I finally gave into the hype over the weekend and redeemed a free movie pass I got with an order of pizza (which was delicious by the way) to watch The Hunger Games. It wasn’t so much that I hated the movie, but felt like the disappointed, guilt-inducing parent because the filmmakers missed an opportunity to tell a rich story full of contemporary parallels and instead produced a movie with the drama of Twilight, combined with the thematic depth, and character dimensions of a Mighty Ducks movie (I love The Mighty Ducks, by the way).
With the increasing dissatisfaction with political rhetoric seen around the world, and the growing voices of dissent that are beginning to rise up, as we saw in 2011’s Occupy movements, and various protests in the Middle East, it seems the writer of The Hunger Games was imagining a world where the one percent rose up against the ruling classes and lost. As a result the new country which has been divided into districts hosts an event that is a cross between the gladiators of ancient Rome, and American Idol. Each district is required to select (read: sacrifice) one male and one female competitor to compete in a televised fight to the death.
Sounds like a rich story full of conflict, right? Where surely the competitors will be forced to make tough decisions that will challenge their beliefs, morality and ethics, right? What about a story where, like any good science fiction story, the current state of our culture is reflected to us allegorically through this fictional world, and our own obsession with reality TV is called into question?
No such luck.
There is no conflict, no drama, no characters are forced to make tough decisions, and even the love triangle between Katniss Everdeen, and the blonde kid and the brunette guy (sorry, I am terrible with names) is weak and not very well established.
When the names of the “tributes” – the children selected to compete in the games, are read in a public gathering, they react, not as if they have likely been selected to die, but as if the teacher just called them to solve a math question on the chalk board. They shrug their shoulders and accept their fate without a whimper. Perhaps a more dramatic reaction would have been too much for the kids to whom this film is marketed, but there seems to be no awareness as to what being selected really means.
The brave Katniss volunteers her own life, to spare her sister who had been originally selected for the competition. This decision propels the young lady into a world that is foreign to her, where she is paraded around as if it were a beauty pageant, forced to prepare and sharpen her skills to try and kill the 23 other competitors and be the lone winner and survivor. Once in the competition, Katniss never even considers killing another, there is no struggle, there is no attempt to reconcile the “kill or be killed” inevitability. There is no progression in her character, she is never challenged internally. The result is a movie that is more like Predator, she is ever being hunted, and never once takes life other than in self-defence. She never has to deal with the fact that her only ally in the game was killed when she evades an arrow that was meant for her. When the rules of the game changed and allowed for two winners from the same district, she immediately assumes the blonde kid who betrayed her earlier would now suddenly be her best friend.
Not only do they become best friends, but literally one scene later, they have become involved lovers.
Not only is Katniss so benevolent that she never once considers killing another to return home to win the competition and return to her family, but most of the other competitors are so evil and full of blood lust that they never consider not killing another and question the morality of the games themselves.
The biggest issue I had with this movie was thematic depth. The world of The Hunger Games is built around obvious historical parallels, but does not venture to address any of the questions those references suggest. The Capitol, home of the ruling class and host of the games, is an urban metropolis, part concrete jungle like New York City, and part place of guilty pleasures (except without the guilt) like Las Vegas. The characters of the ruling class are dressed in late 18th century European attire; an obvious reference to the bourgeoisie of Marxist philosophy, while the other districts are represented by early 20th century industrial revolution era attire, what Marxists would call the proletariat.
The post-revolution country is called “Panem,” which is a reference to Roman poet Juvenal, who described the Empire’s technique for maintaining power and control over the lower class by giving them panem et circenses, or “bread and circuses”. The idea being that you can maintain dominion over the proletariat as long as you give them the bare necessities (bread) and distract them with circuses (games or circuses).
Despite the depth Suzanne Collins went into creating this world where everyone is mesmerized by this reality TV show, it is only alluded to in the film. As a result, opportunities are missed to make a comment about where we are as a culture – what reality TV is doing to our collective mindset, how we are desensitized to the misfortune of those on the screen, disconnected from their struggle and pain despite being obsessed with them.
The characters do not progress, or mature, their beliefs and morality are not tested in any way, and everyone seems perfectly satisfied with their lives, whether they’re the ruling bourgeoisie with their elaborate and colourful costumes, or the proletariat who live in the districts never questioning their oppressors, or even acknowledging the war their class once waged against them.
Director Gary Ross reduced the story to a movie that was far too long, and balked at every chance to ask a serious question or make a bold statement. Having not read the books, I don’t know if these sorts of things were present in the original story. Perhaps the filmmakers were more concerned with pleasing the teenagers who have made literature so popular. Instead of providing their viewers with something rich and full of character and thematic depth, they only provided more “bread and circuses”, but maybe that was the point all along.
Will Ramirez is a Burrito enthusiast, and self-proclaimed Pizza connoisseur. He wears Chuck Taylor shoes, and enjoys Chuck Jones cartoons. Since graduating with a diploma in Digital Media in 2007, he has worked as an editor on animated and live action television programs for Teletoon, YTV, Disney and Nickelodeon. He is also co-founder and editor of www.sporttonetwork.com where he offers a refreshing and comedic voice to the world of sports.