If it's crap ... We'll tell you
It can be a bit of a taboo in the world of cinema to directly compare a film to the source material. However, certain messages float around in the world of art and entertainment that need attention, and that is what this story of the Hunger Games has to offer.
We humans exist in an odd state; we are so close to complete chaos it is tangible to many, but it seems only select places seem to be feeling the brunt of that reality. Most of us, whether we realize it or not, live in a rather privileged place in the grand scope of humanity. It's hard to imagine a time where our quarrels over small issues could someday transition into a realm where food, shelter, and the our own safety is held over our heads like a mobile. Unbeknownst (or rather, held in a place of half awareness in our minds) to many, that is many peoples' reality.
This concept is heavily explored in the Susan Collins novel, The Hunger Games and a bit less so in the film. The book begins by a view in to the life of a girl, Katniss, with a deceased father, an emotionally numb mother incapable of moving past tragedy, and a highly dependent little sister. Katniss frequently breaks rules that are punishable by death or a life of servitude and body mutilation to simply feed her family. She is not alone, as everyone in her district is held so intensely down by authoritarianism that many people starve, die in horrible accidents producing goods for the overseers, and suffer in constant fear that their children will be selected to compete in The Hunger Games. This is an event where two teens/preteens are selected from each of twelve districts to fight to death in a harsh, yet almost magical place where they are nothing but pawns for the amusement of The Capitol city. These games were created because one of the past districts rebelled against their oppression; so, this competition serves as a warning to anyone who may be considering any similar action. They are controlled by death, hunger, fear, and physical barriers that leave no room for happiness or security.
In the film, however, this idea is a little less explored. The magnitude of what is happening is not very well presented, and can be mistaken for being less harsh than what is meant to be understood. They show Katniss hunting and talking about the situation, but it never comes across as being so serious. The only glimpse one gets of that comes in the last ten minutes, which hopefully means they will expand on what is truly at stake in the second film.
On the other hand, the film does give a rather excellent view of the pain and fear in the arena itself, given the time constraints. People around me were sliding to the edge of their seats, gasping, and unconsciously murmuring "no... no... oh my god" to themselves-- that means quite a lot considering nobody was shushed because the whole audience was glued to the screen. I am sure if a naked supermodel dropped a A-bomb in the middle of the room nobody whole have noticed. The arena is meant to reflect the level of control the people of the districts are under. After all, not even nature itself is intact, The Capitol has permeated into everything and there is no emotional or physical escape.
In the novel, it is clear that the relationships people have with each other is all they can really call their own, and that is also taken away at the drop of a hat. The government tries to put a young girl to death, the little sister of Katniss and all she has. Then they throw 24 children (mind you, they do this each year) into a place where they must cut the throats of their neighbors and bash their classmates' heads in with bricks. Nobody is safe, and you can never feel comfortable or attatched to where you are located. The film hit this head on, which is fantastic to say the least. The scene where Katniss volunteers to take her sister's place is heartbreaking, as is Rue's death and the District 11 rebellion. The film (finally) makes the audience feel who they need to feel. Each kill seen means something; some represent the dire nature of the situation and some reflect powerful emotions of ruthlessness and the will to survive. The director also took the incentive to show blood and didn't skimp on the sounds associated with that bloodshed. Not often do PG-13 movies put in the sound of a cracking neck, to say the least.
We cannot forget how vulnerable we are to oppression. This idea has become a film trope because part of it is steeped in our own reality. These messages found in film and literature hold a lot of truth to us and our own lives. Most importantly, we have to be aware of that possibility to prevent it from becoming reality. We are doing quite well as a species, all considering. But, we cannot forget those who are stuck in a place like The Hunger Games arena, isolated from happiness and confidence in the lives of them and their children. Read the book and watch the film, it's definitely worth the time.
The Hunger Games: 9.5 out of 10