We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
Like many science-fiction stories, “The Hunger Games” portrays a future that we're invited to read as a parable for the present. After the existing nations of North America are destroyed by catastrophe, a civilization named Panem rises from the ruins. It's ruled by a vast, wealthy Capitol inspired by the covers of countless sci-fi magazines and surrounded by 12 “districts” that are powerless satellites.
As the story opens, the annual ritual of the Hunger Games is beginning; each district must supply a “tribute” of a young woman and man, and these 24 finalists must fight to the death in a forested “arena” where hidden cameras capture every move.
This results in a television production that apparently holds the nation spellbound and keeps the citizens content. Mrs. Link, my high school Latin teacher, will be proud that I recall one of her daily phrases, “panem et circenses,” which summarized the Roman formula for creating a docile population: Give them bread and circuses. A vision of present-day America is summoned up, its citizenry glutted with fast food and distracted by reality TV. How is the population expected to accept the violent sacrifice of 24 young lives a year? How many have died in our recent wars?
The story centers on the two tributes from the dirt-poor District 12: Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). The 16-year-old girl hunts deer with bow and arrow to feed her family; he may be hunkier but seems no match in survival skills. They're both clean-cut, All-Panem types, and although one or both are eventually required to be dead, romance is a possibility.