Movie Review: The Hunger Games (2012)

Title: The Hunger Games
Director: Gary Ross
Distributor: Lionsgate
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson
Godfrey's Rating: 1.5 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: A sub-par "dystopian future"-themed film that features the disturbing spectacle of children killing each other in gladiatorial-style games, which neverthless touched something in the young-adult crowd, becoming a box-office smash with several sequels

I went to see this film in the theatre solely as social research and to see what all the fuss was about. A film that grosses $150 million in its opening weekend must have some special 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 quite well done. Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, the host of The Hunger Games was perfect. The "look" of the film, the art direction, etc., something that I pay close attention to was very well done also. The violence was treated decently 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 nor 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, yet powerful indictment of modern society. This unChristian ethical void leads of other things like the pagan glorification of suicide at the end of the film. I am NOT a fan of the "Xena Warrior Princess" politically correct gender-bending pugilism -- and therefore did not enjoy the concept of Katniss, a 16-year-old girl, who is capable of defeating all comers in hand-to-hand combat. 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 of existence 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) so common in modern-day literature is really tiring and insidious.

Which leads me to why I think this film franchise is/was 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 have consumed 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 today's young adults?

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