The depiction of a deranged dystopian realm is not an un familiar one to cinema goers. Last year there was the chilling Never Let Me Go with Kiera Knightly and Carey Mulligan, and the re-discovery of V for Vendetta (2006) by the “Indignados” and “Occupy” protesters. The Hunger Games, a film adaption of the first novel of a bestselling teenage trilogy by Suzanne Collins, in that sense is not groundbreaking or exceptional. However, with the captivating appeal of its feisty heroine, Katniss Everdeen, played with subtlety and intelligence by Jennifer Lawrence, and its portrayal of themes such as extreme inequality, lack of democracy, dictatorship, the depravity of the tabloid media and reality television that echo many of the themes of the ‘Occupy’ movement, mean that ‘Hunger Games’ packs quite a punch.
Set in the future, the world we see horrifies. With the nation divided into 12 districts, the annual ‘Hunger Games’ are presided over by the ruling elite, with two young people or ‘Tributes’ from each district forced to compete in a gruesome televised battle in the wilderness whereby the last Tribute left alive, wins. The prize for the victor? Wealth and prestige. Katniss, by virtue of her innate humanity, becomes a symbol of the potential for something different. This begins when Katniss, in a bid to save her sister from the Hunger Games, becomes the first ever volunteer Tribute.
A miner’s daughter from a desperately poor district, Katniss is adrift for a few fleeting days amongst the wealthy city dwellers, as the Tributes train for the Hunger Games which promise impending death for all but one. A perplexed Katniss has her body and eyebrows waxed and bleached to prepare her for an interview with a seedy gameshow host. It’s no coincidence that Katniss’s natural beauty is most compelling however, when she is not painted, plucked, polished and in the glare of a disingenuous, stage-managed and voyeuristic camera.
Katniss, whose father’s death in a mining accident rendered her provider for her family, is a survivor. Her ingenuity and skill in approaching the Hunger Games are touchingly combined with the human solidarity displayed in the friendship she develops with a young , black, female Tribute.
Costume and appearance take on symbolic meaning in the film. The almost grotesque appearance of the wealthy city dwellers, adorned in ostentatious clothing and clown-like make-up, is designed to reinforce the juxtaposition of extreme wealth and poverty. The rich appear colourful yet ridiculous, and the poor district dwellers, dressed in shabby greys and browns, look approachable and human. The ruling elite’s fostering of a ‘dog eat dog’ mentality via the Hunger Games, similarly parodies today’s world that’s dominated by a capitalist system beset by crisis, as austerity is ruthlessly implemented no matter the human cost.
It emerges that the immensely grim, dictatorial system of governance that the film depicts, arose in the aftermath of a crushed rebellion. Katniss’s participation in the Hunger Games gives a new glimpse of hope to people in this context. The necessity for Katniss to fake a romantic relationship in order to beat the system will undoubtedly curb Katniss, and mirrors the difficulty that young people have in achieving genuine self expression and development and positive human relations in a capitalist world dominated by corporate media that enforces rigid ideas on beauty, gender roles etc. Something is a-brewing, however – can Katniss spark a rebellion? Watch this space.