Monday, March 26, 2012

The Hunger Games Review

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss gives a sign of honor to District 11
“I want to show them they don’t own me. If I’m going to die – I want to still be me.”

Those are some pretty chilling, yet gutsy words for young adult fiction. The Hunger Games, which has sparked a frenzy like other fantasies such as Harry Potter and Twilight, (though I hate bringing those up, since the stories are completely unlike Hunger Games), has turned into a film franchise with just as much potential.

For those of you still unfamiliar with the story, The Hunger Games is set in post-Apocalyptic America, which is separated into 13 districts and afflicted with nation-wide hunger. Now named Panem, a frighteningly tyrannical government called The Capitol controls the districts with an iron fist. To remind the people of their control, they annually pick a girl and boy from every district, throw them into an arena, and force them to kill one another. The sole victor wins food for his family for the rest of his life.

Every district and oblivious Capitol citizen watches the Games on nationwide television; those who are wealthy enough can sponsor their favorite “tributes” by sending them gifts, which help them stay alive…for a while.

Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of the story, is a quiet, feisty girl who illegally hunts in the forest to provide for her family. When her younger sister, Prim, is chosen for the Games on “Reaping” day, she volunteers to be the tribute instead. She and the gentle Peeta Mellark are thrown into the Games and the Captiol world, where citizens are completely desensitized to the suffering districts around them. They are blinded by their obsession with fashion, entertainment and violence at the tributes’ expense. Rhetoric slews from their politicians in slimy terms like, “this shows sacrifice…it brings us together” – which is not unlike our own politicians’ rhetoric.

What follows is a violent survival story, mixed with comical characters like Effie, District 12’s ridiculous Capitol manager of sorts, and Haymitch, Peeta and Katniss’s mentor. What gives the story its depth is its heroine, making self-sacrificing choices, enkindling her nation with hope about changing the regime, and the realization that human life is sacred. Even in the darkest of times, the main characters hold onto their humanity, even though they’re scarred. In addition, there are several beautiful relationships, such as Katniss and Prim’s loving, sisterly relationship; Rue, Katniss’s timid ally from District 11; and Peeta, who loves Katniss, even though she doesn’t actually love him back.

The story is intense and keeps a fast pace both in the books and in the movie. The 2.5 hour running time seemed to be just 40 minutes. It had me teary-eyed, smiling,  on the edge of my seat, and then jumping out of my seat. It was well-done story-telling to say the least.

The choice of actors in the film made fans skeptical initially, but in the film proved to be perfectly chosen. While Katniss didn’t look exactly like she was described in the book, Jennifer Lawrence effectively captured Katniss’s personality and heart. Stanley Tucci, who played the Games host, was perfectly animated and charismatic. Woody Harrelson made a perfect drunkard that still had a caring heart and witty sense of humor. Elizabeth Banks, who played Effie, looked and acted perfect. Josh Hutcherson, as Peeta Mellark, practically stole the show. Though not as big or tall as the book’s character, he fit the role to a tee, embodying Peeta’s gentle, self-sacrificing essense and likeable personality.

Not only is the acting spot on and the story of The Hunger Games riveting, but the movie was filmed in a artistic way that fit the movement and tone of the book. Director Gary Ross believed that a handheld camera was a necessary element that fit the raw emotion of the film. He said, “If I made a glossy, slick, kind of overproduced piece of entertainment, then...I’m basically staging the Hunger Games…If you try to create a piece of entertainment that indulges the premise…you’re going to end up really losing the point and the heart of the book." Some viewers challenged the use of swish pans, closeups and quick, jerky camera movements – but artistically, I believe it stresses Katniss’s point of view.

Overall, the film is well-made and is very faithful to the book. In terms of faithfulness and quality, I compare it to the first Narnia movie, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Some fans found the minor changes that were made annoying, but that’s going to happen with any book-turned-movie. Tom Bombadil wasn’t in Lord of the Rings either, but they were still faithful and fantastic movies.

Some, if not many, will overlook the deeper elements and themes of the story, so I want to explore them. The Hunger Games in an unsettling story. Unsettling because it deals with young people beating each other to death – something that goes against our nature. This discomfort has a purpose: it warns us that, in our current society, which is so engrossed in entertainment, especially “reality TV”, we have become desensitized to that which harms our humanity. We no longer give second thought to shows about destroying another person, even if it’s only through gossip. We have become so focused on being entertained that we forget the importance of real relationships in our life and the real problems we face today. Even worse, we’ve become indifferent and lazy – we’ve become afraid to say something and make a change in response to problems we see. We continue to push God out of our public society. What if He completely disappeared from the public sphere? What would happen to the basic moral codes that are written in the hearts of man? Our government has lost its founding principles and is slowly forcing mandates on us without our approval. What will happen if we don’t do something about it? The Hunger Games is an exaggerated foreshadowing of what our culture could become if we do not speak up, if we do not do something to alter the path where our society is headed.

Through the darkness of The Hunger Games, through its Godless culture, and through the horrendous attack of human life in the story, it shows us there is still truth and beauty. The story shows the intrinsic truth that human life is sacred, because the violence is not glorified. The characters are suffering victims that choose to do something about the injustice they face. Through this, the story shows the beauty of meaningful, self-sacrificing relationships. It’s about holding onto humanity and making the right choices, even if it means losing our lives. While its themes are dark, it is supposed to shock us out of our indifferent attitude towards our culture. It is not unlike those heart wrenching, dark stories such as Schindler’s List, where humanity seems all but lost; like Schindler’s, it nevertheless shows that despite the most difficult and horrifying circumstances, we can hold on resiliently to our humanity, which is the greatest gift of all.

Having said this, it is important to note that The Hunger Games is probably best suited towards more mature audiences – both the movie and especially the books. Parents should discuss these deeper themes with their kids, because if they’re not able to discern it themselves, readers might end up becoming that which is warned of in the story – a society like the Captiol civilians, who are desensitized to the violence, injustices and Godless culture that surrounds them.