Tuesday, December 03, 2013

the angel of death

"If  you abandon your moral judgment, it can be fun."

So says Plutarch Heavensbee in Catching Fire -- the second movie installment of The Hunger Games franchise.  And that one line sums up this thoughtful movie's underlying theme.

I skipped the first movie (The Hunger Games) in the belief that it was just another mindless tween-fest like the Twilight series.  But I was wrong.

I finally saw it at my brother's house last week because my niece is an uber-fan of the series -- and the family was scheduled to waddle forth to the local IMAX theater to see part two.

Like all movies, both of these have their flaws.  Starting with the underlying premise that a future North America has been subjected the monopolistic elite power of the residents of something called the Capitol. 

There are vague references to a past rebellion in the 12 districts that make up the rest of the continent.  A rebellion that now requires each district to send two young representatives from each district as tribute to the Capitol, where the tributes then fight to the death in a televised spectacle.

And that is all the back story you are going to get in these movies.  The best a viewer can do is mumble "whatever" and then try to accept the rest of the film as it unspools.

All of that, though, misses the major point of theses movies.  They celebrate the virginal strength of the teen heroine,
Katniss Everdeen, who must bear the burden of the Artemis, Theseus, and Virgin Mary myths.

The screenwriters have done their homework.  Being an heroic figure comes at a cost.  And in this second movie we see the personal cost she pays. 

Friends lost.  Loves abandoned.  Honesty shimmed.  And what seemed to be an idyllic life as a hunter in the forbidden forest forever taken from her.  Solely because she became a vacuous celebrity who attempts to create some meaning to a world based on contradictions.

The movie-makers were fortunate to find Jennifer Lawrence for this role.  She has an uncanny ability to make us cheer for an unlikeable young woman who is the antithesis of what her world (and ours) thinks a celebrity should be.

Her character sucks the energy out of almost everything else in the films.  And that is fine.  She is the focal point of the movies.

And that is one of the true strengths of both movies.  The screenwriters have created the perfect post-postmodern vehicle.

The world we are watching is a perfect sendup of the world in which we live.  The idolatry of celebrity.  The morally hollowed-out world of reality television.  The superficiality of fashion.

I found myself laughing out loud at how well the writers pulled the audience into condoning the very thing that the film finds morally repugnant.  Children killing children.  And the theater audience rooting for another death -- just as the television crowds in the movie do.

That is the twist.  A post-postmodern film that offers the audience an opportunity to take a moral stand (as a modern film would do), knowing full well that Americans have been so besotted by The Survivor mentality that most will fail the test.

This is a movie about the reality of values.  Family.  Freedom.  Friends.  Justice.  And how all of those values can easily be sacrificed at the altar of governmental order.

Ideas have consequences.  And there are not very many movies these days that dare to actually portray hard choices and make us think about what those choices mean.

Katniss nailed the moral point when, while watching fellow tribunes shed crocdile tears during an interview, she asked: "Does anyone actually believe this?"

When it comes to world of superficial celebrity, unfortunately far too many people do.  Maybe films like these can make us look a little bit closer at how easily our lives are manipulated by The Capitol.


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