— Illustration by The Telegram
I must be out of my mocking-jay-pickin’ trees. It’s after midnight and I’m in Cinema 6 at the mall with Nos. 3 and 4 waiting to see “The Hunger Games,” the much-anticipated movie version of Suzanne Collins’ post-apocalyptic book of the same title. Not only is it very late, but it’s a school night. Well it wasn’t a school night when we bought the tickets on line a month ago. It was the eve of a Professional Development Day back then. But after the ticket purchase, the PD Day got cancelled. Who ever heard of cancelling a PD Day?
Regardless, here we are in a packed theatre, excitement mounting. Other parents like me sitting with packs of uber-excited teens. I figured if I was dropping off and picking up, I may as well stay for the show. I have read the book and am looking forward to seeing if director, Gary Ross, can evoke the same emotions in me as Collins did in her book.
Tension is mounting here in the theatre. A real live person just came in to welcome us to one of the first premieres of the movie and to warn us about texting. “You’ll be sucked into the abyss if you even turn on your phone,” he said. Well, he didn’t really say that, but that’s what he meant.
Look at that, would you. Some out-of-control teenage boy is sliding down the railing that borders the aisle. Off he jumps and runs back up to do it again over and over. Who could have raised such a disruptive child? Oh dear, it’s No. 3 getting out a bit of energy before he goes out to replenish his Coke.
I check my watch. The time is near. I’d normally be long asleep by now. I’ve never been to a post-midnight viewing before. Not even “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Someone is hollering out an impromptu countdown. “Five minutes,” she bellows, like a bartender announcing last call. I’d better run out for a last bathroom break before the big sit in.
“One minute,” the bartender thunders as I retake my seat. Next thing I know the lights are dimmed and the screen comes to life. A narrator explains how each district in post-war America must offer in tribute one male and one female child to fight to the death. This is punishment for the uprising of the Districts against the Capitol, a futuristic L.A.-type of place filled with otherworldly bright-coloured people — think Stanley Tucci with blue hair and eyebrows and Wes Bentley with a stylised art-deco beard. But we haven’t seen them yet. First we have to meet the star of the show.
Then there she is — Jennifer Lawrence, who gave such a raw performance in the disturbing “Winter’s Bone,” is Katniss Everdeen, a teenage girl in the coal mining District 12. We first see her singing her younger sister, Prim, to sleep before she goes out hunting with her hunk-o’-man Gale. Katniss is a sure shot with a bow and arrow and can fill a bag with squirrels faster than I can get through the lineup at Sobeys. Although she and Gale are not allowed into the woods beyond the district barricade, they are fearless and do what they have to feed their families.
Katniss’ father has been killed in a mine explosion and as a result her mother entered a funk that made it impossible for her to care properly for Katniss and Prim. Through Katniss’ comfortable conversation with Gale, we find out that today is the Reaping, the day two tributes from District 12 will be chosen to go meet their fates against 22 other youth, some of whom are killing machines. Like Russian gymnasts, they have been trained since birth for one thing and one thing only. They are modern-day gladiators coached in martial arts, survival techniques and explosives.
Katniss calms Prim’s nerves by telling her she has very little chance of being chosen to compete in The Hunger Games. Due to the generous offer of the Capitol to give a family more food rations in exchange for entering a child’s name more than once, Katniss’ own name is in a slew of times and Gale’s has been entered even more, meaning they have a much greater chance of heading to the arena than someone like Prim whose name has only been entered once. But we all know how a lottery works. It’s not always the person who enters most who wins. I won’t tell you any more of the story except to say the love triangle is believable and Donald Sutherland as the Dumbledorish president of the Capitol rocks.
Gary Ross, like Suzanne Collins in the book, does not waste time preying on our emotions. I am in tears in the first 10 minutes. Soon after however, my teech are clenched and my back is rigid. I sit like that for two and a half hours riveted to the screen. No fidgets. No regrets. The gore is mostly left to the imagination. The characters are well developed. The story is left unfinished. The movie viewers are struck by how demented it is to watch 24 young people get primed to fight to the death on live TV. The inside-the-movie viewers party and whoop it up while betting on their favourite tributes while the tributes’ mentors (in Katniss’ case, a drunken Woody Harrelson) do their best to garner favour for their subjects and obtain sponsors who can afford to pay for things like medicine or food which the tributes may desperately need in the arena. Both Suzanne Collins and Gary Ross take jabs at out how contrived reality TV is and make us question our perverse habit of watching humans inflict cruelty upon one another.
In an opening scene Katniss makes a thought-provoking comment about how she is never going to bring children into the desperate poverty-stricken and hungry world of District 12.
“I never want to have kids,” she says.
“I might. If I didn’t live here,” says her friend Gale.
“But you do,” she answers. So right from page 9 in the book we know it’s up to those two to change the nasty world they are a part of and not let the game makers rule their lives forever.
Happy “Hunger Games” to you. May the odds be ever in your favour.
I know they’re in mine. If I’m lucky I’ll be home in bed shortly after 3:30.
Susan Flanagan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org