Monday, March 26, 2012

Panem et Circenses

Something of a literary romp today.

"Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way"

From Thomas Gray’s ‘Elegy Written In a Country Churchyard’.

The heroine of the Hardy novel whose title is taken from Gray's poem, Bathsheba Everdene, was a wilful beauty who attracted a queue of suitors. She might be described as an early feminist archetype where a woman overcomes in face of all odds. The (seriously yummy) Julie Christie stars in the 1967 film. 
Far From the Madding Crowd (Julie Christie, Terence Stamp)
Despite being filmed in the Carolinas, there was more than a touch of Hardy about both the characterizations and the locations chosen for the movie that everyone seems to be talking about – ‘TheHunger Games’ whose heroine is, perhaps coincidentally, named ‘Everdeen’. 
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games)
Katniss Everdeen is much like Bathsheba, independent and strong, wilfully flouting the rules imposed from above in order to overcome the poverty and hopelessness which is the lot of all who live in the poor mining district known as the Seam. Grime and wilderness give way to glitz and wealth as twenty-four ‘tributes’ or involuntary participants are annually ‘reaped’ from each of twelve ‘districts’ in Panem – or post apocalyptic America - to be taken to the Capitol – more than a hint of Rome here - to fight to the death in a computer generated environment – or arena. The Capitol, a place of wealth, luxury and privilege, instituted these ‘Games’ as an awful annual reminder of the terrifying cost of rebellion.  Only one tribute is supposed to survive. Themes of power and downfall are evident, much like ‘Julius Caesar’, also clashes between vox populi and the grinding might of the State as in 'Antigone'. Repressive Orwellian control evokes shadows of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’. Clever costuming reinforced the poignancy of a sequence where all the children whose names were in the lottery to be selected as a tribute were walking hopelessly and in mute obedience towards the Town Square. It seemed as if they were walking through the gates of Auschwitz, which sent a shiver down my spine.
Those who have not read the trilogy first published in 2008 for a young adult audience might find the plot quite hard to follow – it seems almost assumed that moviegoers are familiar with the scenarios and the movie ends with the end of the first book in the series, so, much like Harry Potter, the audience is left breathless for more. Star-crossed lovers notwithstanding, the male lead looks positively girly alongside Terence Stamp (above). As a film, it was relatively lukewarm in spite of a good deal of gore and screaming, but the promise of darker things to come is intriguing.
Oh. For those unfamiliar, 'panem et circenses' was the howl of the Roman mob - 'bread and games'.


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