The Hunger Games: Stimulate your mind
If the best games stimulate the mind and the body, then The Hunger Games belongs near the top of the pile. Adapted from a novel bearing the same name by Suzanne Collins, this first installment in a trilogy is a superb dramatic action film, which engages the grey matter on various levels, thanks to its rich depth in characterisation, as well as a subtle multi-layered narrative.
Set in a dystopian future in North America, things start with 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who feeds her little sister Primrose (Willow Shields), and her widowed mother (Paula Malcomson), by using her hunting skills in the outskirts of her city, District 12. We immediately learn that that her impoverished district is one of the remnants of the nation of Panem, which after a failed rebellion against the ruling wealthy nation Capitol 74 years ago, was divided into 13 districts. We also note that in order to control the people of Panem, the ruling Capitol conduct a lottery in each of the districts, where two unfortunate residents between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected to play in the Hunger Games, a televised survival event with 24 participants, where the contestants attempt to kill each other till there is one survivor.
In the 74th annual Hunger Games, Katniss successfully volunteers to take part instead of her sister, after Primrose is selected in the raffle. The other player from district 12 is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a baker’s son, who once showed Katniss compassion when she was starving.
At this point, we are introduced to other characters from the film, including former District 12 winner, the drunken Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), whose comically gluttonous behaviour is dictated by his poor background. We also meet the stylish stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), and the bizarre-looking Capitol business agent Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Bankss).
All of these characters are very naked in their goal to glamorise the participants of the hunger games, so that they achieve popularity with viewers and gain sponsors. We are told that the sponsors are key players as they can drop ‘gifts’ to participants during the games, improving chances of survival. Later, we are also introduced to participants from the other districts, all of whom deal with their fear of death with various personalities.
The multi-layered social commentary in The Hunger Games is both engaging and subtle. The viewers of the deadly tournament, the citizens of Capitol, are caricatures of the rich and elite. Wearing silly colourful expensive clothing, and sporting equally ridiculous hair styles, these citizens of Capitol are completely detached from the proceedings, examining the players in The Hunger Games as mere objects for their entertainment. Down to earth and very human, the residents of the district are a sharp contrast by comparison.
In a sense, this could be taken as social commentary in our own reality on the divide between economic classes, or even the treatment of the third world nations by the first world, but The Hunger Games is careful to leave these things open to interpretation. The commentary on the consumption of faked reality television is more pointed however, and there is even a romance forced between Katniss and Peeta, who have little actual chemistry, which reminds local viewers of Veena Malik on Indian reality show Bigg Boss – a strategy for them to gain popularity. The larger underlying message of the film seems to be how ratings affect the quality of content on TV, which Pakistani viewers, especially those familiar with Maya Khan’s show, can agree to.
The film’s action sequences are very gritty, and visceral, and the movie doesn’t even hesitate in depicting brutal death sequences of children. They work because they avoid heavy post production or ridiculous computer-generated imagery (CGI) effects, and because we find the stakes high due to how much we care about the characters. Like the narrative, the action sequences in The Hunger Games are compelling to watch because they are subtle, leaving us immersed the film.
In the end, there is no doubt that in every field, The Hunger Games takes home gold.
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