For four consecutive weekends, the most popular movie in America has been one depicting a government contest in which children kill children. The Hunger Games, based on a dystopian series of young-adult novels by Suzanne Collins, recently broke the $500 million mark in worldwide box office receipts.
What gets people into movie theaters is hard to tell. But the film version of The Hunger Games is appealing to more than the books' chiefly young, female fan base, drawing boys and adults as well. Such broad appeal suggests that audiences may be identifying with the film in some fundamental way.
Perhaps they are seeing beyond the gruesome details of the movie and appreciating its portrayal of the most pressing conflict in America today — that of the individual vs. the state.
This is particularly plausible under the Obama administration, which has incessantly, and all too successfully, sought to bring government control into more and more facets of our lives: transportation, insurance, finance, food, energy, medicine. Some of the movie's themes seem to be sampled from the president's speeches, including the slogan "We're all in this together," which is used to explain the sacrificing of the individual for the sake of the many.
The Hunger Games is set in a future dictatorship in which the government — based in a "Capitol" filled with pampered, power-drunk dilettantes — forces a boy and a girl from each of 12 districts to fight one another to the death on live television. When the movie's heroine, Katniss Everdeen, volunteers for the contest to save her sister but refuses to submit to the regime, she inspires the nation — including even a few of its government workers — to defy the Capitol. In trying to beat the government at its own game, she sows the seeds of revolution.
The Hunger Games is not explicitly about individual rights or any other political idea, but its power lies partly in a subtle grasp of what government control can do to decent people. Americans subjected to — and forced to pay for — corruption in Washington, from the GSA to the TSA, may recognize a dark world that mirrors our own.
Katniss shows us what good people ought to do under such circumstances. Knowing it's wrong that her life is not her own, she decides she won't exactly play along. Her rebellion begins with an unspoken refusal of government control. Drawing her bow, she aims to live on her own terms.
This individual, who resists the dictatorial notion that service to the state is a moral duty, seems to resonate with many who have been living under Obama's big government for more than three years. That could be why Americans are going to see it in record numbers.
The Hunger Games is not just a movie about kids killing kids. It is a movie about kids being forced by the state to kill kids, and what one child chooses to do about it. It's a powerful warning against state control, and that may be why Hunger satisfies.
Scott Holleran is a Los Angeles writer. His website is www.ScottHolleran.com.