First of all, allow me to get the disclaimers out of the way. The largest one being that I haven’t read The Hunger Games books and had only a bare bones idea of what the story was going to be about going in. To a certain extent, I was an interloper in an excited crowd of fans, the guy who heard about the music festival featuring music he had never really heard before, but was interested in checking it all out. On the other hand, I am a big fan of event and phenomenon movies. Harry Potter, for example, isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, but I saw many of the movies and thought they were very cool for what they were. So, I was excited and very interested to see what the buzz was all about.
Having said all that, somebody has some ‘splaining to do. The first thing I said when asked by my wife and Sarah what I thought when the film ended was, “I think I’d like to go home and take a shower.” It was that bad. I walked out feeling sort of creepy and slimy. There was cheering in the theater, so I obviously missed something, or overreacted. And I understand that the books and movies are designed for a tween audience, so we’re not talking about high level art or even entertainment that is necessarily designed for the likes of me. I am assuming Sarah will explain in her review what I missed. I actually hope she does.
Because for me, in the film at least, there just felt like there was a vacuum of emotion and sense of connectedness that unfortunately allowed the cynical aspects of the plot to be kind of overwhelming. Instead of being emotionally invested in it all on some level, I found myself mostly blankly watching kids snapping each other’s necks, beating each other to death with bricks and hunting each other.
At the heart of this installment, of course, are the Hunger Games themselves, a perverse reality television type competition featuring children being forced to survive in the wild and kill each other in order to “win”. There’s more than just that involved, with all sorts of themes being explored, but only nominally so. Authoritarian power, the haves versus the have nots, family, love, feminism, class, trashy entertainment, among many other ideas are presented throughout the film. The problem is that with each one of these, we are presented with only the barest of sketches of each. You’re aware of all of them, but you don’t have a chance to emotionally invest in any of them. There are a couple of ironies at play with how bare the nuances of the plot seemed. One being the fact that the books’ author, Suzanne Collins, has a co-screenwriting credit, and the other being that the movie runs close to two and a half hours, seemingly plenty of time to explore some of these deeper themes more thoroughly.
I can only assume that in the books, the politics, class warfare, authoritarian control and other plots were given much more time to run and be explored. If so, I can easily see why the stories are so enjoyed by so many. I also realize that this first film installment of the series is one of four planned. Again, I haven’t read the books, so I don’t know this for sure. But I assume that the remainder of the story is going to involve the repressed classes rising up to defeat the oppressors behind the main character, Katniss, as well as Katniss finding true love and happiness.
But all I have to work with as someone who isn’t aware of the full story is this first film. And while I thought Jennifer Lawrence was actually quite good working with very little at giving us a combination of will and compassion, this first installment was empty. There was no depth of connection between any of the characters, other than the fact that we were told maybe, kinda, sorta that there was supposed to be. So, again, all you’re really left with is a couple of hours of waiting for kids to kill each other in increasingly sadistic ways. And I understand that the story and series is leading somewhere, but the thought that the first film is supposed to be making a social commentary on the increasing levels of callousness we accept in our entertainment, the irony that the first installment of the series was little more than teens and kids killing each other was interesting to say the least.
The worst part for me, in a way, is feeling like a party pooper. I really did want to like this before I saw it. And as I said, there were people cheering at the end of the movie when we saw it. So, I guess there is a cool factor there that I missed. Maybe I missed a lot more than that. I will say again that Jennifer Lawrence stood out in the middle of a lot of mailed in performances (although Stanley Tucci was enjoyably over the top and Woody Harrelson chewed up some scenery, as well—did you have to drink as much as your character to do this role, Woody?). Other than Lawrence providing the most minimal of feeling, though, the closest thing to real emotion that I saw was Lenny Kravitz kissing Lawrence on the cheek as he zipped up Katniss’ stylish Hunger Games jumpsuit before she went off to battle other kids to the death for reasons barely explored. I should probably just lighten up and go along for the ride but, for now, I think it’s time for that shower.