By Tom Kando
My wife and I went to see The Hunger Games. The movie is both gripping and disappointing.
First, what is this new blockbuster about? Well, it describes the dystopia which our society has become in the not-too-distant future. North America now consists of a dozen districts and a Capitol. The inequities and the contrast between the opulent plutocracy at the center and the decrepit, squalid and starving outlying districts are stark. In its Roman-like games-and-circuses policy aimed at anesthetizing the masses (think Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, here), the government randomly selects each year two young representatives from each district to participate in The Hunger Games.
These games, televised throughout the nation, are a survival contest to the death, like gladiatorial combat. Only one of the 24 teenage combatants is allowed to survive. The other 23 must all be murdered by each other and by the sole victor. The story’s heroine is Katniss Everdeen, played by the stunningly beautiful Jennifer Lawrence.
I haven’t read Suzanne Collins’ book(s) upon which the movie is based, but in view of the hoopla, I am going to review the movie anyway, and tell you why I am both impressed and somewhat disappointed.
What bothers me is not the enormous violence, although my wife makes a good point when she notes that we already have horrendous youth violence in real life, and that its glorification in popular culture is wrong.
My complaint is that, unlike many of its predecessors in this genre, The Hunger Games is sociologically shallow.
Hollywood has a rich tradition of post-apocalyptic scenarios which extrapolate today’s worst tendencies and show us a future which is more cruel, more unjust and uglier than society is today.
During the first half hour or so, it seemed that The Hunger Games would follow in the tradition of such classics as The Omega Man (1971), Silent Running (1972) and Soylent Green (1973). As in those films, this movie locates the seeds of future decay and collapse in today’s dysfunctional world, be it AIDS-like plague (The Omega Man), the destruction of the environment (Silent Running), overpopulation (Soylent Green), or nuclear war (The Day After, The Book of Eli).
Such movies are the counterpoint to the naive optimism of the Star Trek- and Star Wars- like faith in never-ending progress through science and technology.
The first part of The Hunger Games does something similar. To show the brutality and dehumanization of mass culture, and the grotesque commercialization and perversion of the mass media, is a good thing. The thinly veiled analogy with ancient Rome is apt. The children who are about to die - called “Tributes,” which sounds like “Tribunes” - are first paraded in horse-drawn chariots in front of admiring crowds, then pampered and fed lavishly in the Capitol’s opulent quarters, as were gladiators 2000 years ago.
Today, we also have instant stardom and its adulation, in a myriad shows such as American Idol. Survival of the fittest, too, in the even more numerous Reality TV shows. Such programs range from benign elimination contests like Dancing with the Stars to actual elimination to the death as in the 1987 Arnold Schwartzenegger movie The Running Man (whose plot could arguably be said to have been plagiarized by Suzanne Collins!)
Deteriorating social conditions, growing poverty and concentration of wealth, are also very much under way at the present time. Extrapolating these into the future is a valuable exercise. Let’s also not forget that the vast majority of the 10,000 Americans who have died in our dual Iraq-Afghanistan war consists of youngsters.
In sum, the movie’s first 45 minutes contained inklings of such brilliant prognosticators as George Orwell, and I was hopeful.
But alas, it was not to be. For the rest of The Hunger Games, the only remaining question is, who will be last one standing? The movie degenerates into one of those predictable survival contests, similar to so many other films, (including some where the elimination process is natural, as in the recent The Grey).
I am hoping that the sequel will have better sociology, but I am already bracing myself for a disappointment. It seems that the plot will now move to a love story. I guess sociology is not America’s cup of tea.
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Thursday, March 29, 2012
By Tom Kando