Film

CinemaDope: Teenage Wasteland

Youth in revolt

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Thursday, March 22, 2012
Murray Close Photo Courtesy of Lionsgate
Stanley Tucci and Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games

You may have felt a great void opening up in the world of entertainment this past year—a yawning chasm filling slowly with an undefined sense of unease, a restlessness, a yearning. This would have been the hole left behind by the shuttering of the great young adult franchises of the last half decade—the Harry Potter and Twilight series—and the collective panicked shudder of the book and film industries that followed in its wake. Where would the summer job billions come from now?

They needn't have feared. They never do, of course—the teenager has ruled the roost for generations now—but until a new hero is anointed there is always that chance of failure, however fleeting. (Which might explain the rumors that Twilight will live on as a television series after this year's film finale—an appropriate afterlife for those immortal and undead characters.)

This week, though, audiences are introduced to a new idol: the teenager Katniss Everdeen, the young woman at the heart of the post-apocalyptic story The Hunger Games. Played by Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone), Katniss is anti-authoritarian and good with a bow and arrow, but not so outre that young women couldn't imagine themselves filling her hunting boots.

Based on a massively popular book trilogy by Suzanne Collins (which may be stretched to four films), The Hunger Games story is a sci-fi staple: in a future North America—much of it lying in ruins—citizens are forced to compete against each other in violent spectacles enjoyed (or endured) by the rest of the nation.

Schwarzenegger did it in The Running Man, and the little-seen film Series 7 told a similar story not long ago. But the work Collins' book is most often compared to is the Japanese bloodfest Battle Royale, which, like The Hunger Games, features schoolchildren plucked at random to compete in a government-sanctioned battle to the death.

It's an easy comparison, but an unfair one. None of those films were the first to tell this story, which evinces shades of Lord of the Flies (1954) and The Most Dangerous Game (1924), among other things. For her part, Collins has cited everything from Greek myth to reality TV as inspiration for her yarn. And of course, a story needn't be new to be worth telling—were that the case, we would have run out of teen heroes a long time ago, and many of our best movies would never be made. Whether or not The Hunger Games offers up more than its predecessors or is just another teen movie is still up for debate, but we should be thankful that it has an actress of Lawrence's capabilities—she was just 20 when she was nominated for her first Oscar—at the helm.

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Also this week: After having its local release date pushed back a week, We Need To Talk About Kevin should be in area theaters by the weekend. Lynne Ramsay's emotionally devastating picture is a disquieting look at the relationship between a mother and son (the magnificent Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller), and the questions that have to be asked when it turns out that a child is capable of unthinkable acts of violence.

How deeply can a mother still love her son when he is responsible for the deaths of other loved ones? How culpable, if at all, is her own behavior in rearing him? Director Lynne Ramsay (Morvern Callar), working from Lionel Shriver's novel of the same name, takes a modern tragedy and digs in deep. The question is, can we ever go deep enough to find an answer we can live with?

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Finally this week, the 2012 Massachusetts Multicultural Film Festival continues with a free showing of Al Más Allá at Isenberg School of Management. Screening on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., the film is a cross between documentary and narrative styles that explores the reality of drug trafficking along the coast of Mexico. In it, director Lourdes Portillo (who will be present to discuss her work) uses the stories of a fictional documentary crew and a band of drug-selling fishermen as a jumping-off point to explore how far she can push the boundaries of the documentary form.

Jack Brown can be reached at cinemadope@gmail.com.

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