Even though it contains echoes of films such as 1984, Network and The Lord of The Flies, The Hunger Games is singularly unique in that it represents a very “right now” look at our celebrity-worshiping, violence-laden, reality-television culture, and it throws in some chilling warnings about the dangers of all-powerful government.
Having not read any of Suzanne Collins’ three books from which this film springs, my first impression upon hearing about the film’s central theme of a nationwide contest that pits 24 teenagers against each other in a fight to the death was ”Uh-oh, here we go again with the mindless violence…”
But those who had read the books straightened me out on that impression very quickly by assuring me that the whole point of the books is to awaken young people to the dangers of the culture they are creating with their obsessions with violence-laden video games and movies, and their tuned-out-to-society immersion in texting, Facebook, Twitter and any other distraction that can keep them from really looking at the world around them.
In fact, survey after survey shows conclusively that this so-called “Millennial” generation (those born between 1980 and 2000) is, in general, the most tuned-out generation in American history.
For those reasons and more, I hope that The Hunger Games is shown in every high school and college classroom in the world every year from now on.
Set about a century from now, the film’s horrifying central storyline is that a revolution occurred many decades earlier that was ruthlessly extinguished by the central government. America was then split into twelve districts with no passage possible between them. Every year, a teenage boy and girl from each district is chosen as a “tribute” (translation: punishment for the sins of the revolutionaries decades earlier) for the Hunger Games in which they fight each other to the death, until only one “victor” remains.
Yes, that’s right. And it is even more terrifying than you can even imagine as we see the unfolding nightmare through the eyes of Katniss Everdeen, one particular teenager who volunteers to compete when her younger sister is originally chosen as her district’s tribute.
I want to note here that one of the reasons that the film works on so many levels is because of Jennifer Lawrence, the brilliant young actress who plays Katniss. Through her eyes we see the sheer terror and then ultimately resolve that results from being thrust into a battle for one’s life. A lesser performance might have changed the whole tenor of the film but Ms. Lawrence takes us with her on her journey and we feel every emotion as she experiences it.
The film is brilliantly cast and superbly directed by Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, etc.) who makes the violence as frightening as it needs to be but does not rub our noses in it. As a result, the film is correctly rated PG-13 so that the young people who are its primary, intended audience can actually see it.
And therein lies the big question: Will that audience actually get the message that the book’s author and filmmakers so obviously intend?
Will they see how truly horrifying it is to actually face violence and confront imminent death, not in some disembodied way on a violent video game or horror film, but in life itself? Will they see how desensitized we become when we zone out into a constant electronic maze that serves basically to anesthetize us to the world around us? Will the film waken them to the reality that they spend so much time and energy avoiding?
If the audience misses the point and just sees the film as a “cool, violent movie,” it will be a huge shame and a massive, missed opportunity.
If, however, the message strikes home, The Hunger Games can take on the mantle of a landmark, sociological event for the Millennial generation and could even be seen eventually as a crucial turning point. As the film opened to a staggering weekend gross of $155 million, we have every reason to hope.
A note here for those of you who have long since tuned into the central warning themes of the film: Think carefully before you go see it, because you may find it to be deeply unsettling and upsetting.
So, how will we determine the outcome?
Time certainly will tell … But if we see our kids or grandkids aspiring to be Katniss Everdeen or Peeta Mellark (her male counterpart), it will be a very good sign indeed.
Some stats on the movie so far:
- From thewrap.com: The Hunger Games beat even the most optimistic box-office expectations in its debut weekend, grossing an estimated $155 million domestically and setting several records.
- Lionsgate’s movie opened bigger than any movie ever to open in the period between January and April. It is the biggest non-sequel opening ever and the third-biggest movie opening ever.
- The only films to gross more than The Hunger Games in their opening weekend are Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and The Dark Knight.
This blog post was originally published on Stephen Simon’s website, Bringing Back the Old Hollywood.
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