Year Released: 2012
Directed by: Gary Ross
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson
(PG-13, 142 min.)
"Abandon all hope ye who enter here." Dante
Maybe I’m out of touch. But I cannot garner much enthusiasm for a film that celebrates – while pretending not to – children killing children.
Not that is isn’t tempting to be swept up in the story, especially one featuring Jennifer Lawrence, who wowed us with her 2010 performance Winter’s Bone playing Ree Dolly, a seventeen-year-old who must defy the silent code of the Ozarks’ criminal class to find her missing father. As in that film, Lawrence’s Katnisss Everdeen lives in a similar state of poverty, this time in a future dystopian setting located in what seems to be Appalachia.
Katniss is equally proficient in killing squirrels, now with a bow and arrow instead of the family rifle, and she is just as fondly protective of her younger sister as Ree was in Winter’s Bone. In fact, it was probably not just her fine performance in that earlier film, but the similarity in the two characters –forthright, poised, courageous, and nurturing – that landed Jennifer Lawrence the role.
However, unlike the exquisite Winter’s Bone, the plot of The Hunger Games is derivative, a disjointed pastiche of garbled myth and somewhat overrated mediocre literature. Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” come to mind, as well as the 1973 Charlton Heston film, Soylent Green. This film, however, lacks the punch provided by the shocking twists that punctuate the ending of these works, or in the case of “The Most Dangerous Game,” the simmering suspense that sweats us midway through before ushering in the final chase.
We are pretty certain of the Hunger Games’ evil dynamics early on in the film, the practice whereby each of the former rebellious twelve districts forfeits a teenage girl and boy to compete in a survival game wherein only one of the twenty-four contestants will live. The next hour or so is devoted to the pageantry that surrounds the event, a kind of cheesy menage a trios of beauty pageants, reality TV, and the Olympics, complete with unctuous hosts and contrived melodrama.
Everyone seems caught up in the hype of this instant blockbuster, just as an undiscriminating American public is mesmerized by the latest “Dancing with the Stars” or “American Idol” segments. And neither side of the political punditry is immune, each faction projecting its political persuasion upon the film. It is either an indictment of capitalism and environmental pillaging or a treatise on the evils of big government, depending on one’s point of view.
I think they are looking for depth where it does not exist, or maybe the screenwriters are shrewd enough to titillate both political sides with cinematic vindication of their point of view, a ploy that looks like it has been a success, given the huge box office cash The Hunger Games has delivered -- to the tune of $152.5 million as of this writing.
Yet the scattershot misses its target. The corrupt inhabitants of “the evil Capitol of the nation of Panem” sport Roman names and dress in a bizarre cross between decadent French nobility and Alice in Wonderland whimsy, with a little purple/pink punk thrown in for good measure. I posit that the true object of the satire is not the government, but the easily manipulated masses that, like the Romans, are placated by bread and circuses. As such, the satire here is either entirely self-defeating or exquisitely ironic.
Even the people of the twelve states forced to send “tributes” are glued to this televised action. And Katniss sees a certain debauchery in it, observing to her friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth), that they will all get caught up in the game, cheering on their favorites even as they deplore the game itself.
And that is exactly what the film does to us, whether intentionally or otherwise. Here is where the satire is entirely undercut, because the film does exactly what it intends to satirize. Or it is brilliantly ironic, making us living, breathing examples of the class it ridicules. Like the masses being satirized for their addiction to violent voyeurism, we become so caught up in the survivorship that we forget the sickening brutality behind it, an effect helpfully achieved by deft camera work and cuts that only hint at the bloody deaths occurring. It is almost as antiseptic and aloof as the gong that rings to signal another kill, a cynically purposeful choice to gain the coveted and cash-generatiing PG 13 MPG rating.
A mere fifteen percent of other critics also see the sick inner core of this film:
"But if the movie’s director, Gary Ross, has qualms about kids killing kids he doesn’t share them with the audience. The murders onscreen are quick and, apart from a mean girl stung to death by wasps, clean. The cutting is so fast that you can hardly see what’s happening, which has already won Ross praise for his restraint, his tastefulness. Tasteful child-killing! By taking the sting out of death, he has a made a slaughterfest for the whole family." David Edelstein
In years past violence directed towards children was more or less off limits. Now, as this movie proves, they are fair game. Watching a movie about children killing each other for the pleasure of adults seems a little sick. Jackie K. Cooper
I have escaped unscathed from The Twilight Saga, never having been lured into dark theaters to watch the Teen-Vampire-Forbidden-Lovearma. Too bad I salivated for The Hunger Games. It has left a bad taste in my mouth.
Katniss is presented to the Hunger Games Board to demonstrate her prowess. Her first shot with a bow and arrow misses the target by a long shot and the members turn away from her and to the more important things in their lives -- their tall green cocktails and food piled high in the tradition of an ancient Roman feast. There is even a suckling pig, duly stuffed with the obligatory apple in its mouth.
An ignored and exasperated Katniss cannot resist and she puts her William Tell on, her arrow whizzing by a board member’s head before landing squarely in the plump red center of the proverbial apple.
Are you in the mood for a little Roast Wild Boar, done, of course, in the authentic Roman way?
Well I’ve found just the thing in the work of Patrick Faas, who has translated more than 150 Roman recipes and reconstructed them for the modern cook. Our recipe includes the original Latin and its translation as well as a more practical guide to cooking our Roast Wild Boar.
Can’t find any Wild boar at the local Piggly Wiggly? Well you might have to go wild hog hunting, or settle for a special order suckling pig. Or maybe just cook up a pork chop and two and use your imagination.
Roast Wild Boar
Aper ita conditur: spogiatur, et sic aspergitur ei sal et cuminum frictum, et sic manet. Alia die mittitur in furnum. Cum coctus fuerit perfundutur piper tritum, condimentum aprunum, mel, liquamen, caroenum et passum.
Boar is cooked like this: sponge it clean and sprinkle with salt and roast cumin. Leave to stand. The following day, roast it in the oven. When it is done, scatter with ground pepper and pour on the juice of the boar, honey, liquamen, caroenum, and passum. (Apicius, 330)
For this you would need a very large oven, or a very small boar, but the recipe is equally successful with the boar jointed. Remove the bristles and skin, then scatter over it plenty of sea salt, crushed pepper and coarsely ground roasted cumin. Leave it in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, turning it occasionally.
Wild boar can be dry, so wrap it in slices of bacon before you roast it. At the very least wrap it in pork caul. Then put it into the oven at its highest setting and allow it to brown for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4, and continue to roast for 2 hours per kg, basting regularly.
Meanwhile prepare the sauce. To make caroenum, reduce 500ml wine to 200ml. Add 2 tablespoons of honey, 100ml passum, or dessert wine, and salt orgarum to taste. Take the meat out of the oven and leave it to rest while you finish the sauce. Pour off the fat from the roasting tin, then deglaze it with the wine and the honey mixture. Pour this into a saucepan, add the roasting juices, and fat to taste.
Carve the boar into thin slices at the table, and serve the sweet sauce separately.
Recipe Source: University of Chicago Press