Movie Review: The Hunger Games
A year ago when my daughter was glued to her Kindle reading The Hunger Games, she was a happy prisoner of a gripping narrative that caused every other task, obligation, and pleasure to fade out of view.
Ever the responsible parent, I thought I'd come up from behind and find out what my daughter was reading. I therefore downloaded The Hunger Games onto my Kindle, put it up on the elliptical, and found myself exercising my way into near invisibility as I did my best to catch up with my young genius. In a matter of words, the book owned me, too.
"They've got to make a movie," was my first out-loud thought after I came up from air the day I started the book.
"They are, mom." My kid knows everything, and she is patient with me.
At its heart, The Hunger Games trilogy asks the question, What happens when you stop doing what you were told just because you were told? Just how dangerous is the question "Why?", and how subversive is the reply, "No."?
Those questions live in the heart of Katniss Everdeen who does what she is told in the country of Panem by participating in the Hunger Games. She hopes by doing so to save herself from death, in a reality-TV style survival game in which 24 young people fight to the death at the behest of the government, that she might go home and take care of her addled mother and her young sister.
The games are the capitol's annual punishment of and reminder to the people of Panem that retribution will be as relentless as it will be hard if the people dare challenge the status quo as they did by revolting 74 years before. Since that time, people have been living in fear and in Depression-era conditions in a totalitarin state.
Read the book, and you'll find yourself asking, "Why do these people put up with this?" The why question will turn the pages for you as you try to figure out who's you're friend, who's not, who loves you, who might be playing at love, who really cares. That Katniss performs these intellectual and emotional acrobatics in life-or-death situations heightens the tension, to be sure. The needs of her family, the emerging love triangle, the dubious integrity of her alcoholic trainer, the fact that her survival is manipulated by a game-maker who can trump her every move at will combine to make every decision a trial in which, somehow, she is always a guilty party.
Which is why readers are glued to her story. We've all been there in some fashion or form. Readers in middle and high school are there in every fashion and form this very minute. Just ask them.
This book is a marvel. The trilogy is beyond compare.
It starts with white-on-black text that presumes to provide some background to the story for the illiterati who will show up at the cinema with their girlfriends who have read the book. The quality of this sequence of zooming and fading words made me think of my own worst efforts with Powerpoint slides andMovieMaker. The crucial introductory moments are lost on some clearly amateurish, after-thoughtish quickie graphics by someone out there who read the book but didn't quite get it. It's lame.
Then there's the jarring seqence of Depression-era images of District 12 that kick off the action. The camera is everywhere but never for more than half a second. I was so glad I had read the book and could look away until it was over at the same time I felt bad for the boys in the theatre around me who were quiet and possibly seasick from all the moving around the camera did. I am grateful nobody threw up. This pastiche created a mood of uncertainty and fear and desolation without doing justice to the story. Not one bit. It was as superficial as the novel is deep.
Then we have Katniss and Gale hunting on the day of the reaping. In the book, this moment captures the keenness of their friendship as well as their honesty and integrity. But Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth swallow their lines. Watching the movie from the back row of the cinema, I wanted to scream, "Say something we can all understand because THIS KID NEXT TO ME DIDN'T READ THE BOOK, AND HE DOESN'T GET IT. HE'S GOT HIS CELL PHONE OUT AND HE'S DOING OTHER THINGS!" It seemed to me watching this thing that the depth of the narrative was assumed to be present and that the writers of dialogue made no effort to embed in the dialogue the complexity of the relationship. It was just another chase movie. Damn.
As an English teacher and a reading teacher who has bought innumerable copies of every book in the trilogy and played the soundtrack in my classroom and bought movie tickets for my students, it killed me that the movie didn't do more to give life to the story, to embody the theme. Meaningful looks by sexy young actors go only so far. I had hoped this book would be to this generation what The Outsiders was to mine. It may well become that, but no thanks to the movie.
Challenge a status quo that is hurting the people around you because you love and respect those people and want more and better for them and you live the imperative that created the United States in the first place. You do more than look good in your Spandex costumes. You become Ben Franklin and you live the greatest of dreams, rough and ready. You insist on freedom, and into the clay of your dreams you breathe life.
For less than a movie ticket, you can buy The Hunger Games soundtrack at Amazon. Between it and the book, you'll have a far richer experience than you will with the movie. In fact, the soundtrack offers more drama and the meaning than the movie because it actually offers drama and meaning.