Why We Hunger for The Hunger Games

Big cultural moments sometimes surprise us. While many people thought the film The Hunger Games, based on a popular series of young adult novels, would perform well at the box office, few could have anticipated the blockbuster success the film has attained. After a month in theatres, The Hunger Games has already earned more money in the domestic box office ($358 million and counting) than any other theatrical release in the last couple years besides the last Harry Potter movie and Toy Story 3.While many expected the film to do well with young adults, the revelation is how well it has performed across a variety of demographics. According to The Hollywood Reporter, 21 percent of viewers from CinemaScore exit data attained opening day were between the ages of 35 and 49, while 18 percent were over 50. Viewers under 25 gave the film an A+, while those over 25 gave the film an A-.So why is it so appealing? Rarely does just one explanation fit for a cultural event of this magnitude, and The Hunger Games is no different. The film has obviously tapped into the Survivor reality show vibe, as it depicts a group of 24 children aged 12 to 18 forced to compete in a death match, with only one winner and survivor. This setup conveys an unsettling, voyeuristic quality to the film as game show host Stanley Tucci, delivering an enthusiastic and masterful performance, appears to be speaking at times not just to the fictional audience in the film but to the theatrical audience as well.On another level, the film’s empowering coming of age angle is very appealing, especially to young audiences. The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, is a teenager who has already worked hard to carve out a life for her younger sister, widowed mother, and herself in the harsh district where they live. Now she is thrust into the national spotlight, caught up in events much larger than herself, forced into a life-or-death scenario, but also presented with the opportunity to make a political statement about the tyranny her people live under.Another strong theme is the elite class’s need to maintain their stranglehold on the hoi polloi, allowing them just a little bit of hope as their president suggests, but not too much, lest their thirst for liberty grows stronger and they attempt to quench it. By using her skills, discovering what she can do, and demonstrating a mature-for-her-age level of compassion and maturity, Katniss, without intending to, becomes a source of inspiration for her fellow oppressed citizens. This thirst for liberty is a powerful, resonating concept, especially for the American psyche.One final unsettling scenario presented by the film is its futuristic setting, a post-apocalyptic America that is ruled by an iron fist, reminding us that liberty could easily be lost if we do not remain eternally vigilant, a concept that many Americans are grappling with today.Michael Leaser