Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hunger Games With My Peeps

So, I'm not going to do an in-depth review of the Hunger Games movie. By now, you all have heard all the opinions you'll ever need to hear. The movie's been out for weeks. Pretty much everyone who wants to see it has... some of them multiple times. (Guilty.)

But I have to tell you just a little bit, okay?

Being a group of minimum-wage book nerds, my coworkers and I were delighted to learn that the store was going to pay our way to see the movie! As best I can figure out, the idea was that if we saw the movie, we would be even more likely to hype the book in the store - not that we could any more than we already were, but it was a nice thought that worked out our advantage.

We couldn't go until after the store closed, so it was late one night when we all spilled out into a movie theater parking lot, waited for those who were in the middle of a cigarette to finish, and then piled inside the theater to buy popcorn and grab seats.

We tumbled into the rows, the theater already black as the previews rolled. We were loud and somewhat obnoxious, but so was the rest of the theater. It was a late showing, y'all, and way past opening night. Most everyone else present was either there because they'd already seen 21 Jump Street and were just looking for any old movie to watch or because they were fans who had already seen the movie before.

I personally had already seen the movie once before, so the jump scenes were less frightening, the reaction to gore less visceral. However, there were some constants.

  • I still wanted to cry whenever Prim seemed frightened or upset (gah, Mockingjay!). 
  • I still found Jennifer Lawrence's ability to convey thought, emotion, and conviction with her face alone incredibly compelling.
  • I was still at turns appreciative of and confused by the dearth of music in the movie (I want to be emotionally manipulated through score, dagnabit!).
  • I still wanted to shut my eyes and plug my ears during the Glimmer vs. the trackerjackers scene (wasps are one of my biggest fears, so death by mutant wasps just seems like a horrific way to go).
  • I still found myself wanting to hug Haymitch in every scene.
One big plus of a second viewing was being able to look past the shaky camera work. I was told by someone who knows much more about filmmaking than I do that the tension fostered in the audience by the "annoying" shaking cam is intentional, as it provides immediate relief when the camera chooses to hold still for a moment; in the same way, it also sharpens the audience's attention on whatever the focus captures in that moment. 

Again, just what I was told. The first time I saw Hunger Games, that stupid shaky cam irritated the snot out of me. I felt like I was unable to follow the simplest fight (or the simplest walk to a Reaping!) because the dang cameraman couldn't put down his espresso and hold still! But the second time, now that I knew what I wanted to look at and whose expressions to follow, I barely noticed the camera at all. Of course, my avoidance of caffeine the second time around probably helped as well.

The other plus was I was able to watch the audience even more than I watched the movie. Again, we were a rowdy crowd, so my theater's reactions probably weren't typical. There was an entire group behind me, for instance, who cracked up during the entire movie. Even the Cornucopia scene! Then again, most of the theater also cracked up during Peeta's intense "Will you go? Will you do it?!" plea to Katniss, and rightly so as it made me wince like an out-of-tune violin.
But the best part was watching (and listening to) the audience during Rue's final scene.

Picture this. I'm sitting in a dark theater late, late at night. Everyone else is punch-drunk or just literally tipsy. The couple behind me and to my left is making out and has been for most of the movie. Some of my work peeps have made their own group along with other strangers and have made stupid-Peeta jokes for the majority of the film. The people behind me and to my right snickered their way through most of the fighting and have also been on their phones for much of the time. Nobody's quiet, nobody's taking anything seriously; half of the theater is only half-watching the movie.

Then Marvel throws the spear. Katniss ducks. Marvel dies. Katniss turns. And there's Rue with a spear in her chest.

The theater went quiet. I mean, completely quiet. No one moved. No one giggled. One of my coworkers next to me who had thought Glimmer's death was the funniest thing since vintage SNL skits was leaning forward in her chair, her hands covering her mouth. The girl behind us whispered, "Oh no."

The scene played out. Katniss and Rue talked quietly. Katniss sang. Rue died. Katniss lost it.

And behind me, the obnoxious group of coed college kids sniffled. The girl next to me was trying to wipe her eyes subtly.

Watching Hunger Games with my coworkers was great, and not just because they're fun to be with or because we got to see it for free (though both were good reasons as well). I loved watching the movie with them because I got to watch Suzanne Collins stop a bunch of rowdy, fun-loving goofballs in their tracks. We were a mixed group. Some (like myself) had read the books, and some hadn't. 

It's easy enough to kill off a puppy or a toddler or something like that in a story. Such a death hammers home the point that Villain X is EVIL and the current reality is GROSSLY FLAWED. So we cry and nod, but deep down we kind of know we're being emotionally manipulated. I mean, puppies? C'mon.

But, somehow, it seems we all have a Prim. It seems we all have a Rue. And when they die, we don't just cry and nod and move on. We sit back and think, "Holy crap. This is messed up beyond belief."

We were all happy by the time we left the theater. It was a great movie, and a lot of people wanted to go out partying. Yet somehow we couldn't completely steer away from Rue and Prim. "Rue just reminded me so much of my niece," the girl next to me said. "I couldn't stop crying." For me, Prim reminded me of my baby sister. Another guy thought of his daughter.

When it comes to toddlers and puppies, it's just socially accepted that their safety comes first. They're tiny and defenseless and whatever. The idea that we'd lay down our lives as adults for them is taken for granted. But Rue and Prim? It's different, because somehow we all have a Rue or a Prim. Someone who isn't completely helpless but whom we'd gladly volunteer for anyways. 

I don't know what it is about them. Is it their age? Their big, doe eyes? Or just the fact that most of Collins' audience hits that sweet spot in age where most are too young to have toddlers, but most everyone is old enough to have a little sister, a niece, a student they tutor, something. Whatever their appeal, Collins figured it out. She made the horror of Panem stick.

And it took a late night movie trip with my peeps for me to fully appreciate it.