Decades into America’s dystopian future, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence of Winter’s Bone) stands in her mother’s worn, blue dress—waiting. Along with the other young adults ages 12-18 in her district (much like a state), she and her little sister wait to hear who will represent their home in the far-away capital for The Hunger Games. Every year, the government chooses a girl and boy tribute from each district for something akin to American Idol meets Lord of the Flies.

With obvious allusions to the games of the Roman Coliseum—horse-drawn chariots, golden laurel wreaths for the victors, and a game show host named Caesar—these games are what you might expect in a similarly banal but technologically advanced culture: It’s a fight to the death for the entertainment of the masses. Small wonder then that it’s rated PG-13 for “violent thematic material and disturbing images.”

What might surprise some based on the bare bones of the story is the strong moral center to the film, beginning with Katniss herself. When her sister’s name is called from the podium as the tribute from District 12, Katniss unhesitatingly steps to the front and yells, “I volunteer!” It’s a death sentence for herself, or so she thinks, yet she has essentially been mother to her sister, Primrose, for years now. To give Prim over to such a gruesome death is unthinkable. And from that point on, though she doesn’t share her love interest Peeta’s conscious moral high ground, she fights to save not just her own life but also the lives of the other tributes she comes to love.

Perhaps the most moving scene of the film occurs midstream, when Katniss kneels with a dying tribute, singing her a lullaby as the young girl loses consciousness. The value of life, even in such horrific circumstances, is drawn with bold colors.

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