First off, I cannot give Suzanne Collins enough kudos for creating Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist of the Hunger Games trilogy. It’s like the woman went to Mary Sue Academy and made a point of reversing everything. Katniss is strong, interesting, and flawed all over the place: she’s not particularly friendly or charming, resists being thrust into place as a political symbol, is uncomfortable with guys liking her, and (gasp) isn’t even particularly pretty. Just about the only thing going for her is she’s not clumsy, right?
I kid, I kid. Katniss is gutsy and devoted and actually takes the time to think about whether what she does is justified or justifiable, and I love her.
What I was curious about, though, was how the filmmakers would treat the issue of beauty–and lack of it–in their adaptation.The books make a special point of paying attention to appearance. The superficiality of the Capitol comes out through outlandish fashion and extravagant food, and the brutality of the Games is even creepier in light of it. And of course, as I mentioned, the fact that neither Katniss nor Peeta is gorgeous is incredibly refreshing in the piles of books about pretty girls and their attractive crushes. I tend to be out of the loop on trailers and such, so the only image I had of Jennifer Lawrence and the other actors going in was a movie poster I saw that was all moody and cheekbone-y. Great, I thought. It’s going to be The Help all over again, where the costumers for Emma Stone read “uncontrollable frizz” and decide to go with “flawless corkscrew curls that I would kill to have.”
When I saw the cast in action, though, I was pleasantly surprised. Jennifer Lawrence is not a stunning beauty, and this is a good thing. She’s not ugly, or even plain, but her brand of pretty is a quiet one. Same goes for Josh Hutcherson, who plays Peeta Mallark. The filmmakers did indulge in a couple really attractive casting picks (admit it, Cato’s hot for a psychopath, and Foxface is easy on the eyes as well), but the effect is that Katniss and Peeta are allowed to look fairly normal. My hair would never have been that tame after sleeping in trees for days with no hairbrush, but I think I can give Hollywood that much.
The movie also took the time to play in the juxtaposition of luxury and brutality, life-or-death fights and reality TV. It hits a nice balance of flash and self-awareness. One of the creepiest moments is two Capitol TV people commenting nostalgically on a previous year’s footage of one kid beating another kid’s head in with a brick. There are a few food porn moments when Effie Trinkett displays the tables of puff pastries and little edible novelties that Katniss and Peeta have never seen, let alone tasted, but it’s not an Eat Pray Love kind of orgy. Shots of the Capitol audience gives you time to check out some interesting clothing, hair, and makeup, but it’s not a costume parade.
Well, let me amend that for a second. Effie Trinkett has some kick-ass costumes–kind of a Victorian/French Revolution royalty vibe, with a touch of old lady Easter Egg hair. The effect is someone living in another world, another time, with the criminally oblivious attitude of Marie Antoinette. And Effie herself! Brilliant casting, as The Other Canary pointed out. Her childish, genuine enjoyment of the Games is Capitol through and through.
The last beautiful thing the filmmakers did was pay attention to their settings. District 12 has a Great Depression wash to it, and obviously any sparkle in the Capitol scenes is tainted. The only place that’s allowed to be really beautiful is the woods. One of the moments I loved in the film was when Katniss found a projector in her hotel room that included a scenic shot of the woods. For a few seconds, she’s caught up by the 2D trees and the canned (but realistic) birdsong. Then she shuts it off, back to clear glass. That combination of desire for hope and beauty and the pragmatic determination to insist on reality over comforting fantasy is one of my favorite parts of Katniss as a character.
Katniss had, of course, known the woods as a hunter long before the Games. Seeing her sifting leaves through her fingers and strapping herself snugly into a tree at night made it clear all over again that evil as the Arena is, there was a part of her that felt at home. To paraphrase Peeta’s hope for himself in the Games, maybe that reminder was what helped her stay her amid the madness.