The Hunger Games is an action/adventure film set in a dystopia.
It’s premise is fairly straightforward: a boy and a girl are chosen from each of the twelve districts participate in a fight to the death. The lone survivor is handsomely rewarded and allowed to return to their home district. Katniss Everdeen is a strong self-reliant girl from a coal-mining district with an eye for the arrow. In a moment that reveals much of her character, she volunteers to go in place of her little sister, who happens to be picked at the lottery. What follows is her brief training and the actual Games.
One thing to look for in any dystopia is social and political commentary. It’s hard to ascertain how much the creators intended to put in the movie, but I could see tons. The contrast between the squalid lives of the worker distict of Katniss and the magestic, clean, rich, and advanced capital is stark. While Katniss hunts squirrels, the denizens of the capital consume lavish feasts. They resemble eighteenth-century French courtesans in their flamboyant costume and deference to social norms. Opposingly, the people of the districts wear Puritanically plain dresses. The rich spectate and bet on the games. The poor root for the survival of their own. A game versus survival. The contrast is stark and obvious and an starkly obvious commentary of inequity of all forms. The reaction of the characters in the movie to this contrast is not explored, however.
A fight to the death is an apt way to explore the human condition. But, I found the film largely side-stepped the opportunities it had. An us-versus-them survival story is just Hollywood dribble. Much more interesting is how a normal person changes in visceral fight for survival. There weren’t any changes in the character to note. A pure-hearted girl unchanged by a fight to the death? A tad banal. And none of the decisions made by the protagonist were tough and so, they carried no weight. Where is the internal struggle? What choices she does make fall flat. There was just a little bit of the movie when I felt the terror that must surely visit a movie where teens are slaughtering each other. But, most of the movie felt like a typical good-guy-bad-guy movie. Characters are largely colored black and white. Where’s the nuance?
My objections aside, it is a thoroughly enjoyable film. The costume and set design are visually splendid. The camera’s capture is especially well done. I found the pace just right; others may find it too slow.
Though it’s potential isn’t fully realized, The Hunger Games is a must-watch.