The new movie “Hunger Games” seems destined to be a big hit. Yes, “Games” is a challenging story--a dystopian future in which an oppressive government forces young people into gladiator-type battles-to-the-death--but it’s getting good buzz and good reviews. One critic described “Games” as “like ‘American Idol’ with a body count.”
So c’mon folks! Head down to the ‘plex, buy your ticket, plunk down another $10 for soda and popcorn, and watch good-looking actors and actresses exchange longing glances as they kill each other.
Yet everyone should know one thing: “Games” is not just another slasher/horror scream flick--but rather a furious critique of our political system, in which the central government grows rich from the toil of the masses, even as that same political elite finds entertainment in the contrived and manipulated death of its subjects.
“Games” is fantasy fiction, to be sure, but if it can be said that all fiction holds a mirror to the society from which it came, then the contemporary US government--as well as our popular culture, which also comes in for a drubbing--might wish to reflect on its status and standing in our society.
Because a new generation, having grown up in the midst of futile foreign wars and feckless bailouts to billionaires--even as the middle class continues to erode--might wish to make some changes in our system.
Every rising generation changes the politics of its predecessors, and yet today, three years into a “recovery,” as the vast majority of Americans think that the US is on the wrong track, the coming changes to America could prove to be profound. That is, as an indicator of youth sentiment, the movie could prefigure, and accelerate, future political change.
“Hunger Games” was first a young-adult novel, published by author Suzanne Collins in 2008; it sold 11 million copies, while two sequels sold a total of 15 million more. With that sort of momentum in the youth demographic, it was inevitable that movie makers would come knocking.
But “Games” does not fit easily into the smug-money liberalism of Hollywood; author Collins has made it plain that she wrote the first book as an allegory against the Iraq War, and she also included a ferocious satire of showbiz culture and hypocritical politicians.
“Games” is set somewhere in the future, after the collapse of the United States government, followed by years of civil war. Eventually, a new and oppressive government has asserted itself, controlling a new country called Panem.
In Panem, the former America is divided into 12 “districts,” all of them iron-fistedly ruled by a “president” in “the Capitol.” This new central government, in addition, has enacted an annual “reaping” in which the population is reminded of the power held over them.
Two young people, one male, one female, from each of the 12 districts are chosen by lottery. These “tributes” are then forced to fight to the death on live television; the arena is a forest filled with cameras, so that the Capitolines can watch and applaud--it’s a blood-sport reality show.
Indeed, the storyline consists of bits and pieces of such books/movies as “Lord of the Flies,” “Logan’s Run,” “The Running Man,” and “The Truman Show,” but director Gary Ross has created a fresh and compelling world of his own.
The costumes and sets, in particular, send a powerful message: The elites inhabiting the Capitol are portrayed as human monsters, fabulously rich, hideously overdressed, ridiculously made up, totally amoral, all delighting in the televised death of unwilling innocents.
It’s as if such villainous females as Eva Braun, Imelda Marcos, and Leona Helmsley all sat down to a taxpayer-funded feast as Keith Olbermann, Bill Maher, and Howard Cosell called the “plays” and provided commentary on systematized slaughter.
Now enter the lead character, Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, the actress nominated for an Oscar two years ago for her role in “Winter’s Bone.” Katniss is a country girl who has grown up hunting in order to feed her family, her father having died in a coal mine accident. Endowed with an obvious strength and grace, adept with a bow and arrow, she recalls Artemis, the mythological goddess of the hunt. And so she is the moral heart of the film, representing author Collins’ hope for a better world--and a new heroine for millions of Hunger Gamers.
When Katniss’ younger sister is called as “tribute,” Katniss courageously steps forward to take her place in the killing games. And to complicate things further, the male “tribute” from the same district is a young man who has a romantic crush on Katniss--although Katniss has never noticed. Meanwhile, Katniss’ sort-of boyfriend waits back home in the district, watching the bloody show on TV.
So yes, the film has some of the conventional elements of a love-triangle. But what’s truly startling about the movie, then, is its implicit politics: Ordinary folks are good, government is bad--really bad. There are no evil corporations in this movie; the bad guys are bureaucrats and TV hosts.
Taken literally, Hunger Games is a black-helicopter-ish portrayal of state power. But taken figuratively, the film is an Anthem (novella) for our time, a well-crafted cry from the heart against top-down injustice and oppression. Nobody has made a rallying-cry of a movie that’s this effective in a long, long time.
James P. Pinkerton is a writer and Fox News contributor. He is the editor/founder of the Serious Medicine Strategy blog.