Sunday, May 27, 2012

Blurp 004: a movie laden with themes

If there's a genie out there, I'd wish for cinemas to be populated with more movies such as the recent Hunger Games... but unfortunately, quite a fat chance of that happening. As in, the genie will just shake his head. Case in point, when I checked a local website to see the showtime for it, someone wrote a comment on this that it's "bored to death, no violence, no action, no story, no point..."  

... because I think he's expecting Optimus Prime busting out his chops in the middle of the games followed by an upshot of Rosie Hunting-Whiteley in white short-shorts climbing up a tree.

I kid la. Just because it's up my alley (...'s alley's alley), it doesn't mean it's the same for everyone. Still he's a good case study for the one of the themes!

Anyway, after watching the trailer, I was thrilled by it... haven't been so excited about an upcoming movie for the longest time. The setting in which the story unfolds seems promising and holds the possibility of some depth. A glimpse of Jennifer Lawrence's excellent acting probably fueled it as well; her performance looked topnotch.

The verdict? The movie was a highly refreshing experience. Besides being emotionally tugging and well-paced, it's loaded with commentaries; in the city's method of governance, society and what it means to be your own person. (Also, Lawrence was bloody fantastic in there.

[Spoiler alert warning.]

    One of the themes that I liked was how the Hunger Games closely mirrors the format of reality television. Getting too boring? Here, let me add a twist. Or a couple of fireballs. It is also telling about the people who watches things like these, where one's pain is enjoyed in the name of entertainment. Violence, loss, humiliation... It's not to say that that's the only things that people want, because if you notice in the movie, the audience in Capitol wanted to be able to relate to the Tributes (eg: first love and heartache). Nevertheless, that's as far as they'd go; they won't seek to stop it. They remain obtuse about the suffering that they support, or they simply don't care. We're not to the point of the Capitol yet, though we can see our version of schadenfreude in the popularity of gossip columns and celebrity news portals such as Dailymail, Woman's Weekly etc. Would we one day become as detached as the Capitol's citizens towards the sufferings of man for our entertainment? I reckon if people drown themselves constantly in entertainment, there might come a point where they grow numb to it or are bored by it. They will seek a new 'high'. Boredom is not an option to the entertainment producers, and they might up the ante of shockingness to accommodate the masses' ever-growing demands.

    Technically, that isn't the bigger picture of the movie; the bigger picture is a political one, and how a government subjugates its people in a two opposite ways, depending on where one lives; overindulgence in the Capitol (where they have the luxury to be self-absorbed with distractions and careless/ignorant about bread/butter issues) and deprivation of needs in the districts (poverty where people are busy with NOT starving, and also rendering them helpless as their kids are taken as 'gifts' yearly). The games itself is about power, a warning to not rebel as the price is paid by the descendants of the rebels. It's one thing to be punished because you did the 'crime' but it's another if your loved ones are punished as well. The fact that they easily could take the innocent children's lives as a game and broadcast it for all to see, sends a strong message: There is nothing you can do. Helplessness and hopelessness are instilled in their hearts.

 "They just want a good show."

    The society in the Capitol, like ours, is a very visual one. We take in images as real, even if it is not. Gale, Peeta, Cinna and Haymitch understood the importance of appearance and perception in the Capitol society, much more than Katniss did. She has such a strong, guarded personality that she had trouble faking as someone that she's not.  But this appearance is sorely needed in this game, because if you're liked, someone could send you necessities when you're in trouble. Akin to the voting system in reality TV - the more popular you are, the better your chances of surviving the elimination round.So would you choose the illusion, or the authenticity? Katniss eventually learns to be conscious on how she appears to the public eye and worked it to her benefit and Peeta's, only so to manipulate the audience for sponsors.

Continuing on that idea, I loved the two seemingly conflicting parts that the protagonists play; faking it (though, technically Peeta wasn't) and sticking to who they are as persons. The former appealed to the Capitol's audience and was essential to their survival. The latter gave hope to the districts and awaken something in them.

    The night before the Games started, Peeta tells Katniss essentially that he hopes to not lose who he is. When the Tributes were released onto the arena, there was mayhem and a frenzy of blurred flying guts even before the first minute ended. When there could only be one survivor in a death match,  your 'normal/rational' instinct probably take the backseat and the survival one kicks in - Eliminate all threats. Perhaps this was what Peeta meant. But it also holds a deeper meaning; where you know that the Capitol seeks to reduce you to savages in such circumstances, you refuse to be a part of their game and maintain your humanity, which in a way, is an act of defiance because it is out of the Capitol's control. That's the only thing the participants can keep, since everything else are out of their control in the arena. There is something really admirable when people firmly stand by who they are and not succumb to the influences of the environment onto your 'self'. 

