The Hunger Games

An engrossing movie experience on multiple levels.

The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games makes the Twilight series look brutally pedestrian. The spectacular Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen is no surrogate of Kristen Stewart’s angst ridden Bella, and she proves to be a heroine of enormous dimension.

As most of you already know, The Hunger Games take place in a futuristic world where a struggling government is composed of 12 separate districts. With a large group of citizens left hungry, disgusted and disillusioned, the government seeks to divert their attention by selecting a boy and girl from each district every year to fight to the death. The event is televised from beginning to end, and the sole survivor will be recognized as the ultimate champion.

As seen in the previews, Katniss volunteers to replace her young sister who tragically loses the lottery and is selected as a participant. Katniss is a rugged survivor who is attractive, intelligent and a helluva shot with a bow and arrow. She confronts her destiny with the sole desire to try to return to her sister and confused mother.

She is joined from her district by a young man who has long loved her in silence, a kid known as Peeta Mellark. Played convincingly by Josh Hutcherson, he has few identifiable skills, and his chances of survival seem enormously slim to everyone including himself.

Unfortunately, adding to our would-be heroes’ dilemma is the appearance of an alcoholic, disillusioned advisor named Haymitch Abernathy, played with delightful elan by Woody Harrelson. Haymitch has obviously been through this nightmare before, and he spends most of his time drinking heavily as he is annually forced to watch the death of his kids. Expecting the same thing here, he is slowly won to Katniss’ side as she quietly displays an attitude that Harrelson admires.

As good as this entire film is, Ms. Lawrence and Mr. Harrelson are a complete triumph, and they are at all times a total joy to watch. Ms. Lawrence’s familiarity with the forest aids her survival, and she is as outstanding here as she was playing Raven/Mystique in last year’s entertaining X-Men: First Class; as the central love interest in the very likeable Like Crazy, and in her Oscar nominated role as a similar young woman fighting for her life in Winter’s Bone (2010).

Mr. Harrelson is a complete treasure, here playing a flawed but loveable patron who is as funny as he was playing Tallahassee in the darkly comical Zombieland (2009). As seen by his roles in No Country for Old Men (2007), A Scanner Darkly (2006) and A Prairie Home Companion (2006), no actor is better at bringing a satirical comic edge to a ragged character.

Mr. Hutcherson makes the most of his role as the over-matched Mellark, a young man who is strangely at peace with his anticipated death. He is again quite convincing as a struggling kid who is inherently likeable as we have seen from similar performances in such outstanding films as Bridge to Terabithia (2007) and The Kids are All Right (2010).

The Hunger Games is also enormously helped by the combined performances by Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Wes Bentley and Lenny Kravitz. Tucci and Banks are funny beyond words as a TV host and games spokeswoman who don’t allow the morbidity of the moment to interfere with entertaining the masses. Mr. Sutherland and Mr. Bentley are critical to the film’s success, playing two representatives of the government whose principal goal is to keep the disgusted public emotionally fat and happy.

Mr. Kravitz is the one character with a heart of gold, and his ability to help Katniss exceeds his role as her hair and clothing stylist.

But what really makes The Hunger Games work is the fact that it is a startling reminder of the society that we presently inhabit. Sure, here we have kids killing kids for public entertainment, but how much different is it from the way we are taught to cheer our soldiers as they are tormented by wars that never end? Think of the poor guy who is alleged to have killed all of those women and children in Afghanistan, and be reminded that this was his fourth tour of duty. Be reminded that he and his wife were hoping that his last tour would take them to Hawaii as opposed to the devastation in Afghanistan.

As we are told to cheer our soldiers as heroes in much the same fashion as the citizens in The Hunger Games were encouraged to do for their battling teenagers, think of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. On that lengthy piece of marble are the names of over 55,000 American boys who died in a misguided war that never made any sense to this very day. As people like George Bush, Dick Cheney and Newt Gingerich were able to dodge combat, these young people were forced to go to a tragic death where their parents were left in unconsolable misery. As I watched Katniss fight for her survival, I was reminded of how these lost Americans must feel today when they see from their graves that Vietnam is a tourist destination.

And if you disagree, think of the NFL, a sport that just put on its own “hunger games” here in Indianapolis called the Super Bowl. Though many people claim that it is now our National Sport, something that I still adamantly reject as a die-hard baseball fan, where is the explanation for a team that financially rewarded its players who would go out and viciously injure opponents?  Really, how absurd is it to suggest that Monday Night Football begin with children killing children as a lead-in?

Additionally, The Hunger Games displays a world where the government is seeking to divert the attention of the public from their own clear ineptitude. Think of our own country where over 50 million Americans are without healthcare insurance while another 50 million might as well be. Whether you are for or against the attempts to reform our healthcare system, where is your demand that something be done now? Good Lord, Dick Cheney can get a heart transplant in his late 70’s while my ex-secretary joins thousands of others silently waiting at home in hopes that a heart becomes available. This is the alternative to “Obamacare”, and it is as heartbreaking as the death of the children that you see in this film.

Regardless of whether you share some of my feelings or not, you really should not miss The Hunger Games. It is an emotional mixture of young people fighting to overcome the twisted malevolence of their governmental leaders, so please expect to feel your heart pounding while you quietly wipe away an unavoidable tear.