The Hunger Games (Movie Review)

 Title: The Hunger Games
Director: Gary Ross
Distributor: Lionsgate
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson
Excellence: 2 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: A mediocre "dystopian future"-themed film that features the disturbing spectacle of children killing each other in gladiatorial-style games, which has neverthless touched something in the young-adult crowd, grossing nearly $400 million so far

I went to see this film in the theatre solely as research for True Restoration Radio, and to see what all the fuss was about (which is basically why we were doing a show on this). A film that grosses $150 million in its opening weekend must have some appeal. I went in with low expectations -- living under a rock as I do, I was largely ignorant of the whole Hunger Games phenomenon. I knew nothing of the plot save the vaguest idea of the concept. It wasn't terrible, but I'm glad I went on Cheap Tuesday.

So the basic plot is, per Internet Movie Database:

In a dystopian future, the totalitarian nation of Panem is divided between 12 districts and the Capitol. Each year two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal retribution for a past rebellion, the televised games are broadcast throughout Panem. The 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors while the citizens of Panem are required to watch. When 16-year-old Katniss's young sister, Prim, is selected as District 12's female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. 

There really isn't much more to it than that. After the intial heroic act of volunteering to take her sister's place, the rest of the film is just a bunch of action sequences as Katniss tries to stay alive (with the mandatory shaky hand-held camera preventing the viewer from seeing much of it). Rather ho-hum I thought on the whole, although there were some things that were quite good.

I thought the Running Man-esque critique of modern media and the voyeurism of reality shows was very well done. Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, the host of The Hunger Games was perfect. The heroic self-sacrifice when Katniss steps-in for her sister was good stuff. The "look" of the film, the art direction, etc., something that I pay attention to (and the main reason I'm such a fan of the original Alien) was very well done also. The violence was well-done insofar as it conveyed some of the horror inherent in children killing each other, without being too graphic.

But those good things do not add up to a good film. I thought that many aspects were highly problematic, and the biggest is that this is a truly post-Christian film in that the main protagonist has not a shred of Christian virtue -- and not does anyone else. As I said, after the first self-sacrificing move for her sister, it's all self preservation and this really perverts what could have been a dark, powerful indictment of many aspects of modern society. This unChristian ethical void leads of other things like the pagan glorification of suicide at the end of the film. As complained of recently, I am NOT a fan of the "Xena Warrior Princess" politically correct gender-bending pugilism. That is, having the main protagonist, Katniss, a 16-year-old girl, who is capable of defeating all comers. It's not only horribly cliché and overused in sci fi especially, it's also just plain wrong. Wrong in that women in general aren't just as good at fighting as men, and from a Christian perspective the idea of women fighting is repulsive.  Even the Romans found the spectacle of gladiatrices intolerable and reformed them out after Nero. The whole "adults = evil, children = good" trope (as exemplified by the fact that all the adult characters were either evil or useless, save, interestingly, Katniss' fashion consultant for the show) so common in modern-day literature is really tiring and insidious.

Which leads me to why I think this has been so popular. There is a strong theme of abandonment by parents/adults/society in the film that I think really resonates with today's youth.  So I can see why they are going to see this film in large numbers. But for my money, I do not recommend anyone rush out to see it except maybe as a way of gaining some insight into young adults?


Sophia's Favorite said...

They don't even do non-Christian ethics right. One isn't (as I am) a fan of samurai films without getting a mini-crash course on how suicide works in societies that value it. Harakiri is, in essence, a self-inflicted execution—it's only done when one's actions warrant death, but it's seen as better to spare others having to take on the karma and blood-guilt (Japan is both Buddhist and Shinto simultaneously) of performing the execution.

Incidentally, every form of suicide that wasn't harakiri was considered, in traditional Japanese ethics, identical with murder. People who kill themselves under the circumstances we associate with suicide are pretty much the #1 source of ghosts in Japanese ghost stories (and the ghost story is to Japanese literature as the knightly romance is to medieval French).

The stunt in Hunger Games has none of that; it's just a stunt. They might as well have said they were "raising awareness". The whole series frankly suffers from weak worldbuilding, which I tend to consider a fatal flaw in a work.

Nicholas D.C. Wansbutter said...

Well, most world-building by modern (post-Christian) atheists is pretty poor mostly because they don't understand human nature and they allow their ideology to completely cloud what knowledge of history they have. And they tend to port modern ideas into their worlds -- I think the glorification of suicide here was an exaggeration of today's romanticization of suicide.

So I guess I just took it for granted that the world building would be sub-par -- although I am also prepared to cut a film a bit more slack than a book and I was saving my complaints in this regard for me review of the novel.

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