x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

The Hunger Games suggests a teenage appetite for violence

An objective assessment of adolescents' interests today would portray us in a pretty violent light: we've gone through vampire mania; now we have the cruelty of The Hunger Games.

It's quite disconcerting to think of the increasingly bloodthirsty tastes we teenagers seem to be developing. An objective assessment of adolescents' interests today would portray us in a pretty violent light: we've gone through vampire mania, we survived the time where every boy had been lured by the Call of Duty video games and we navigate that cut-throat battleground - school - everyday, facing friends, enemies, frenemies, crushes and fiercely select cliques. The newest movie that has every teenager snapping up tickets and memorabilia in the form of mockingjay-shaped brooches doesn't do much to rectify the view of us as decidedly unpleasant characters, bursting as it is with murder, gore and guts.

The Hunger Games, starring Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, is the cinematic adaptation of Suzanne Collins's first book in the trilogy of the same name. It isn't, though, meant for the fainthearted or anyone who cried when they first watched Bambi. Unlike Disney movies, where the girl gets the guy, the villains end up humiliated and covered in pasta sauce or something and general happiness prevails, this is sombre stuff.

Just a note to readers: details of the plot of the movie are discussed here, so be warned you may know more than you want to know by the end of this column.

North America has been destroyed, replaced by a new civilisation. The ruling city, Capitol, hosts the Hunger Games every year, a sort of bizarre reality TV show where a boy and a girl from each of the 12 surrounding districts are selected from a lottery and dumped in an arena. This is punishment for the poverty-struck districts' now-quelled rebellion against the Capitol, a brutal law that keeps people in the districts in constant fear. The rules are simple: last man standing wins. Food, quiver and arrows, ropes and things are littered around, but you must be quick on your toes to get them, or else kill the other contestants if they've got them first; it's a fight to the death.

When Vani called to scream down the phone breathlessly that she had tickets and would I like to come along, I dawdled. Having read the book and being aware of the plot, I wasn't quite sure whether I wanted to see it. The Hunger Games make for an absorbing read, moving at a rapid pace and keeping you glued to the pages with refreshing ideas. Collins has concocted a storyline that's unquestionably distinctive from other teenage fiction, despite the language's dreamy, mooning quality, but it is equally bleak, leaving you faintly uncomfortable, as if you have witnessed something you shouldn't have.

True, it was the topic on the lips of everyone. My Facebook newsfeed kept sporadically featuring pictures of people on my friend list modelling the clown-like fashions straight from the Capitol runways, headed towards cinemas. There hadn't been so much hype about a movie since Twilight or Harry Potter; the last time I saw people actually don costumes for a movie was when malls were flooded by cloaked Muggles with lipsticked scars shaped like lightning bolts on their foreheads.

But it was also the sort of movie I was likely to have nightmares about: evolution going backwards; children killing children so that they don't get killed first in a vicious baring of our primeval selves in the race for survival; the ruling class celebrating the massacre in a decadent return to the days of the gladiator slaves. But I trotted along in the end, curiosity getting the better of me.

The audience at Vox Cinema at the Mall of the Emirates was a director's dream. They laughed at the weakest jokes - not that there were many, given that this was a gruesome representation of the ruthlessness of modern government and the lengths human nature can allow us to go to in times of need. Collective intakes of breath ran around the hall as a giant mutated wolf made its entry. When Katniss hugged a muscled-up Liam Hemsworth, as Gale, on screen, the gaggle of girls sitting in front of us dissolved into tears. They turned on the waterworks again when Katniss and Josh Hutcherson's Peeta were about to pop poisonous berries in their mouths and commit suicide, and then cheered lustily when they didn't. When we first got a glimpse of Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane, one of the men behind the Games, you could see the whole row nudging each other: his elaborately styled beard is certainly an eyebrow raiser, even gaining the status of a trending topic on Tumblr.

The Hunger Games's ending, however, is unsatisfactory and unsettling. Katniss and Peeta don't really fall in love, although they pretend to in the Games to win popularity, but Katniss doesn't get Gale, either. All that remains is plenty of confusion about what's going to happen next before the credits start rolling.

While the movie's details have remained agreeably loyal to the book, it fails to hold the audience's attention as effectively as Collins did in her writing - perhaps because you hear none of Katniss's agonised thoughts about the cards dealt to her, or share her puzzlement over her conflicting love interests, or relive her terror during the Games as vividly.

Well, there are still two more books in the trilogy - and here's hoping Bentley maintains his curly-patterned beard by the time the next movie is released. I'm glad I saw it after all: at least I won't be standing about gormlessly while the only conversation the following week transpires to be about whether Peeta is better looking than Gale.

• Lavanya Malhotra is a 16-year-old student in Dubai


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