Whether or not you have an appetite for it, it's the biggest thing on the pop culture bill of fare for the next 72 hours -- the opening weekend of The Hunger Games, the film based on the first installment of Suzanne Collins' bestselling trilogy. Unlike her most recent predecessors J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer (of Harry Potter and Twilight fame respectively), Collins has been deliberate in staying out of the spotlight, instead letting readers, fans and critics lead the debate about her books.
I'll be upfront -- I'm a fan. Collins has tackled some very difficult and challenging topics in the three books that feature Katniss Everdeen, and that alone deserves acknowledgment. And as a self-acknowledged women's issues news junkie, I celebrate any book and/or movie that boldly has its heroine saying early in the story, "I never want to have kids." (Not that I'm opposed to child-rearing; raising my two daughters still rates as being the greatest and most rewarding undertaking of my life...but I worry about the prevalence of media that glamorizes teen motherhood such as MTV's Teen Moms.) And in this world in which basic access to contraception is being threatened by the powers that be, the idea of controlling your own reproductive destiny. cannot be emphasized enough.
So when I went to the 12:01 am showing of The Hunger Games last night (okay, really early this morning) I knew I'd be seeing a lot of girls who could be on MTV's Sixteen and Pregnant (if not for the grace of God or their own good common sense.) What I didn't expect was the hordes of boys and young men, some who came with girlfriends and many who came in packs of 5 or more.
So much for the argument that boys don't want to see/hear/read stories in which the lead character is female.
Honestly, I don't know if the above statement is true or if they were pulled in by the violent nature of the tale which pits teens 12-18 in a battle to the death. The books were hard to read for some, and the movie handled the violence admirably. But The Hunger Games is moving in a way that Twilight and Harry Potter have not been, perhaps because those earlier films revolved around fantastical elements. This movie shows us a possible reality for which we are already laying the groundwork. In it, some of the ugliness of our current society is magnified to such a degree that the parallels become obvious.
In the Hunger Games movie, we see what might happen if TV shows like Survivor were not about winning a boatload of money but merely staying alive. We see what happens when how we package ourselves determines our success or failure, and why winning at all costs often requires sacrifices that cripple us, if not physically then emotionally.
Others bring their own interpretations. One woman saw Occupy Wall Street in the Hunger Games and one possible future if the divide that separates the haves and the have nots continues to grow.
I hope this movie is successful. I hope the subsequent books Catching Fire and Mockingjay make it to the big screen as well. As much as I like to be entertained at the movies, I also like to be moved, challenged and made uncomfortable. Judging from the gasps, nervous laughter, and occasional sniffles that punctuated last night's showing of The Hunger Games, I wasn't the only audience member affected by what I saw.
When the final scene faded to black and the credits started rolling, I jumped up and headed to the exit to beat the rush. But when I looked behind me, very few others followed suit. Instead, they sat there in their seats. Not talking, not texting, not looking at their phones. Just staring at the screen, faces blank while they recovered from the violent world of the Hunger Games and reset themselves to reality.
As I left I noticed a schoolbus waiting outside the multiplex and a long queue of cars driven by parents who'd come to pick up their kids at 2:35 AM. All this on a school night. Good for those adults who recognize that there are some things worth sacrificing a few hours' of sleep for. This movie is one of them.
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