The Hunger Games: Landmark for Millennials

March 26, 2012

The Hunger Games is certainly the most frightening movie that I have ever seen..and, in a bizarre way, one of the most hopeful.

Even though it contains echoes of films such as 1984, Network, and The Lord of The Flies, The Hunger Games is singularly unique in that it represents a very “right now” look at our celebrity-worshiping, violence-laden, reality television culture, and throws in some chilling warnings about the dangers of all-powerful government.

Having not read any of Suzanne Collins’ three books from which this film springs, my first impression upon hearing about the film’s central theme of a nationwide contest which pits twenty-four teenagers against each other in a fight to the death,  was…”uh-oh, here we go again with mindless violence.” Those who had indeed read the books, however, straightened me out on that impression very quickly by assuring me that the whole point of the books is to awaken young people to the dangers of the culture they are creating with their obsessions with violence-laden video games and movies, and a tuned-out-to-society immersion in texting, Facebook, Twitter, and any other distraction that can keep them from really looking at the world around them.

In fact, survey after survey show conclusively that this so-called Millennial generation (those born between 1980 and 2000 ) is, in general, the most tuned-out generation in American history.

For those reasons and more, I hope that The Hunger Games is shown in every high school and college classroom in the world every year from now on.

Set about a century from now, the film’s horrifying central storyline is that a revolution occurred many decades earlier that was ruthlessly extinguished by the central government. America was then split into twelve districts with no passage possible between them. Every year, a teenage boy and girl from each district is chosen as a “tribute” (translation: punishment for the sins of the revolutionaries decades earlier) for The Hunger Games in which they fight each other to the death, until only one “victor” remains.

Yes, that’s right. And it is even more terrifying than you can even imagine as we see the unfolding nightmare through the eyes of Katniss Everdeen, one particular teenager who actually volunteered to compete when her younger sister was originally chosen as her district’s tribute.

I want to note  here that one of the reasons that the film works on so many levels is because of Jennifer Lawrence, the brilliant young actress who plays Katniss. Through her eyes, we see the sheer terror and then ultimately resolve that results from being thrust into a battle for one’s life. A lesser performance might have changed the whole tenor of the film but Ms. Lawrence takes us with her on her journey and we feel every emotion as she experiences it.

The film is brilliantly cast and superbly directed by Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, etc.) who makes the violence as frightening as it needs to be but does not rub our noses in it. As a result, the film is correctly rated PG-13 so that the young people who are its primary, intended audience can actually see it.

And therein lies the big question: Will that audience actually get the message that the book’s author and filmmakers so obviously intend?

Will they see how truly horrifying it is to actually face violence and confront imminent death, not in some disembodied way on a violent video game or horror film, but in life itself? Will they see how desensitized we become when we zone out into a constant electronic maze that serves basically to anesthetize us to the world around us? Will the film waken them to the reality that they spend so much time and energy avoiding?

If the audience misses the point and just sees the film as a “cool, violent film”, it will be a huge shame and a massive, missed opportunity.

If, however, the message strikes home, The Hunger Games can take on the mantle of a landmark, sociological event for the Millennial generation and could even be seen eventually as a crucial turning point. As the film opened to a staggering weekend gross of $155 million, we have every reason to hope.

A note here for those of you who have long since tuned into the central warning themes of the film: think carefully before you go see it because you may find it to be deeply unsettling and upsetting.

So, how will we determine the outcome?

Time certainly will tell…but if we see our kids or grandkids aspiring to be Katniss Everdeen or Peeta Mellark (her male counterpart), it will be a very good sign indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From www.thewrap.com: “The Hunger Games” beat even the most optimistic box-office expectations in its debut weekend, grossing an estimated $155 million domestically and setting several records.

Lionsgate’s movie opened bigger than any movie ever to open in the period between January and April. It is the biggest non-sequel opening ever and the third-biggest movie opening ever.

The only films to gross more than “The Hunger Games” in their opening weekend are “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2″ and “The Dark Knight.”

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Asha Hawkesworth March 26, 2012 at 11:39 am

Thanks, Stephen. I haven’t seen this film yet, but I’m curious to. I have to wonder, though, about the satirical message (that the point of the portrayed desensitized culture is that we could fall down the same rabbit hole). I personally love satire, but it has a negative, angry edge, so I’ve grown careful with it myself. But today’s world is so changed that it can be hard to tell when you’re reading The Onion, you know? You get to the point where you could really believe that. (I have the same reaction to satirical articles about certain public figures–it can be hard to tell the satire from the sorts of things they actually would say.) I also think that our culture has become more literal in its thinking, which I think reflects our falling educational standards. So instead of seeing/hearing the message, people just hear the chorus (Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” is a fine example of not listening to the song’s ironic message).

I also tend to think that focusing on the thing you don’t like has a way of reinforcing it. You’re giving it energy.

Well, all that being said, I do like films that make you think and that are ironic and have messages. But in this case, I wonder if it was the best way of conveying it? Of course, I really hated “Lord of the Flies” (the book; I won’t watch a movie of it).

Instead of making films about the future we DO NOT want, it would be nice to make films about the future we DO want. Which is why “Lost Horizon” remains one of my all time favorite films.

