Monday, March 26, 2012

Hunger Games

[!!!!!!!V E R Y    M I L D    S P O I L E R   A L E R T!!!!!!!!] 

I saw Hunger Games with my friend who is involved in both Twilight and HG fandom. So when he invited me I guess I was expecting another Twilight. I knew next to nothing about the books except that middle-schoolers liked them a lot and it took place in an imaginary world and somehow involved gladiator-children. I don't like horror movies (mostly), I don't like sci-fi or fantasy genres (unless Harrison Ford, Andre the Giant or Stanley Kubrick is involved) and I'd like to see nothing less than children fighting each other to the death. Basically I wasn't expecting much.

The posters for Hunger Games. I loved how the advertising was so in sync with the film, not working against the idea like that stupid topless Dragon Tattoo poster. The characters are presented just as the kids are presented to the wealthy crowds in the movie: as fighters with a score rather than people. [Image: a collection of 8 similar posters, each with a black background featuring a character's head and shoulders in profile, lit from the side so you only see a sliver of them, like a waning moon. In the black space where their ear would be is the movie logo. Each faces left with the exception of the main character.]

OMG y'all, it was AWESOME. It's a Hollywood movie, to be sure. It's got all that good stuff like action, romance, classic hero plot and production value that makes a movie... easy and dazzling, I guess. But it was unabashedly political too-- and not in a remotely hidden or apologetic way. I left the movie feeling revolted with consumer culture, angry with the rich/poor divide, with a visceral aversion to luxury goods and lifestyles that has lingered, so far, two days after leaving the theater. It is the perfect time for this movie, with Occupy Wall Street, the rising popularity of the derogatory term, "the 1%," the recent spotlight on poverty and labor abuses in the production of luxury Apple products, and rioting from London to Egypt.

An official event where tributes (kids age 12-18) are chosen to participate in the Hunger Games. They're being shown a patriotic film while they wait to see who among them will be sentenced to battle for their life and probably die. The glamorous hostess is so breathlessly pleased, her attitude reminded me of the headmistress at my old school whenever we had groundbreaking type ceremonies honoring a wealthy donor. Only this woman is surrounded by the collective dread of children yet is completely unaffected, coming off as clueless and cruelly indifferent. The attitudes of the rich regarding the poor were so. well. done. [Image: view from about 50 feet above and behind the audience showing the stage flanked by guards and a humongous monitor to the right, with a big grey deco building as backdrop and a red official flag hanging above the stage while the audience stands. It looks like Walker Evans' Appalachian poor showed up in their Sunday best to a Nazi rally.]

It addressed so clearly and simply so many things: how marginalized people instinctively understand that when those in charge say citizens, peace, freedom, our country, they are implicitly excluded, and that their exclusion simply does not occur to the dominant class (what people in social justice call being aware of "privilege." It doesn't mean being a spoiled brat, it refers to the advantages one has because of belonging to any dominant class [white, male, straight, rich, able-bodied, etc] even though one never asked for those advantages and one is usually completely unaware that they have those advantages at all. For example, having access to a computer. Or walking through a parking lot without the thought occurring to take precautions against rape. Or Hollywood always catering to your demographic. It's one of the most difficult social justice issues to explain, point out and accept, and Hunger Games did it effortlessly.) Husband remarked that when we left the theater the movie made real life seem more real.

Stanley Tucci as talk show personality Caesar Flickerman who hosts the pre-Hunger Games fanfare, sort of a cross between Regis Philbin and Oprah. Here he is in a fake ad for Smile Away toothpaste. If you think you're never seen this actor you're wrong. He's been in everything and is so amazing you don't even know it's him. The film used his character's TV show (or whatever it is in the future) to explore the way celebrity and glamor is used to distract, oppress and tell lies. It's a simulacrum in full sail (only MORE SO!!) and something that makes this movie much more modern and relatable than, say, 1984 or other classic socio-political dystopian sci-fi. [Image: a glamorous slick advertisement featuring the head and shoulders of a white man with blue pompadour in a frilly cravat and suit smiling a cheesy bright-white smile in front of a sparkling blue background that suggests flashbulbs or stage lights. Beside his head text reads, DAZZLING! DAZZLING! DAZZLING! and underneath is the photo of a toothbrush with the words Smile Away: Caesar Flickerman. There's more text but it's too small to read.]

*Can't wait to see what other ppl write about re: Hunger Games and racism, sexism, etc.

Edited a week later to add: Other people have, of course, written awesome stuff about Hunger Games. Here's some of what I couldn't wait to read about: s.e. smith's take at TigerBeatDown and Arturo R. García at Racialicious
I'm a little surprised that these writers who highlighted race and disability--and many other bloggers-- ignored the military implications of the movie. Sacrificing our teenagers to keep the entrenched hierarchies secure and treating war like entertainment we can all rally behind seems an obvious parallel. It made me think back to the Liz Miller piece I wrote and my ultimate conclusion about her Picturesque Evacuation Ploy installation (if you can make it that far into the post). Maybe everyone's just sick of writing about war?


Ariel said...

Hey! I'm so glad to hear you liked the film. I recommend the books as well - they are a quick, addictive read. Laughed when you compared Effie to a certain headmistress (frightening but true). I used your analysis to persuade the hubs to take me to the film. We are going tonight (yay!). Also, my agency wrote an article on the film you might be interested in: http://culturalcapital.tv/The-Hunger-Games

Ariel said...

Here is a better article regarding feminism (or lack of) in THG. I would love to know your thoughts.


Ciana Pullen said...

Ari! Thanks for the comments, and I only wish a certain someone would trade a certain "sand-crawler" coif for a lavender Marie Antoinette 'do... if only. And I think I will read the books. Did y'all already see the movie? What did you think?

I read the article you sent, and it was really interesting. But ultimately I had so many distinct points of disagreement that I couldn't fit it into a comment on TLP's site, or even on my own site. So I'll be putting up a post on my thoughts so I can really get my rant on.

Lauren said...

Great analysis! We are posting about Hunger Games tomorrow at our site. Overall I agree with everything you say and also felt the film did a wonderful job interpreting the books. And The Last Psychiatrist didn't seem to read or understand the books close enough to warrant extensive critique. I wonder if he watched the same film?

buy cd key said...

I find it very disturbing that an American reader can't see the difference between Ayn Rand and Terry Pratchett.
It's not as though Rand can write, or has a humane bone in her body! It certainly doesn't lead me to think any book he or she recommends will be worth reading.

Ciana Pullen said...

@buy cd key

Ok. But I'm not sure what are you getting at here. Could you elaborate? Are you referring to any particular part of the post? I'm curious.

By the way this was a review of the movie, not the book, which I haven't read, just to be clear.

"It's not as though Rand [...] has a humane bone in her body!" Well these days she ain't got no bones nor a body. But yes, I agree.

Ciana Pullen said...

But at least Rand lived to see the Me Decade.