A Spark of Defiance: A Movie Review of “The Hunger Games”
In spring 2012, theaters around the world were featuring The Hunger Games, the first installment of four films based on author Suzanne Collin’s popular Hunger Games trilogy. The movie soon became one of the highest-grossing films released in North America, and earned critical acclaim from people on both sides of the globe. I first read the trilogy that same spring, and was able to watch the film after buying it on DVD when the home version was released in August 2012.
For those of you who don’t know, The Hunger Games is a novel about future North America, as seen through the eyes of a sixteen-year-old girl named Katniss Everdeen. Katniss lives in District Twelve, the last and poorest of the twelve districts which make up “Panem,” and she is a first-hand witness to the injustices imposed on her fellow citizens by corrupt leaders who reside in “The Capitol.” The worst of these horrors is an ongoing punishment for a rebellion seventy-four years before, in which each district must offer up one teenage boy and one teenage girl as “tributes” or “taxes” for their treason. The children are then sent to the Capitol of Panem, where they are placed in an arena and forced to compete in a televised fight to the death. The last tribute left alive, the “victor” can then return to his or her home and enjoy fame and fortune for the rest of their lives.
Those in power use this competition known as “The Hunger Games” to serve a number of purposes: they keep the oppressed districts subdued out of fear and remind the people that, ultimately, the government decides whether they live or die. The Games also provide entertainment for privileged citizens who live in the Capitol, citizens who supposedly never took part in the rebellion years before, and therefore, never have to sacrifice their own children to the Games. As a result, they have come to think of the Games as a twisted celebration of the Capitol’s supremacy, and even go so far as to place bets on the tributes who have the greatest chance of survival.
When Katniss’s younger sister Primrose is selected as one of District Twelve’s two annual tributes, Katniss puts aside her own fears and automatically volunteers in Primrose’s place. Immediately she is placed on a train bound for the nation’s Capitol, along with her district partner/fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark. Peeta is a stranger to Katniss, but she recalls an incident years before when he risked a beating in order to give her bread after her father’s sudden death. This random act of kindness saved Katniss’s small family from stavation, and gave Katniss enough hope to begin anew. Over the next few days, the pair form an awkward friendship as they arrive in the Capitol, are transformed by stylists, and undergo intensive training in preparation for the arena. They also meet the tributes from the eleven other districts, children that they will be expected to kill after the Games officially begin.
When the Games do begin, Katniss flees to a forested section of the arena and survives the following few days using her wits and the natural resources surrounding her. She forms an alliance with District 11’s female tribute, Rue, and even manages to pick up a bow and a quiver full of arrows. Half-way through the contest, the “Gamemakers” change the rule stating that there may only be one victor: now two tributes can win, provided they are from the same district.
After coming across a wounded Peeta, Katniss gradually nurses him back to health as the pair fake a romance for the cameras in order to gain food and medicine from sentimental Capitol sponsors. From this point on, there are many unexpected twists and turns, all leading up to one dramatic decision that Katniss and Peeta make at the end of the film. This decision, though seemingly minor, ends up sparking a chain of events that sweeps throughout the country in the final books, Catching Fire and Mockingjay.
“The book was much better than the movie” is what I usually hear about filmed adaptations of well-loved books such as this one. And in this case, I would have to agree: the book was better than the movie. The original novel had more depth and focused a little more on character development vs. action. It also included a lot of “happier” moments and light-hearted conversations, which were welcome distractions from the grim and sad storyline. Despite all of that, though, I still enjoyed the film and would recommend it -with a few reservations that I will mention later.
For starters, the directors chose actors/actresses who could capture the spirits of the characters in the novel. Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark is strong, yet considerate and gentle; Amanda Stenberg’s (Rue) bright smiles light up the screen; Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket) captures the animated personality of District 12’s representative; Alexander Ludwig (Cato, District 2) is both a villain and a victim; his partner, Isabelle Fuhrman (Clove, District 2) is cruel and chilling; and Willow Shields, as Primrose Everdeen, is loving, sweet and brave. Especially impressive was the performance that Jennifer Lawrence, as Katniss Everdeen, delivered. She takes on the heroine’s complicated personality and becomes the tough, defiant, yet affectionate character from the book. Her facial expressions alone register everything from indifference to fury, pain to tranquility.
I especially loved seeing the variety of costumes used in the movie. There is a sharp contrast between the drab, coal-streaked outfits that citizens of District 12 wear, and the bright, gaudy clothes that citizens of the Capitol adorn themselves with. This, coupled with many breath-taking shots of the Capitol itself, merge together to create a visually beautiful movie.
Another thing that I appreciated was the way that the directors incorporated scenes showing Capitol officials hard at work filming and broadcasting the contest from a spacious white room in their headquarters. Scenes like these enabled viewers who had never read the novel to understand how these officials, the “Gamemakers”, use fire, genetically-altered animals, flood, and mines to direct the course of the Games.
Be aware, however, that the movie earned a PG-13 rating because of the violent material it contains. Thankfully, the directors filmed the more upsetting sections in quick, jerky sequences, so the viewers didn’t have to see anything “too” gory. Nevertheless, I would still suggest forwarding through several of the 15-second clips, chiefly the scene where the tributes first enter the arena, a scene involving a wasp nest, and a scene towards the end of the film, when Katniss runs into a “Feast” to obtain a vial of medicine for Peeta. What made these clips especially disturbing was the fact that the tributes attacking each other/being killed were adolescents.
Along that line, one thing that bothered me about both the novel and the film was the way that we can become so busy cheering for Katniss, Rue and Peeta, that we forget how important the lives of the other tributes are. It can be easy to see them as either obstacles in Katniss’s way, or “bad” kids who deserve to die. And so please keep this in mind if you do end up viewing the movie.
The Message of The Hunger Games:
“I don’t want to be just a piece in their Games”, Peeta admits to Katniss on the night before the contest begins. Katniss later realizes the meaning behind his words, and finally discovers that there is a part of each person/tribute that leaders and presidents will never be able to own or control. Amidst all of the pain and killing, this small spark of hope mingled with defiance shines out.
By Meredith Joy
The Hunger Games is available for purchase on DVD at Amazon.com