Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth star in a scene from the movie "The Hunger Games."
One of the
most popular dystopian novels in recent literature, The Hunger Games
, was released this past weekend as a major motion
picture. Critics are estimating the new hit could possibly generate more
revenue than either Harry Potter
The first weekend at the box
office brought in $155 million, so I am willing to bet those estimates are
correct. Suzanne Collins’ trilogy has captivated audiences of all ages, and the
first movie is a surprisingly good adaptation of the book.
The Hunger Games is set
in what we assume to be a future North America, now divided into 12 districts,
known as Panem. These districts are ruled by the Capitol, where the Hunger
Gamesmuch like ancient Rome’s gladiatorial gamesare held each year. One boy
and one girl, between the ages of 12 and 18, are chosen at random from each
district and then sent to the Capitol to fight to the death in a giant arena.
Twenty-four “tributes” go in; only one can come out alive. Katniss Everdeen
(Jennifer Lawrence) lives in the impoverished District 12. When her little
sister, Primrose (Willow Shields), is chosen as the female tribute for their
district, Katniss volunteers to take her place. Along with the male tribute,
Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss must learn what it takes to survive
the Hunger Games.
parents who think this is just another popular-teenage-hormone-story-competing-with-the-Twilight-books-and-now-made-into-a-movie
should consider watching the movie, or better yet, reading the book.
Admittedly, stories about a bunch of teenagers killing each other for reality
television did not appeal to me either at first, considering such stories can
be found on television already (if not quite so literally). Not even the
popular Katniss-Gale-Peeta love triangle attracted me.
discovered a rather more crucial theme underlying the entirety of the film: the
value and dignity of human life in the face of a tyrannical government. Don’t believe me? Read on.
Lawrence steals the screen as Katniss, depicting a strong 16-year-old who has
far too many responsibilities, including keeping her family alive. She has
experienced starvation and the death of her father, and she does not have the
wishes and desires of a typical teenage girl. In addition, not only has she
watched the Hunger Games since her birth (as every citizen of Panem is required
to do), she has lived in fear from the time she was 12 that she would be chosen
as a tribute. Death has been a very close and cold reality to her for most of
her life. There is no joy to being alive, because her life is no longer hers.
She is the property of Panem, as is every child in the country, and her death
would simply add to the entertainment of the Hunger Games. Katniss is
struggling to find meaning to her life, and ironically, she seems to find it in
the Hunger Games.
Like most of
the other tributes, Katniss approaches the games in “survivor” mode. After all,
survival will get her back to her sister, so why should she care about the
lives of the other tributes? She certainly cannot expect them to care about
her. This is where the voice of reasonPeetachimes in. The night before the
games, he tells Katniss that he won’t allow the Capitol to steal his identity.
He says, “I just keep wishing I could think of a way to show
them that they don’t own me. If I’m gonna die, I wanna still be me.” I think this line sets the stage
for the rest of the movie. How can any of these kids show the Capitol that they
are more than a tribute doomed to death in the Hunger Games?
In one of the
more emotional scenes of the film, Rue (Amandla Stenberg), a very young tribute
from District 11, is killed by a javelin. She has been helping Katniss through
the Hunger Games, and we get a vague sense that Rue reminds Katniss of her
younger sister, Prim. Here Jennifer Lawrence gives a particularly moving
performance by singing the song once sung to Prim as Rue lies dying. And to
honor the young Rue, much to the Capitol’s dismay, Katniss surrounds Rue’s body
with flowers. The camera then flashes to the people watching the Hunger Games
in District 11. On the big screen, Katniss makes a sign to them by placing
three fingers on her lips and then raising them to the sky. The people in
Disctrict 11 repeat this gesture.
Then we see a
man in the crowd, whom we assume is Rue’s father, starting to lash out at the
surrounding guards. Other people join in, and it appears to be an uprising in
the making. By upholding the dignity of Rue’s life, Katniss has re-awakened
dormant hearts. The people find themselves no longer able to stand idly by,
witnessing to such public brutality.
This act is
quite contrary to the Capitol’s purpose of the games, which is to punish the
Districts for a rebellion 74 years old.
The tributes are meant to be expendable pawns in a game used for
entertaining the wealthy and punishing the poor. The deaths of so many teenagers no longer
hold significance in the eyes of the Capitol, which has become completely
desensitized to the pain and suffering of the tributes. As Haymitch (Woody
Harrelson), Peeta and Katniss’ mentor, points out, these people are only
looking for a good show. The lives of others, even the lives of kids, no longer
matter. Katniss’ act only serves as
emotional drama for the Capitol, but President Snow, played superbly by Donald
Sutherland, knows that it will mean so much more for the
Some of the
tributes, mostly from the wealthier districts, have been training for the games
their entire lives and do not seem to have a problem becoming mass murderers
for public television. Cato, from District 2, is the most brutal of the bunch,
killing many of the tributes in the first several minutes of the Hunger Games.
But as the games progress, even Cato seems to recognize that the perverse glory
of killing has lost its luster, saying, “Go on. I’m dead anyway. I always was,
right? I couldn’t tell that until now.”
Cato realizes that the Capitol never cares who lives or dies, but only
that there is a victor. He may have been a favorite, but that no longer matters
when he is faced with death. His character is both vicious and sadno one has
taught him the beauty of life, only the dark victory of death. Despite his
apparent bloodthirstiness, the audience cannot help but feel sorry for him at
the end; he too is only a pawn in the Capitol’s game.
Ross does a marvelous job of depicting the horror of the Hunger Games. At no
point during the film did I feel happy at the death of a tribute. Twenty-four
lives have been reduced to shoddy stardom, and then slaughtered by their peers
on television. I think this film brings the terror of the loss of innocent
human life into shocking relief. Thankfully, the PG-13 rating kept the violence
at a reasonable level for young audiences, but the subject matter is very
mature. I don’t know if teenagers will fully understand the film’s
implications, but I know that parents will. I find it refreshing, however, that
some mainstream entertainment seeks to go beyond shallow teenage love stories,
and explores the meaning of human value, dignity, and life. The Hunger Games may not live up to
Orwell’s 1984, but I think Suzanne
Collins and Gary Ross are onto something.