Katniss a hero for all ages
The Hunger Games
When I first caught wind of The Hunger Games I dismissed it as a Hollywood knock-off and likely a watering down of Battle Royale. It kind of is, regardless of author Suzanne Collins’ claimed ignorance of the Japanese cult book and film when she wrote her own insanely popular slice of teen gladiatorial fantasy. But Battle Royale didn’t have a character to invest in like Katniss or an actor as engaging as Jennifer Lawrence, who wowed critics in Winter’s Bone and wooed fanboys in X-men: First Class.
Quite simply, she owns this picture.
Lenny Kravitz acting? The wacky costumes and facial hair? The illogical premise that a ruling class would devise a game that encourages its subservient outlying ‘‘districts’’ to train children in warfare? I got past every reservation by grasping the hand of Ms Lawrence, much like Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the love interest/ side- kick to her dominant, enchanting huntress.
It’s the future and the United States (and we can assume the world) has been ravaged by war and famine. What’s left of America is Panem, a nation governed by the Capitol, a city of extravagance and big hair, and fuelled by 13 largely poor districts.
As punishment for a past uprising against the Capitol, each year the districts must provide two ‘‘tributes’’ – a teenage boy and girl – via lottery to compete in The Hunger Games. Reality television at its most obscene: 24 mostly normal youths forced to kill or be killed until only one remains.
We follow Katniss into the madness of the games after she volunteers to save her younger sister from the same fate. Tributes are paraded and trained before being dropped into a domed forest with a multitude of weapons at their disposal.
Micro cameras are everywhere and the ‘‘director’’ (Wes Bentley) can even manipulate the weather and wildlife.
Mums and dads may gag at a movie where teenagers killing teenagers is home entertainment – let alone see it themselves – but The Hunger Games does not bear a heart of darkness. Remember, director Gary Ross was also responsible for Pleasantville, another splendid – though very different – fable where teenagers rallied against social injustice and complacency.
Much of the violence is implied and none is glorified, often muted by the frenzied camera work. The overriding theme is one of empowerment, both in Katniss’ determination and skill to beat the game, and the subversion of gender roles typical of Hollywood action/adventure movies.
There’s a cute, definitive moment when Peeta tells Katniss ‘‘I’ll take the bow’’.
The line is a self-effacing joke. Katniss is the sharp-shooter, the decision-maker, the leader in their relationship – not only will Katniss take the bow, she’ll tell Peeta exactly what he should be doing if he wants to stay alive.
This is a big deal for a picture that comes with a built-in fanbase of fanatical teenagers – and for cinema in general. It’s a sad indictment of Hollywood when the camera work is notable and noticeable for not objectifying the heroine.
Sadder still are those critics complaining that Lawrence wasn’t skinny enough for the role.
No, she doesn’t look malnourished, but neither do any of the other tributes – so why pick on her?
In appearance, actions and attitude, Katniss is a positive role model for young women, a quality enhanced by the quiet grace Lawrence brings to the role.
The Hunger Games does have its weaknesses.
The social satire could have been played smarter and the role of sponsors is either overemphasised early in the picture or under-used once the Games begin.
Some viewers will also find it vexing how Katniss only finds herself fighting creeps, simplifying The Hunger Games into a contest of good versus evil.
Whenever it looks like she may have to aim her arrows at a sympathetic kid, poisonous berries or a wild animal intervenes.
What would Katniss do when faced with killing or being killed by a child as innocent and sympathetic as herself? The question burns throughout The Hunger Games, but is never answered.
Odds in her favour: Jennifer Lawrence captivates in teen gladiatorial fantasy The Hunger Games.
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Wes Bentley, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Willow Shields. Screenplay by Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray, directed by Gary Ross. 142 minutes, rated M (contains violence). Showing Reading Porirua and Light House Pauatahanui cinemas.