Set in the future, “The Hunger Games” is a story about governmental control and the drive of a young girl, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), to survive so she can take care of her sister, Primrose (Willow Shields) and her impoverished mother. In the future country of “Panem,” there are 12 districts and one Capital. Katniss is from District 12 in which the people live in deep Appalachian poverty.
The 12 districts seem to serve the elite and privileged population in the Capital. The hunger games exist to entertain the privileged class who watch the games as a reality show not unlike “Survivor.” The participants are called “tributes” because they are paying tribute to the cruel victors of a long-ago war.
In the opening ceremonial speech, the President (Donald Sutherland) pontificates about the games being a national vow that “We would never know this treason again.” He decreed the districts would send an adolescent male and female “to fight to the death in a pageant to honor courage and sacrifice.” The lone victor’s rewards would serve as a reminder “of our generosity and forgiveness.”
Then he says: “This is how we remember our past. This is how we safeguard our future.”
Ultimately these words are not about glory, but about control and domination. This is the rhetoric of a recriminating, totalitarian government.
The games are not only public entertainment, but also cruel retribution for the uprising that failed so many decades earlier.
“May the odds always be in your favor” is the President’s final benediction, which is both ironic and sadistic. In the hunger games, the odds of surviving are 1 in 24, which are odds in no one’s favor and makes the President’s wish look like nothing more than a cruel and sadistic joke.
The President solemnly reads the venerable words designed to mesmerize the wealthy masses into thinking that these games are justified. How else could civilized folk put up with children slaughtering each other on a TV show? The point made in the movie is that if no one watched the spectacle, the government would not show it. Ever since the days of the Romans, society has loved the gore of the death struggle. Are we different today?
Woody Harrelson serves an interesting role as Katniss’ and her fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) mentor, who is so disheartened by the odds of his protégés that he drinks too much and has a devil may-care-attitude. He advises them to get used to the idea of dying soon.
Watching the kids prepare for the battle with such lack of terror, as if it were a soccer match, strains our sense of logic and it distances the viewer.
We are, however, rooting for the tributes because they seem to be a couple and we want her to return home to care for her sister. But beyond that, there is little given for us to really sink our emotional teeth into so her fight for survival can tug at our guts. The result is that we watch with mild interest in her skill and cleverness as she tries to outwit her stronger and better-prepared opponents.
The movie will appeal greatly to those who have loved the novel, but it falls short for those of us who need a deeper story of relationships and a more realistic struggle for survival.
Rated R for intense violent, thematic material and disturbing images – all involving teens.
Cedric Wood, Ph.D., L.P.C., is a counselor for individuals, couples and entire families. Call him now for 20 percent off your first visit!