Big Screen Peter: The Hunger Games

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 67 views 

Jennifer Lawrence came to prominence as 17-year-old Ree Dolly, the primary caregiver for her mentally ill mother and two younger siblings in Winter's Bone. The rustic poverty and unforgiving landscape of the Ozark Mountains depicted in the film garnered critical acclaim from virtually all circles and made Lawrence the second youngest actor to be nominated for an Oscar in a starring female role.

That turn, though set in present day, bears a strong resemblance to her latest role as the 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen in the recently released movie, The Hunger Games.

Like Ree, Katniss is forced by circumstance (a father's death and a mother's breakdown) into providing for her younger sister, Prim, and their mother. And while both buck against a domineering patriarchy and possess a fierce love for their respective family, the circumstance of the stories (and roles) are divergent, though no less dangerous.

In The Hunger Games, Katniss resides in a rural outlying district of an authoritarian republic called Panem (the founders were fond of irony, it seems). The nation — comprised of 12 districts and a central capital — is a post-apocalyptic incarnation of North America.

Following an uprising from what was once District 13, the Capitol institutes the titular Hunger Games: a televised death match pitting 24 tributes, aged 12-18, against one another. This competition is meant as a stark reminder of the price of rebellion, as each district is forced to submit to a yearly reaping, in which each district child in the appropriate age range is subjected to a lottery to determine their male and female tribute for that year's competition. The reward? Money and food to make the winner — and their family — wealthy and comfortable for the entirety of their remaining years.

The narrative weight of The Hunger Games revolves around Katniss — the emotional pull of her choice to volunteer for her 12-year-old sister, the quiet ferocity, the indomitable will — and Lawrence nails it. Her presence is an evocative anchor, able to seamlessly personify a strong female character without sacrificing any notion of emotional sincerity or vulnerability.

Lawrence's disillusion with the world around her is part of the reason why the film's love-triangle is able to work. The situation between Katniss, her lifelong friend in District 12 Gale, and her fellow tribute Peeta Mellark is handled much more subtly than the book.

In this and many other situations depicted on screen, the director's hand (Gary Ross) is one of nuance, quite content to ride the tails of audience inference.

Though “long” by modern standards, there is very little wasted action on screen. Ross gently entwines aspects of the original story that are only hypothesized by Katniss during the Games (the behind the scenes maneuverings of Haymitch, the precarious situation of the head gamesmaker, the cold ruthlessness of President Snow) with the Games' terror inducing moments of violence and fear. What emerges is a much more “broad strokes” narrative, but the lighter tack is necessary, for at times the fairly fast paced thriller is downright slow and hokey at times.

Given the teen-lit origins, a level of contrived sentimentality is to be expected. And it is, in the end, a frivolous complaint. One that makes the wait for the second installation of The Hunger Games trilogy no less anticipated.