Thursday, December 27, 2012

2012 in Film: The Hunger Games

I am going to probably not have a whole lot to say about The Hunger Games. Which is sort of a shame since I figure probably would have had plenty to say if I wrote this when it first came out. But I didn't, and I don't really have time to revisit these movies given the schedule I've set myself; and anyway it feels now as though it has been ages since I read the trilogy, even though I read it all in about two days maybe a week before the film came out.

I do remember coming out of the theater and wanting to know if the movie felt claustrophobic for people who hadn't read the books. The ones I saw it with didn't have any problems with the pacing at all, but the whole time through I noticed myself thinking the movie seemed incredibly packed with information. Which was primarily me reading the contents of the book, as fresh as they were in my mind, into the direction of the film.

The movie was, if nothing else, an object lesson in why you don't let people who aren't deeply and weirdly in love with monsters design or work on your monsters. Especially when those people are administrative types. What was basically the best moment in the book, when all the threads about brutality and audience and biopolitics and competition were transmuted into really fantastic, if overwrought, body horror, was a complete fucking joke in the movie. And knowing, as someone who read the book would, what was supposed to be going on at that moment made it that much more risible.

There were other moments like this of course -- Peeta's rock makeup was pretty inexplicable in the film, for instance -- but or the most part the movie did a fairly good job of anticipating the viewer's familiarity without requiring it. The biggest problem was the one that couldn't have possibly been avoided. Where the novel was, if not necessarily incredibly sophisticated, at least capable of generating interesting reflections on the tension between the public and private in consciousness, and if not lodge critiques then at least develop characters for whom the tension is more than just an academic question. The film, on the other hand, had to embed any of those thematic elements in ways that are significantly more indirect, and so less capable of generating the reflection. I am, to derail slightly, probably the only person who is actually more excited to see the third book turned into a film than I was this one, since the books as a whole can probably fairly easily be read as a weird retelling of the American Revolution and the part where there is actually a revolution seems, along with the fact that the celebrity theme is more or less reduced to agonizing over the use of the image versus the use of the person, altogether much more amenable to film.

This movie though was fairly toothless, and the controversy over the character of Rue was a pretty perfect encapsulation of that. The only conceivable way for a movie to become controversial for being insufficiently whitewashed is for it to be as innocuous as possible. It is cool that they didn't whitewash it though, even if it is ultimately the case that it then proceeds to sprint right into another shitty racist media narrative.

But again I find myself describing a film toward which I felt positively in fairly mean terms. The movie was good, and I was glad to see it; I suppose it was highly coloured by the fact that I had just devoured the books, which I had enjoyed even with their problems. Because of that a lot of my experience inside the film was spent trying to tease out the ways that the adaptation of a novel could potentially be read in ways that go beyond the simple “the book was better than the movie” stereotypical reaction – especially in how the foreknowledge of the characters’, but in particular the protagonist’s, interiority, can be a powerful way of overdetermining their actions. Unfortunately it has been a while since I saw the movie and a lot of those thoughts are totally gone at this point. So, well, sorry.

Blog Archive