Earth has seen war before. But peace comes at a price. There are 12 districts of extreme poverty where the working class live, and one major city. An unprecedented disparity in wealth between the rich and the poor, and the poor are there for the amusement of the rich.
Every year, as a tribute to peace, two citizens from each district, one young boy, and one young girl, are given as an offering to the cause of the Hunger Games, where they fight for their survival. The idea itself is the articulation of evil. The spectacle is the vehicle through which such evil can be endured. The implementation is a commentary on human behavior I would rather not have been witness to.
The Hunger Games is a novel idea as a teen movie. But it is a movie we have seen before. The influences are clear, 1984, Blade Runner, The Truman Show, possibly even Spartacus. The film works on a few different levels. The horror of the sheer evil and calculated disregard for the human life of the poor is part of the genius of this film. We have never seen evil played out in such a meticulous method on the big screen in quite some time in a family friendly film aimed at teenagers. The film is upsetting enough to spar with some of the best horror films out there but welcomes you in for this grandiose, dystopian, science fiction, existential commentary on what the one percent would do with unchecked power. The poor mine energy for the rich. Districts are internment camps where people starve and have to steal food, yet they have screens that appear out of thin air whenever the elite want to communicate a message to them. If they want to talk to you a voice appears out of nowhere as though you were hearing from God.
What the previews do not tell you is that the Hunger Games are as much of a reality television event as it is a rite of passage. When producers cannot get the contestants to do what they want them to do they create wildfires, change the rules of the game, or create beasts out of thin air. The technology is sick, they do not need cameras because the contestants are in a permeable sphere that can be monitored continuously, yet they can zoom in and see what contestants are doing as though cameras were in use.
The message of this film is that teen love triumphs over all evil and that two young people in love can disrupt the system and stick it to the man. It is that simple. But it takes the entire film to figure that out if you have not read the book. There is something for everything in this film; futuristic technology, science fiction, and of course, old school Coliseum-like, decadence in the way they turn contestants against each other and manipulate the game to keep things interesting.
Our heroine offers herself willingly in place of her little sister. Token Black characters are killed throughout the film. A Black man starts a riot in response to watching his daughter get killed in the game. Yet there are twists and turns in this story that keep you glued to the screen that you did not see coming. This is where the film is fascinating for adults, and where the writer escapes the mediocrity of predictable films like “Twilight” and differentiates herself as someone that can write for all audiences, and bring the family together.
The film is not your typical teenage film. Outside of the fact that the protagonists are teenagers, I saw nothing “adolescent” about this film at all. The film deals with serious issues, many of which have arisen in recent years in the mainstream media and others that will be dealt with within the next few years to come. That is what makes this film worth watching.
As far as romance, it is not clear if your protagonist is in love for the sake of survival, or if she has true feelings for the young man. The relationship itself underlies the ways in which humans in the districts have adapted in order to survive.
Some of the concepts in this film are difficult to substantiate though. We already have working ghettos in America, but no one thinks of them as ghettos because they are marketed as high-rise condominiums and a way for the middle class to live an “urban lifestyle”. But at the end of the day they are ghettos because these knowledge workers are still caught up in the rat race, still exist for the amusement of the rich and still do the dirty work other people do not want to do. There is class warfare between the middle class, the working poor, and the disenfranchised, as there always was.
The working poor have their own ghettos. How many Section 8 planned communities have you seen pop up in your city over the last ten years? In this film, the districts are out in the country in the middle of nowhere. In reality there are hundreds of districts in every American city and the poor live among the rich. The wall between the two is conceptual, not literal. The poor are not separated from the rich on the other side of the mountain. The poor are caught up in advanced technological wonders, such as an iPad or a MacBook Pro, but in reality such gadgets are a joke in comparison to the tools the rich use against the poor that exist on paper.
In other words, the environment in which The Hunger Games exists is one that sounds good in theory, but would be a very difficult one to carry out. You would have to completely destroy the world and build it back up again from scratch, and citizens would have to be ignorant of the sophisticated schemes the rich pulled on the poor back in the twenty first century. If this is part of the story, the film does not do a good job at conveying that message. How did we get here, is this the third millennium, or the fourth? How did the rich amass such wealth and develop such technology in plain sight without the poor knowing anything about it? If the rich have such tools at their disposal, why are the poor doing hard labor at all? At least in the film 1984 we caught a glimpse of what the knowledge economy would look like, and that vision has come to pass. At this point in the game man would have evolved beyond 21st century energy sources, so why are we still mining for coal?
The problem with most post-doomsday films is that there is a very strong likelihood that man never will destroy himself. War is a way of life, but it is not an end unto itself. The money is in finding ways to keep the war going; once you end a war you have to find some other way to advance the economy. Sometimes that means you start another war.
In this film, what are the distractions that keep the poor from uprising? Clearly, killing 23 children in an event that lasts over the course of a week is not enough of a distraction to keep the populace in check. What happens during the other 51 weeks in the year? It could be that the concept of the story is too large and too complex, to be addressed in a two hour film. The Hunger Games leaves me with more questions than answers, but it is intriguing enough, to sit around to find out what those answers will be.