It's not really my kind of book. But when my daughter said she was reading The Hunger Games and asked if I would read it too, I obliged. Despite having two parents who love to read, the kid is not a fan. So, I am happy to play book club if that helps get her between the pages.
I was more than pleasantly surprised. The book was fast-paced, well-written and about more than teenage, romantic angst. It reminded me of the post-apocalyptic fiction I read in graduate school. And I got into the story so much that I raced through all three books in the series in a matter of days.
So when I heard a movie was on the way, I was almost as excited as my daughter. I was really curious to see how such a vast world would translate to the screen. Yesterday, I got the chance to find out.
The theater was full of reviewers. So I don't give too much credence to their reactions in the theater. I'm curious to watch it with a general audience to see if there are gasps and laughter and tears and applause. In our row, there was a lot of crying, and it was my daughter and I who were responsible for it.
If you don't know the story, it's about a world (our world) after a great war in which the people rebelled against the Capitol. The country is now divided into twelve districts plus the Capitol so that the latter can maintain control of the former. In the Capitol, life is opulent, all based on the services provided by the districts.
In the districts, there is never enough to eat and the people live in squalor. And to add insult to injury, once a year, the Capitol demands that the districts each offer up one boy and one girl to compete in the Hunger Games, a survival game to the death to remind the people of why they should not rebel against the Capitol. The winner and his or her district gets food for the year to remind the people that the Capitol "takes care of" them.
The film was relatively true to the book. Although, as in most book-to-movie translations, there were some details we were surprised to find missing or changed. For example, how Katniss gets the now-famous mockingjay pin and how little attention is paid to Katniss keeping her family alive with her illegal hunting after her father dies and her mother goes catatonic.
We are given a glimpse of District 12 in the beginning of the film though. The filth and desperation is apparent. What is startling is how perfectly familiar it looks. It could be anywhere, under a bridge in any US city, in the favelas of Brazil, the slums of India.
I believe the familiarity is no mistake. This is not a sci-fi film. It's as political is it is entertaining. But, as always, I can't help but wonder if the people who need to see this will. And, if they do, will they recognize themselves and their wrong doings. President Snow is made out to be the villain in the Hunger Games. But what he does would not be possible without the acquiescence of the people of the Capitol.
District 12 is rendered in muddy colors. The people live in poverty and their downtrodden state is clear. The Capitol, on the other hand, is the exact opposite, of course, all bright colors and opulence, everything over the top. No one wanting. The book is about many things, the film focuses primarily on one -- the haves and the have nots and the injustice of that state of affairs.
Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Katniss, portrays the right blend of fragility and strength. First, volunteering in her sister's place to be in the Games and then preparing for them with as much ferocity as any of the other competitors. Liam Hemsworth as Gale is handsome and slightly brooding as he watches the Hunger Games unfold on live "reality" TV.
The love for Katniss that Josh Hutcherson evokes as Peeta is palpable. But so is his intelligence and understanding of what's really going on. He is hunky, sure. But he is also calculating. He is truly appalled by the Capitol and is willing to do anything to preserve his humanity during the Games while still trying to keep Katniss alive.
The result is a film that will keep viewers, even the millions who have read the books and know the outcome, at the edge of their seats. And if the storyline doesn't grab you -- unlikely as that is -- the special effects and the portrayal of the Game arena and its inner-workings, is enough to intrigue most.
My daughter is a sensitive soul. She cried for the people of District 12. She cried at the death of Rue, played by Amandla Stenberg. She cried when it looked hopeless for Katniss and Peeta despite knowing that they would survive. I cried watching my daughter, wondering if she understood the implications of the film, the political underpinnings.
The Hunger Games isn't really the future. It's today. The masses suffer while the few live in preposterous affluence. The Capitol of Panem has more than enough to spare, as do the mega celebs of our days. We have hungry and homeless and all around the world people live in sub-human conditions. This is a story about greed and about turning a blind eye.
The film is exciting and goes by shockingly quickly considering it's two hours and twenty-two minutes long. But, it's more than a love triangle or an adventure film. It's a cautionary tale. We figuratively sacrifice the children of others in order to lead the lives of comfort we lead. How long could it be before we do it literally?
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