March 25, 2012

The Girl on Fire

I purposely did not read The Hunger Games trilogy so I could view the film without comparing it to the book. It is set in a post-apocalyptic North America where the government brutally keeps its starving citizens in line after a rebellion. As continued punishment, a girl and a boy from each of the nation's 12 districts are chosen via lottery to be tributes. They are brought to the Capitol, where they are groomed and trained to fight each other to the death. The whole country is made to watch this barbaric spectacle. It is The Truman Show/Battle Royale/Survivor/Gladiator.
Cleverly enough, the author Suzanne Collins gave Roman names to the denizens of the decadent Capitol. Wes Bentley is Seneca Crane, the Head Gamemaker, who answers to President Snow (Donald Sutherland). The scene-stealing Stanley Tucci is Caesar Flickerman(with blue hair and shockingly white and perfect teeth), the boisterous, over-the-top, and somewhat sinister television host. His co-host for the Games, Claudius Templesmith, is played by Toby Jones.

The heroine of the film is Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to take her sister Primrose's place when Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) draws Prim's name during the Reaping (just the word makes me shiver). I have watched the lovely and talented Jennifer Lawrence since Winter's Bone, and she always makes me feel that she is not acting. Just like Ree in Winter's, her Katniss is full of steely resolve. She is also sullen yet kind, cautious and practical, which should serve her well during the Games.

Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is the male representative from District 12. Katniss' best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is left to watch the blossoming love affair between the two tributes. Alcoholic Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) is a former Games' victor who reluctantly acts as mentor to the District 12 pair, but grows to care for them and believe in their skills. Amandla Stenberg is the affecting Rue, a young girl from District 11 who becomes attached to Katniss. Lenny Kravitz plays Cinna, our protagonist's stylist, eventual friend and ally.

The costumes and set design are top notch, contrasting the impoverished Districts with the Capitol's totalitarian architecture, lavish banquets, and outlandish costumes. The child killings are mercifully implicit (except for a few) but they are still disturbing. We live in the era of reality television, tweets/constant Facebook status updates/look-what I'm doing-now, Big Brother/surveillance, ubiquitous cameras, embedded war journalists, toddler beauty pageants. So the scenes of the bloodthirsty and voyeuristic grotesque crowds made me queasy. 12 to 18 year olds all gussied up, paraded and made to ingratiate themselves to rich sponsors to help stall their impending slaughter? Destitution, hypocrisy, Fascist rule? Very dark themes indeed. See if you can listen to President Snow's line about hope, without getting chills and a sense of doom.

But in the end, it is a story of love. A young girl offering herself up to save her sister. "I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute!" makes me weep. I guess it's time to read the novels now. *raises left arm with 3 fingers up*

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