the story is set in a ruined, futuristic North America, now known as Panem. Panem is ruled by a harsh government—the Capitol—and the dictator-like President Snow (played in the movie by a perfectly poisonous Donald Sutherland). At one point in its history, Panem was sectioned into 13 districts, and these districts rebelled and attempted to overthrow the government. They failed, and District 13 was “made an example of” by its complete destruction. The Capitol only grew stronger—and, in a show of power, established an annual fight-to-the-death “game” where a boy and girl from each district must compete.
Katniss lives in the poverty-stricken District 12, where everyone looks like a Grapes of Wrath–era refugee. She provides for her family by hunting deer and squirrel in the woods, and she further protects her younger sister by volunteering to take her place in the Hunger Games.
In a film with several great actors, Jennifer Lawrence is truly the strongest in her portrayal of Katniss. No, she doesn’t look exactly how Katniss is described in the novel, but if anyone still feels bothered after seeing her performance, they’re just looking for something to nitpick. She embodies Katniss but with an added amount of maturity that serves the character well. The same can be said for Katniss’ District 12 counterpart, Peeta, played by Josh Hutcherson. Although he didn’t have as much room to stretch and flesh out in this movie, Hutcherson sets up Peeta’s sacrificial, loving character nicely for the sequels.
The District 12 “tributes”—an appropriately sacrificial-sounding term for the Hunger Games competitors—travel to the Capitol with their PR-perky escort, Effie, and drunken mentor, Haymitch. The Hunger Games is more of a serious movie without too many laughs, but the rare times it does happen usually involve one or both of them. Elizabeth Banks plays Effie with the necessary perky obliviousness of a Capitol woman, concerned with appearances and not much else. Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch has less oil-salesman cunning than the book’s, but we see his brokenness and care for the children more clearly.
For the first time, Katniss and Peeta are exposed to all the wealth and excess of the Capitol. The people of the Capitol dress in bright, elaborate costumes and heavy makeup and are either oblivious or numb to the horror of the Games. It’s raw entertainment.
The Hunger Games may sound like an impossibly twisted idea, but its shadows are easily observed in our modern-day society. The Games are televised for entertainment purposes across all of Panem, and in America, a new reality show pops up every season, with the scales continually tipping toward more extreme, ridiculous concepts. Now, no one’s saying next year’s American Idol will start executing competitors when they get too pitchy, but cultural changes in the next 50 to 100 years will surely produce things for entertainment we’d never dream of right now
Director Gary Ross shows these themes subtly in the film—while there is much action, it still feels like a quiet movie. One of the biggest concerns for many people in seeing the movie is how the subject—kids killing kids—is shown. Some critics have already scoffed, saying it’s completely toned-down. But for a PG-13 rating, there honestly isn’t much else they could have shown. Blood does spurt and shoot into the air, albeit quickly and with shaky camera shots. If the characters murdering each other were adults, then the rating could probably get away with showing more, which only reinforces the warped way our culture deals with violence in media.
This idea is consistently put forward in the movie, one of those times being in a Capitol shopping mall. Haymitch watches a young boy open a gift from his parents—a play sword. He then begins to chase his sister with it, slashing at her while mom and dad look on with laughter. Haymitch shakes his head in seeming disgust. The Hunger Games start soon.
During the actual Games, Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley with an elaborate “manscape” of a beard) is in charge of creating and designing the Games and the situations the tributes must face. It’s not enough for the Capitol to throw children into an arena with weapons and training in order to kill each other, but they set fires and unleash monstrous beasts on them as well.
Over and over, the desensitization and cruelty of the Games is reinforced, but Katniss and Peeta subtly begin to change the face of the Games. A love story between Katniss and Peeta, “the star-crossed lovers,” is concocted by Haymitch and Peeta in the hopes of saving Katniss’ life and garnering support from sponsors who watch the Games. Whether they succeed or not depends on Katniss’ ability to charm the viewers watching her and, ultimately, survive.
The undercurrent that moves The Hunger Games isn’t the action, although it is paced well. It’s the story of the characters and their oppression. As the film progresses and the Districts begin to root for Katniss, we as the audience can almost feel the rumblings grow throughout Panem. They won’t stay shackled long. They’ve found hope in an unlikely heroine. As President Snow says at one point to Seneca Crane, “Hope is the only thing greater than fear. A little hope is effective; a lot is dangerous.”
Katniss Everdeen proves herself to be very, very dangerous.