Consider me Sgt. Schultz when it comes to The Hunger Games. “I know nothing.” At least, I didn’t prior to seeing the movie last week. And even that happened on a whim, without hearing of the book series or seeing a trailer – I was merely following the cool kids on Twitter. They all seemed to be talking about it.
So I went. Alone. Late at night. And I genuinely enjoyed it for a variety of reasons – the believability of the heroine, the stark contrasts in the different parts of the post-apocalyptic world, the weird makeup affections applied to known actors (Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci and Lenny Kravitz).
Even more importantly, it seemed to hit on ideas that go beyond casting and staging – a whole bunch of them. There were so many thematic undercurrents that I kept a list on my phone, shrugging off the threats that anyone caught using electronics would be booted from the theater. (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.) Actually, that’s a good jumping point. Here are, in order, some of the subplots that seemed to be taking place. Think of me as an 8th grader forced by his teacher to explain what the book “really means.” And there are a lot of possibilities.
Holocaust. It’s not just the title. Early on, the film is riddled with thin, impoverished people. There’s also an element of hiding from authority and then a scene where the poor, quasi-prisoners are herded like lambs going to slaughter.
The draft. Every kid in each of the 12 districts is forced to enter their name into a lottery with the winners winding up as losers, forced to participate in a fight to the death. The older you are, the more times your name goes into the drawing. It reminded me of what my dad probably went through waiting to have his name called (or not called) for Vietnam.
The Olympics. Namely the opening ceremonies. In fact, don’t be surprised to see somebody eventually just lift the costumes and pageantry from arena scene for use in future Games. Was this a statement about the Olympics being over the top and wasteful?
Reality TV. The Hunger Games are a made-for-TV event, the idea being that the death of innocent kids will prevent the world from plunging into another world war. However, they’re viewed with glee, especially by the well-to-do folks. That’s right: People find joy in watching teenagers kill each other for no real reason. It’s unadulterated blood lust. Jersey Shore is more dumb than downright dangerous, but there’s no telling what the future of reality TV holds.
Occupy Wall Street. The obvious divide between classes plays out through the participants. Some are trained, Under Armour-wearing killing machines. Others hunt squirrels to stay alive. The difference between them? Nothing, essentially. Just birth circumstance. There’s also an element of socialism in that the working class dresses the same and mines together – sharing abject poverty. However, that seemed to be based largely on location rather than a nationwide policy.
Civil rights. At least two of the 24 participants in The Hunger Games are black. (And, apparently, this created quite a stir on Twitter.) When one of them is killed, it sets off an uprising, the police using shields to fend off the masses. This is maybe the best example of how so many relatively short and seemingly minor scenes hinted at larger ideas. (Deep, man.)
Manipulation. As the games go on, the rules wind up being tweaked by the powers that be (some airport traffic-controller types and a dude with a sweet, swoopy beard). Plus, obstacles (pitbulls, fireballs) are added and taken away solely to alter the outcome. It’s not … fair. And, to me, that’s the most likely proposed takeaway from the flick: Life isn’t fair. Plans change, bad things happen, people turn on you. But that’s no reason to give up or to compromise your values. Just … keep … going.
After all of that, it’s a fairly simple idea. And that might be part of the genius (if we can take the praise that far) of The Hunger Games: There are as many levels as your mind is able to pick out.