Armond White: Starve, Suckers! Hunger Plays TV Game
By Armond White
On the most superficial level, The Hunger Games is about a futuristic post-war society called Panem sacrificing its young people in a gladiatorial-style survival tournament. Each district in Panem sends a female and male Tribute, chosen by blood-type lottery, to fend for themselves in the wild as part of a lethal game overseen by surveillance cameras and assorted holographic traps and menaces. In all, a typical video-game premise.
But at its only interesting level, The Hunger Games represents the latest bread-and-circuses. Modern desperation is embedded in its simplistic tale of Tributes Katniss Everdene (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), teenagers from the impoverished District 12 (formerly Appalachia). Their lack of political sophistication?worse than naivete?matches that of the filmmakers. To look at The Hunger Games only in plot terms avoids its dread significance: The smarter society thinks it becomes, the more gullible and dupable it is to commercial and political forces that control it.
Oddest thing about The Hunger Games, given its cynical plot, is the absence of cautionary irony. Despite Lawrence's Southern girl warmth (well used in The Beaver), bow-and-arrow huntress Katniss shows as few intellectual resources as the mainstream media's depiction of Sarah Palin. Gary Ross' admittedly peculiar directorial style reduces Katniss and Peeta to post-internet Neanderthals. Their extended battle royale is what movie shills routinely call "breath-baiting adventure." We are indeed through the looking glass if movies are designed to have no meaning beyond their immediate storylines or marketing points.
Ross constructs Panem's feudal-totalitarian culture to repeat the same facile pronouncements about spiritual starvation and emotional repression as his idiotic TV allegory Pleasantville. Scenes of deprivation, indoctrination and shrill celebration surrounding the games (such as Katniss and Peeta paraded in CGI flames) make a dull spectacle. The film doesn't have a look (Panem's decadent administrators wear goofball outfits, colored eye lashes and funny hair-dos), just outlandish art direction passing for an originally-conceived "world."
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