Thanks for your perspective–and the discussion–as always.

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Stephen Simon March 28, 2012 at 5:58 am

Thanks as always, Asha, for your perspective as well. Big hug. Stephen

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Jay Wheeler March 26, 2012 at 9:42 pm

Tamara and I went to see it tonight, and I was struck by a few things. I must admit that reading your blog beforehand did to an extent color the way I approached seeing it, but that is not really a bad thing. While I saw a lot of 1984 in the movie, I also saw a lot of Potemkin in it too, in that the direction drew out very strong emotions not necessarily against an all powerful evil directly, an agent of that evil. I also saw some pretty obvious parallels to The Running Man as well.

My biggest hope with this series of movies is that if Ms. Lawrence does in fact play Catniss in the sequels that she does not get pigeonholed like other unknowns thrust into playing a character in a series of movies (Mark Hamill, Daniel Radcliffe, and the Twilight bunch come immediately to mind). In my humble opinion the movie rested upon her shoulders, and she absolutely carried it.

Finally, much of the furor leading into the movie for me was about the excessive violence I was expecting to see based on everything had heard. I really didn’t find there to be anything gratuitous about it. In order for what assume to be the work’s message to connect, there had to be a certain amount of violence. It appeared to me that a good bit of the violence was implied instead of explicit. I wasn’t around when Kubrick released Clockwork Orange, but i do find it ironic that we are seeing debates about the level of violence (ultraviolence?) in the Hunger Games when a movie with vaguely similar themes and what I would consider a much more radical approach to violence was released 40 years ago. That probably also has to do with how much we are desensitized to violence now as opposed to then.

As is the case with all of your blogs, this one was thought provoking, I truly enjoyed your insight! Hope all is well and Tamara sends her best!

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Stephen Simon March 28, 2012 at 6:00 am

Hi Jay…yes, I agree completely about the violence…they really showed just enough to make the point and the comparison to CLOCKWORK ORANGE is right on point…big hug to you and Tamara…

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Brian Mills March 27, 2012 at 6:33 am

Sacrificial lambs for the sake of entertainment – “The Hunger Games” is pulse-racing, heartbreaking, painfully memorable and a sad indictment on a futuristic society that was born into boredom. The tragedy is that like the Romans and their gladiatorial events, it could happen again. Only this time the arena will be brought to our homes and computers as reality TV.
Jennifer Lawrence is astounding and I agree totally, Stephen, without her central performance the film would have lost its believably awesome power.

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Stephen Simon March 28, 2012 at 6:01 am

Thanks, Brian….yes, it is almost impossible to imagine this film without Ms. Lawrence’s performance….with someone else, it might have been a completely different experience…as always to great to hear from our pal across the pond!..Stephen

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William Constantine March 29, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Stephen,

I think that there are many cryptic and hidden messages within the film as you eluded to. I also believe that the author is speaking out about the endless violence among teens today and it seems that it has become more “entertaining” that a harsh reality. If you want to see or hear about teens killing teens the sad truth is you just need to pick up a newspaper or turn on the news — or TV in general. I mean, the “Twilight Series” was essentially about teens killing teens but in the guise of the never ending werewolves vs. vampire battle (another theme that has been overdone).

Perhaps, the sad truth, Stephen is that maybe we are closer to “The Hunger Games” plot — it seems that kids that act out in violence become “celebrities” for lack of a better word. A teen beats up another and the video goes viral and they suddenly are on the “Today Show” being interviewed.

Perhaps, the author, also feels that our Capital is sitting by and doing nothing but watching as the seems of democracy are coming apart. Maybe, she is foreshadowing where she feels the world is heading if we continue down the path of Ego and hatred.

Jennifer Lawrence performance is indeed what made this movie — you can feel the emotions of her character well.

From the onset of the movie — I lost interest the moment I found out what it was about. I can sit through a Stephen King movie or book — but, prefer to watch uplifting and emotional movies that inspire and transform lives.

People like you and I are actively out there pursuing a change in mindset — trying to give alternatives to continuing down the path. That’s why I think that a movie such as this strikes a nerve with us because, truth is, there is enough violence in the world already — especially among teens.

Again, if the message of the movie is understood — it certainly could be a game changer … like Harry Potter. Yet, I can say, that from watching the first movie I am not interested in picking up a book let alone the series — I think the opposite is true for Harry Potter.

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Stephen Simon March 29, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Thanks so much, William…I so respect your opinion….this movie is certainly generating an enormous amount of conversation….in our home and in so many I have heard of…one way or the other, that’s a very, very good thing….hugs…Stephen

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Donna Laue March 30, 2012 at 4:24 am

As a grandmother of two grown “gamer” grandsons, I can see where hopefully this movie will change the mindset of that generation. That being said not sure I can bring myself to see the movie myself. I have 6 grandchildren and send them peaceful energy everyday with the hope that they with others change our world for the better. Doesn’t sound like a “old granny” kind of movie. ;-)

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Stephen Simon March 30, 2012 at 5:41 am

Good decision, grandma!…and thanks so much…hugs…Stephen

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