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Director – Gary Ross
Summary by Will Milton
The Hunger Games was a huge box-office hit in 2012, successfully bringing the beginning of the series of books by Suzanne Collins to the big screen. Featuring a genuine star in Jennifer Lawrence, who would later go on to win the academy award for best actress, this film delivers on its promise of greatness and exceeded the expectations of jaded movie-goers expecting a new addition to teen-based films like the Twilight series. Instead, The Hunger Games is a profound study of politics gone mad, the oppression of the populace and the potential for ‘reality TV’ to overstep the boundaries between entertainment and exploitation. While being listed as a sci-fi thriller, this film focuses on the all-important humanity of the society it examines.
In the wake of a damaging rebellion from the common people against a tyrannical regime, extreme sanctions were implemented to control the working class populace. The country was divided into 12 Districts in a dystopian model that would imprison and impoverish its residents, forcing them into complete dependence on the all-powerful corporation. Additionally, as penance for the sins of their ancestors, each District must submit to allowing a boy and girl, each aged 12-18, to be selected at random each year to participate in The Hunger Games – a fight to the death where the last person standing is the sole victor, all staged as a reality TV show for the entertainment of the aristocracy that populate Capitol City and run The Corporation. Our heroine, Katniss Evergreen (Lawrence) of District 12, volunteers to take part in the games in place of her helpless younger sister Prim who falls victim to the random selection process. Her male companion from District 12 is the charismatic yet fearful Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Thrust from their lives of poverty and oppression, they are given a brief taste of the good life as they prepare for the competition. They are mentored by a grizzled veteran of the games named Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) who tries his best to prepare them for their ordeal and craft them into bankable characters to win fans and gain interest from sponsors that will assist them once the games begin.
During this preparation period, the apparently callous and disinterested Haymitch grows fond of his two young charges as their individuality blooms, and their mutual attraction amid the chaos becomes an angle he can exploit to gain popularity. The organizer of the games (Wes Bentley) welcomes the popularity of the ‘star-crossed lovers’ from District 12, but the sinister President (Donald Sutherland) is far less impressed by what he sees. Despite this, Haymitch and his team form a successful campaign for sponsorship based around the young duo’s blossoming romance and Katniss’ remarkable skill with a bow. Rival participants come in the form of intimidating volunteers from districts that raise their young to be warriors to compete in the games and other unfortunate nominees that fell afoul of the selection lottery, some as young as 12 who can frankly be seen as nothing other than victims in the bloodbath that is to come.
When the games begin, the initial chaos of participants struggling to grab weapons in the centre of the enormous arena is followed by a fallout of quiet as alliances form and game plans are enacted. The arena is an open landscape mostly filled with trees which suits Katniss perfectly as she grew up hunting in the woods. Her knowledge of survival skills allows her to stave off the dangers of her surroundings and remain hidden from an alliance that has formed between the highly trained warriors in the game. Upon seeing that her companion Peeta has joined this alliance in his bid to survive, a disillusioned Katniss attempts to escape the arena whilst the cruel group systematically kills the other participants. Seeing this, the Corporation takes steps by using its complete control of the environment in the arena to generate a blazing forest fire that forces our heroine back towards her rivals. Wounded by the fire, she is discovered and chased by the rampaging group until she climbs high up a tree. Unable to reach her, the group decides to stakeout her position, knowing she must come down eventually. At this point, Katniss is helped by Rue, a wiley young pickpocket who points out a nest of some deadly genetically engineered wasps. Katniss sends this nest plummeting onto the unsuspecting enemies below, scattering them and enabling her to escape. Her last memory of this incident is seeing Peeta attempt to get her to safety before passing out due to sustaining some wasp stings herself.
She awakens to find that the young Rue has nursed her back to health while she was unconscious. The two girls decide to work together to take apart the dangerous alliance that threatens them. They enact a plan to destroy the alliance’s supply cache, which they succeed in doing only at the cost of Rue’s life. The distraught Katniss vows to win the games as the child dies in her arms. Katniss seeks out Peeta, who is hiding after sustaining a bad leg wound from the sword of the group’s alpha male. At this point, in an effort to exploit the young couple’s love and spark some action, the Corporation announces that they will allow two winners of this game if they both come from the same district. A determined Katniss leaves Peeta hidden in a cave and sets off to acquire some medicine to tend to his wounds, knowing that she will be walking into a trap. She survives the ambush after fighting off one of her rivals, then returns to Peeta with the medicine. As the game draws to a finale, the corporation inserts a new variable: a pack of wild and vicious dogs that sets about hunting down the few remaining participants. Katniss and Peeta are forced to return to the centre of the arena, where they climb to safety atop the one building and work together to defeat their last opponent in the game.
Their victory complete, the young couple are devastated when an announcement comes out that there can only be one winner. In defiance, they agree to both eat some poisonous berries to commit suicide, robbing the game’s organizers of their victor. This forces the Corporation’s hand and they reluctantly allow the star-crossed lovers from District 12 to be crowned as winners. The couple is met with jubilation and joy as they return to their district, but there is a chilling inevitability that the Corporation will not allow this insubordination to pass without repercussions, the first of which is the forced suicide of the organizer responsible for allowing the eventual winners to become such popular figures.
The film is a resounding success, meeting expectations on the action front without trivializing the violence – it is the suffering that the Corporation inflicts on its impoverished population that is the main theme. Jennifer Lawrence carries the lead role superbly, and it is her character’s humanity, compassion and integrity that elevate this film above its roots as a sci-fi thriller. The sequel is set for release later in 2013.
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