Hunger Games (2012)

I can't help but to ask myself, what's with all this hype over the Hunger Games?  I'll admit, the excitement has died down considerably (since the movie has been out since March), but occasionally I'll overhear some OMG-I-LOVE-HUNGER-GAMES ranting.

Hunger Games (2012, PG-13), directed by Gary Ross, is set in the futuristic and filthy ruins of North America. There are only two groups of people in this dystopia: the super-rich and the dirt-poor.  The nation is called "Panem,"and each year, the Capitol draws the names of two "tributes," a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each of it's twelve districts.  The teens are called "tributes," and must participate (willingly or not) in the Hunger Games, a twisted punishment for a long past uprising and a continual intimidation strategy by the government.  The Games are televised across Panem, and the Tributes must fight one another until only one remains alive.  From District 12, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark must utilize their instincts in order to survive as they battle the highly-trained tributes from other districts.  The two are given a mentor, alcoholic past victor Haymitch Abernathy.  Chock full of drama, mystery, and suspense, Hunger Games will took me on quite an interesting adventure.

The film has some undeniably good messages in it. There is a true sense of heroism from the beginning of the film.  When the name of Everdeen's sister, Primrose, is drawn from the glass bowl as tribute, the protagonist Katniss voluntarily goes in her stead.  This is the clear reflection of the principle found in John 15:13, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends,"  in this case, her sister.  Proud and strong, Katniss refuses to show her fear, as is the expectation of the dictatorship.
Also a skilled hunter, a master of the bow and arrow, Katniss is horrified by the idea of dying - and her worst fear as she participates in the Games is the fact that she will need to kill other people.  She holds a great value for life, and she is determined to respect it.  In order to do this, she risks her own life quite a few times.  As the story plays out and the contestants in the games become more desperate, Katniss, Peeta, and their silent young friend Rue (from District 11) help one another survive, despite the purpose of the game.  
Peeta Mellark, the other tribute from District 12, is equally self-sacrificial, especially when it comes to protecting Katniss.
The film is superbly  acted, and the cast was chosen well.  Jennifer Lawrence played the role of independent and headstrong Katniss Everdeen, the 16-year-old left to hunt and trade illegally in order to support her family.  Josh Hutcherson was cast in the role of sweet, fair skinned, blond haired Peeta Mellark, who has a "thing" for his district partner.  
The film really brings home the idea that wealth makes humans less compassionate toward one another.  The excessively rich inhabitants of the Capitol do brutal injustice toward the district of Panem, living in pomp and amenity while being more than sure to keep the rest of the population in miserable poverty.  The ability of the "first class" to empathize with those less fortunate is portrayed especially well.
Panem greatly resembles Ancient Rome (the nation's very name means "bread"), and one of the most puzzling aspects of the film is the obsession and glorification of the Games, bringing us back to gladiatorial entertainment, warriors fighting to the death as entertainment for the citizens of the Capitol. Many of the characters in the film have names that are regular in the history of Rome, including Flavia, Cato, Octavia, and Portia.

Ultimately throughout the film, I noticed the themes of government outreach, corruption and desensitization of the powerful and wealthy to the struggles of the "masses."  It can be viewed as an accusation against our usually manipulative, selective, and coarse media.  Gale, a childhood friend of Katniss', says before she leaves for the Games, "What if for one year everyone just stopped watching?  Then they wouldn't have the games."  I couldn't help myself but see the logic in that remark…. even if the show didn't feature the barbaric blood fest of the Hunger Games.

There was basically no graphic sexual content, apart from a few teeny-bopper smooches between Katniss and Peeta, and the exploitive dress of one of the tributes. The most problematic element of the movie is the violence, which might be too much for certain children. There is a great amount of violence throughout, but it is shown in quick, desultory fragments, and the shaky, hand-held cameras lessen the brazen bloodshed.  Older, well-trained tributes travel the country-like arena and kill as a pack (and seem to have a good time doing it, too….)  Killer wasps swarm the group, and we see the mangled body of a tribute.  Giant dogs attack some of the tributes, and Katniss shoots one with an arrow as a sort of "mercy killing."  A young girl's neck is snapped in half, another pulls a spear from her stomach, and Katniss is severely burned in a fire.  Toward the end, Katniss and Peeta both threaten to commit suicide by eating poisonous berries, since they can't bring themselves to kill each other.
This casual savagery disturbs us, as it should; the culture of Panem demonstrates a blatant disregard for the dignity of the human person. The citizens of the Capitol are so infatuated with entertainment that they forget about it's implications - the loss of human life.  They even give these teenagers a label to dehumanize them, treating them like toys.  I firmly believe that any time humans hunt other humans, it is obvious that a society's perception of humanity has taken a serious wrong turn.  It just goes to show what a society without any reference to God will lower itself to. To the inhabitants of Panem, the rich are the "god."  They rule as kings and queens, and their word is law, including their sick methods of entertainment.  The comfort is, though, that human dignity can indeed be preserved, even in such a dark time ruled by such heartless dictators.
Hunger Games is a compelling and interesting story that provokes some reflections relevant to our own day and age, but it falls short of being the revolutionary masterpiece some of its admirers would make it. Two out of three tiaras.

Review by Iris