The Hunger Games

There is something about the fantasy genre that evokes scary images of obese geeks from upstate New York obsessed with an alternative universe or angsty goth chicks in foggy suburbs who tuck Margaret Atwood paperbacks under their armpits en route to school in the hope that a vampire will rescue them from the unbearable heaviness of being. As a result, the genre, despite the stupendous success of Twilight and other such franchises, remains on the periphery of cinematic respectability.

The Hunger Games, which creates such as an alternative universe, though overcome with remarkable dexterity the trappings of its generic leanings. The plot goes like this: North America has had a dramatic realignment and has been reduced to a dsytopian squalor; its inhabitants remind you of M Night Shyamalan’s The Village who live on a budget that befits a Govind Nihalani film from the 1970s.

At the heart of this society is a nasty annual Olympic of human cruelty. From each of the 12 districts that rebelled once, two youngsters are selected to participate in a survival game. Thus, 24 contestants will fight to the finish, kill off one another and the sole winner will be celebrated. It is a game designed to provide hope to the districts (as the leader of the nation, aptly played by Donald Sutherland, suggests) and to nip in the bud any potential rebellion from the oppressed. At the other end of the spectrum, in the Capital, is an elite that lives in garish opulence – with neon hair and sartorial extremes that evoke a Tim Burton flick, this is Hollywood production design at its best.

The participants,cherry-picked from the districts, are then groomed by a team of mentors (Lenny Kravitz plays a stylist, coz it ain’t over till it’s over), introduced to manic crowds that cheer the doomed players. The entire savagery is televised,throwing the lens back to our fetish for reality TV shows, in which freaks of all ilk expose, on our behalf almost, their deepest fears, anxieties, cruelties. Thus, just as reality TV satiates our need to experience other people’s emotional carnage, the hunger games magnifies this instinct to a milieu similar to the Coliseum of yore, a lion-mauls-man spectacle. A lion though is replaced with a human being in this case.

At the heart of this film is Katniss Everdeen, played with an impressive mix of poise and vulnerability by Jennifer Lawrence and her love interest, Peeta Mellark (played by Josh Hutcherson). How he becomes her love interest though is something you need to see the film for. The film’s greatest triumph is its ability to immerse us in a perverse dystopia so steeped in artifice and yet so close to how the media is indeed a mirror to some of our baser impulses, our innate desire to experience vicariously the debasement of our peers. Fans of fantasy should be delighted. More discerning folks should also read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and watch Todd Haynes’s Safe for equally dire warnings minus the neon.