Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Hunger Games (2012)

I was looking for something to watch while treadmilling last night, and The Hunger Games (2012) showed up on the list of Netflix suggestions.  I had heard some fairly negative criticisms of the movie, so I did not rush out to see it, but in retrospect, that was a serious mistake.

There are not many movies that I give five stars to on the Netflix rating scheme, but this is one!  If you watched Rollerball (1975), you will see some obvious parallels, not in plot, but in the overall theme: the battle of the individual against the omnipotent state and the supremacy of a higher moral good over simple survival.  But unlike Rollerball, the violence is more suggested than shown, making it more palatable to both teens and many adults.

One other interesting difference: Rollerball is set in a dystopia where corporate control has essentially replaced representative government.  The Hunger Games is, as others have observed, something of an extrapolation from our current society, where The Capitol City lives high on the hog, enjoying the benefits of high technology, while those who live in the districts that rebelled decades before live on the edge of starvation.  The only technology that the districts enjoy is that which is necessary to keep the propaganda going in defense of the status quo.  While the Obama Administration with its crony capitalism has been much more blatant and unapologetic in this than previous presidents, it is a quantitative difference, not a qualitative one.

The District of Criminals has been separating itself from most of the country for many years by its destruction of free enterprise in the rest of America.  Yet the response of liberals to this destruction is to point out that many of the more conservative states are net beneficiaries of federal spending, with no awareness that federal regulation plays a part in destroying entrepreneurship in states that are largely owned by the federal government, and much of the wealth production on the coasts is the result of federal assistance through copyright law and bailouts to favored business sectors. 

In The Hunger Games, we see an extrapolation of this problem -- and in some ways that startled me.  The fashions of the Capitol City are just a bit more absurd than much of what passes for fashion today in our coastal cities: false eyelashes that are inches long; androgynous fashion and transgenderism.  I suppose that it would have been too direct a social criticism to have Capitol City residents with extreme body piercing and completely tattooed.  (Reminder to all: you can't pawn or sell tattoos or body piercings.  Whatever money you spend on this is down that rathole forever.  At least your iPhone has some resale value, and as a phone has some practical utility.)

There are some parts of The Hunger Game that look predictable... and then catch you by surprise.  I won't describe them, but just warn you: do not make any assumptions in the first ten minutes about who is going to be a participant.

The performances of the actors really impressed me as well.  Stanley Tucci's performance is just astonishing in its smarminess as the host for the televised version of the death match. Donald Sutherland as President Snow manages to convey both a world-weariness and Machiavellian evil; Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane beautifully portrays someone who aspires to be like President Snow, but lacks his hard-edged evil, and pays a price for failing to be consistently evil.  Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen and Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark both do astonishing jobs of playing their parts without overplaying them.

One interesting aspect of the character names: most of the names appear to be derived from names of our time, suggesting that this is a future many centuries away.  The technology of the Capitol City suggests a society that has advanced only a little from the one we have now (perhaps because of the civil war explained in the first few seconds of the film).  Yet the first names of many of the Capitol City residents are Roman: Caesar; Seneca; Claudius.  This seems almost a little heavy-handed, although I am not sure how much of the target audience for this film has even a clue who any of these people were.


  1. Don't forget this is based on a trilogy of YA books. That goes a long way, probably, towards explaining some of the things you noticed.

    Also, if you liked that movie, you will probably want to see the sequel, Catching Fire, which, conveniently enough, opened this weekend.

  2. The blue states on the coasts receive far more federal government largess than most realize in the form of the deductability of state and local taxes as well is mortgage interest. Looking at it that way, states like New York an California receive a nice subsidy for their bloated state budgets.

  3. The movie truly lost me when life was created ex nilo. (The dogs sent to attack Katniss.) If Capitol City has that kind of power, the whole movie needs re-interpreted because the government isn’t just exploiting the districts, it’s making them do useless work.

  4. It is clear that the technology available in the Capitol is so far advanced relative to the districts that the real goal is to keep them suffering and miserable. There is enough wealth in this country today to provide for the legitimate needs of the legitimately poor (not those with drug addictions), but that would require the wealthy and political class to spend less than a million dollars a year satisfying their whims.