I’ve read the book and saw the movie Saturday night. Loved it — great casting, nice directorial touches from Gary Ross and excellent adaptation of the novel. Jennifer Lawrence pulls off one of the best female lead roles I’ve seen in a long time. Josh Hutcherson was terrific. Elizabeth Banks absolutely disappeared into the role of Effie. Wes Bentley was creepily amoral. I could watch Donald Sutherland read the phone book; always a treat. As a general matter, I love dystopian future flicks.”Gattaca,” “Children of Men, “Blade Runner,” “Aliens” etc. But I’ve been grappling with the takeaways. What’s the “reel agenda” of “The Hunger Games?” Is there one?
Mind you, it doesn’t have to be a liberal message for me to enjoy a film. ”Red Dawn” was one of my favorites growing up. I was a big “24″ fan too. So this isn’t about wanting “The Hunger Games” to comport with my own sensibilities. Having had a night to sleep on it, I think what works about this film is that you can take away what you want, no matter what your proclivities are.
If you’re conservative, the Capitol represents the ultimate in “big government” — wealthy, morally-corrupt elites (in this case a western establishment) lording over the districts, treating them as chattel, imposing a brutal command economy. The evil President’s manipulation of “hope” as a weapon to keep the people in line could be interpreted as a reference to the 2008 campaign and President Obama. So “the Hunger Games” must be a screed against welfare capitalism and the overreach of federalism, right?
Not so fast.
There’s another way to look at “The Hunger Games.” The Capitol (brilliantly imagined by Ross) is clearly dominated by corporate interests. Government and business working hand in hand to extract and exploit resources for the benefit of a few at the expense of the many. It’s a society that glorifies violence, where the media is a wholly-owned instrument of state power. As entertainment, the “Hunger Games” show depicted in the film is “American Idol” meets Fox News; cynical, sensational and, ultimately, fixed. The “sponsors,” presumably wealthy individual and corporate interests, have the power to use their money to put a finger on the scale of the competition. Katniss, Peeta and all the tributes are pawns playing a game where the rules apply only to them, not those in power. Which is basically the progressive critique of all that’s wrong with the American economy and polity.
So, something for everyone. Mostly, it’s great entertainment, and I’m looking forward to seeing the series through.