I’ve always enjoyed watching teenagers die. Even when I was a teenager, back in the early Pleistocene, I couldn’t get enough adolescent annihilation. Now that I am a certified, some would say certifiable, drooling old fart boomer I enjoy it even more. Youthful folly: it’s riveting entertainment for the elderly. Given my macabre inclinations I looked forward to the Hunger Games with the same — oh my god, lol, like enthusiasm — of a screeching teenage girl which, oddly, is the movie’s target demographic. Well did the Hunger Games disappoint and, more importantly, is it worth ten bucks? In two words: no and yes.
The world of the Hunger Games is your typical progressive green fascist paradise. The sort of place our global warming alarmists, whale saving eco-warriors, Volt driving poseurs, anti-capitalist philosophers and leader venerating loons would like to live. Panem, the principal nation-state depicted in the Hunger Games, is split into two familiar classes: the haves and the have-nots. The haves live in a gleaming special Capitol city and the have-nots grunge away their pointless little people lives in twelve impoverished out-lying districts. Naked force keeps everything in a nice green line. Sure the people in the Capitol while away their carefree days in an endless who can dress like the gayest circus clown contest while the peons in the outer districts fantasize about bread but sacrifices must be made to manage our carbon footprint.
To break the oppressive tedium of face painting, hair dressing and color coordination every year the rulers of Panem select twenty-four lucky teenage Tributes from the twelve out-lying districts and make them fight to the death in Panem’s version of ultimate survivor: The Hunger Games. There’s some background filler about how the games are a punishment and reminder of a long ago civil war that went badly for the out-lying districts. The games, as one smarmy TV announcer played by Stanley Tucci said, “bring us together.” Yeah, there’s nothing like raw fear and continual humiliation to bring a people together.
Face paint and swashbuckling hot heroine, (played by Jennifer Lawrence), aside the world of the Hunger Games is the most credible Sci-Fi dystopia to emerge in years. The laws of physics hold in this movie! There’s no flying faster than the speed of light, no summoning of magical or supernatural forces and no hinging entire pocahantian plot lines on imaginary Unobtainium. Nothing depicted in the Hunger Games is, as far as we know, impossible. We could build Panem today with off-the-shelf technology. It’s probably lost of the popcorn crowd but the world’s physical plausibility is a powerful frame for the story because this shit has already happened. The mayhem of Hunger Games is no worse than what transpired for centuries in Roman amphitheatres, Aztec ball courts or medieval jousting tournaments. Humans can be gamed to death for the filmiest of reasons. This is the real horror of the film; it’s not much a stretch from where we’ve been, to where we are, to what we might become.
I do not fear imaginary monsters; there are plenty of real ones to worry about and the real Hunger Game monsters are with us now. Our biggest monster is our naïve belief that we’ve put all this aside: that no modern democratic state could degenerate into a tidy Panemian tyranny, that liberty and freedom, once achieved, is eternal. I’m not so sanguine; we’re a lot closer to a Panem than you might think. If you handed out firearms to the contestants of your average reality TV show we’d be there: minus the green high-speed maglev trains of course. (Don’t worry there’s a stimulus boondoggle for the maglev trains.) Ask yourself, if we armed the Kardashians and made them fight to death on TV how many would care, how many would be relieved, how many Vegas bets would be made? I suspect most would dress up in their gayest apparel and party like Panemians celebrating another dead teenager.