Battle Royale with Cheese
For the Old Mole 16 April 2012 Jan Haaken and I review The Hunger Games, the first movie based on the first book in the popular Young-Adult trilogy by Susanne Collins, and still number one at the US box office.
The story is set in a future version of North America, a state called Panem, in which twelve more-or-less impoverished districts are ruled by an affluent Capitol. In response to a past, failed rebellion, the Capitol demands that each year, each district send two children, a boy and a girl, between 12 and 18, as "tributes" to fight each other to the death in the televised Hunger Games, until a lone survivor is declared winner, and his or her district gains extra food rations for the year. The protagonist, and narrator of the book, is a 16 year old girl, Katniss Everdeen, played in the film by Jennifer Lawrence. She lives in lives in the coal-mining district 12, presented in the film like a series of Dorothea Lange portraits of 1930s Appalachia, and she supplements their meager rations by illegal hunting in the woods outside the district (meaning she's an excellent shot with a bow and arrow) and by putting her name into the tribute lottery, the "Reaping," extra times in exchange for extra rations. Her younger sister Primrose has had her name entered for the first time the year of the story, but by bad luck is chosen. So Katniss volunteers in her place. Also chosen is Peeta Mellark, played by Josh Hutcherson, the son of the town baker, who once saved Katniss from starvation by throwing her some burned bread, and who reveals in one of the televised interviews leading up to the games, that he's always had a crush on her. Though this statement upsets Katniss, who fears it will make her look weak, their District 12 "mentor," a former winner named Haymitch Abernathy, played by Woody Harrelson, tells her it makes her look desirable, and advises Katniss and Peeta to play up their supposed love story to gain sympathy, since popular tributes get "sponsors," who can send them gifts of food, medicine or other necessary items during the games. This story about unjust inequality has obviously hit a cultural nerve.
We don't get around to saying much about its political ambiguity ; and we don't discuss how it addresses disability or other social justice issues Nor do we discuss the racist responses of some viewers; nor the questions of how it touches on climate change, hunger, or the role of capitalism in food scarcity. Nor do we note the irony of Lionsgate production trying to shut down a fan campaign for an Oxfam food program and directing fans instead to their official partnership with the UN World Food Program. Nor, finally, do we discuss comparable earlier films like Battle Royale or Series 7: The Contenders.