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The Hunger Games

And you thought your teens were tough

Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss and Liam Hemsworth Gale in The Hunger Games. <<© Lionsgate Production Company>>

Adolescence is a difficult period. Wondering whether your crush likes you back. Picking out a cool Facebook profile picture. Trying to figure out txt spk.
    For Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence: X-Men: First Class) those troublesome teen years are a bit harder. She has to fight other teens to the death in the annual Hunger Games.
    Suddenly pre-calc doesn’t seem so bad, does it, kids?
    The Hunger Games are the biggest event in Panem, a dystopian country that rose after the fall of America. The games force each of the country’s 12 districts to select two children — between the ages of 12 and 18 — as tributes to the corrupt government.
    These unlucky kids are sent to the capitol to train for a week on fighting and wilderness survival, then forced to kill each other in a woodland arena. The one left standing is declared the victor and assigned the thankless job of training the next set of doomed kids.
    The whole event is televised for Panem’s enjoyment, complete with hosts and commentators. The contestants play to the camera to win fans who might send them essential items like food and medicine.
    Think of it as the ancient Roman version of American Idol.
    Sixteen year-old Katniss, a poacher from the poor, coal-mining 12th district, volunteers for the games to spare her 12-year-old sister. Smart and a sure shot with a bow, Katniss is horrified at the thought of slaying fellow children. This is a problem, since some of her competitors have been training for years to win the coveted title of Best Teen Murderer (or Victor, as Panem calls them).
    Based on Suzanne Collins’ wildly popular young adult series, The Hunger Games is the perfect antidote to typical teen drama. Katniss is a girl with real problems — you know, the whole forced-to-kill thing. Yet, instead of looking to the nearest man for a solution, she relies on her intelligence and skills. Crazy, right?
    Lawrence, who scored an Oscar nomination with her first leading role, is more than up for the challenge of playing Katniss. There isn’t much heroic in murdering other kids, but Katniss is a likeable girl forced to do terrible things. Throughout the movie, she’s terrified but resolved to survive without becoming a monster.
    Katniss’ attitude inspires the people of Panem and infuriates the government, which works overtime to silence her.
    The film is careful to emphasize that the contestants are kids. The youngest tribute, Rue (Amandla Stenberg: Columbiana) is a 12-year-old with an angel face that looks much younger. It’s easy to believe that Katniss would want to protect her; I did. Because you’re so aware of how young the tributes are, each death is horrifying.
    One of the best parts of the film is seeing Panem leap off the page as a fully realized world with clear disparity between the high life in the capitol and the starvation of the districts. It’s easy to see why these kids are awed into the games: Katniss doesn’t have running water at home, but in the capitol she’s got cable television and all the food she can eat.
    The film could have gone further in the portrayal of violence against children. Being more graphic would emphasize Collins’ point that even her readers are an eager audience for the depravity and violence of the arena.
    I’m thankful that the film shot for the more viewer-friendly PG-13, if only so that more young women can see that there are better characters to admire than Bella Swan. Even without blood and guts, Hunger Games is a tense, powerful story of one girl’s journey from obscurity to legend.

Excellent Thriller • PG-13 • 142 mins.