    The sequence of Rue's death made me cry in the theatre for quite a while. Didn't know why I would be so affected by it. Rue's request for Katniss to sing her a song is so... childlike. At that feeling, the first instinct is to protect her. Little children are comforted by a lullaby and it helps them sleep. Rue is similar to them, except in her case, it's so she could die in peace. I felt the true horror sinking in deeper here (...the fact that I'm only deeply affected here might be an inkling of my desensitization...). Katniss' next action of surrounding her with flowers does not only emphasises Rue's innocence, but also gives Rue back her dignity, that she's not merely a chess piece for the Capitol. She then paid her last respects by her own district's salute to someone of a different district. How they treated each other with genuine care and compassion neutralised some of the dehumanising efforts of the Capitol, and roused anger to a breaking point in District 11 against the injustice and cruelty of it all. They were also touched by this stranger's odd gesture and it gave them hope that it's not all helpless. There's a way to not play the Capitol's game of divide and sacrifice. 

Some district do, however, subscribe to the game that Capitol plays, by training their Tributes to be lean mean killing machines; the Careers. Totally not helping, but what could they have done under those circumstances? Either our kids die, or your kids die. Preferably the latter.

    The theme of 'control' is present throughout the movie. The struggle of control over your person and the Capitol's desire to demonstrate their control over you. At the end of the games, Katniss figured out the motivations of the Capitol. In appearing to do a double suicide, she took the control out of the Capitol's hands - a very significant move. To her, it is the simple reason to keep her life and Peeta's, but it meant way more for the districts' citizens. President Snow was very aware of this and had earlier disagreed with Gamekeeper Seneca's decision to up the entertainment where the audience will root for an underdog. The thing is, Seneca was thinking of the Capitol citizens while President Snow had the district citizens in mind, who are target audience of the games. Snow understood how an underdog outwitting a powerful system would plant a seed of rebellion. He warned Gamekeeper Seneca that there's only one thing greater than fear; hope. A little hope is good... too much hope is dangerous, and can be hard to contained.

President Snow's insight was right.Seneca failed to contained it and his final appearance onscreen was a brilliant moment. Without dialogue, the camera leads us to his punishment - from the closing of the door to the big bowl of nightlock and then the now locked door... and it clicks.

This pakcik isn't too happy.

     A better punishment would probably to chuck him in with the animals he materialised out of thin air in the arena and then pelt him with fireballs with a dose of tracker jackers. I kid. But how's he to know, really? After all, within his society it's not wrong nor is it morally apprehensive, but which would make the district citizens shake their head. Perhaps it's the dark side of privilege. If you are on the favoured side of the coin, what would your motivation be to examine the laws that might compromise your comfort and privilege?

The funny thing is that both the Capitol and District citizens probably think each other as 'savages'. The Capitol people see the former as savages due to how 'uncouth' and fashionably unkempt they are. Katniss had to be washed, waxed and plucked - given a makeover in general because her natural appearance is not acceptable to them. In their world, the natural is shunned and the artificial is glorified. Gale's disdain of them stems from their heartlessness for enjoying the blood and gore of people for entertainment (under the guise of the 'better and more advanced' nation) thus rendering them as the true savage. 

     When the movie introduces Effie Trinket with her out-of-the-world makeup and unnatural hair colour, you realise how strange and ridiculous they look to the district folks. They seem far removed from reality and has no true conception of suffering. Maybe because they have the luxury to be out-of-touch? It makes sense in their own bubble, but weird and frivolous when they appear out of that bubble. In a way, could this be a social commentary on the disconnection of experience for the opulent?

     Though a part of me revile the Capitol people as cruel and disconnected, I also can't help but suspect that they are simply naive and ignorant. Innocence can be cruel.They are who they are because of their upbringing in the Capitol, which I could imagine being limited and very shallow considering on how they strive on appearance. They are under developed human beings. So it's rather pitiful.

Another thing - maybe it's the language used; Tributes are a 'gift' and considering their own background of privilege and self-absorbness, it wouldn't seem too out of place. Do they satisfy their guilt of their bloodthirstiness by the fact that the Tributes 'deserve' it, for their ancestor's past sin?

The movie ended on a good note for me. It feels like they completed a story and at the same time, with some anticipation for what is to come because Katniss has sparked something. As with many other movies, it could had been better, but otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed it because of the themes above that makes one think a little more.