The Hunger Games: satisfying not satiating

When I picked up a copy of Suzanne Collins book “The Hunger Games” I had high hopes. The novel was highly recommended to me by friends, colleagues, and even my former students (all tweens). After reading all three books and seeing the recently released film I’m left feeling satisfied, but with little else.

Lengthy, but spoiler-free summary:

The Hunger Games is set in the post-apocalyptic world of Panem, a nation divided into 12 separate districts ruled by ‘The Capital’ and President Snow. The Capital is a wealthy city where fashion, art, technology and social interaction are the primary concerns of its residents. In comparison, the surrounding districts are bleak boroughs where basic survival occupies most minds. The districts supply the Capital with basic raw goods such as coal and steel and are kept poor and downtrodden under President Snow’s rule.

The film centers on Katniss Everdeen (played  by a pitch-perfect Jennifer Lawrence), a self-reliant sixteen year old living in District 12. It is easy for viewers to tell that Katniss’ life is a constant struggle for survival. Aside from living in the impoverished District 12, Katniss lost her father in a coalmine collapse and was forced to take over both bread winning and housekeeping as her mother fell into a deep depression. Katniss’ only source of joy comes from her younger sister, Primrose (or ‘Prim’ played by Willow Shields) and hunting with her best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth).

The film opens on ‘Reaping Day’ the day of the year when one girl and one boy from each of the twelve districts are chosen to compete in ‘The Hunger Games’- a fierce competition orchestrated by the Capital and played to the death. The point of the Games is to prevent the districts from another uprising and to remind everyone of the Capital’s strength and ruling authority.

Katniss volunteers to represent District 12 in the Games in place of her sister, Prim, whose name was initially selected. Joining her as the male representative from 12 is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), another teenager from Katniss’ grade. Both embark on a journey to the Capital where they are trained and mentored by District 12’s only past Victor, Haymtich Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) in hopes of surviving until the end.

What proceeds is the actual story of the Hunger Games competition. The film follows Katniss and Peeta as they face the other 22 District representatives all hoping to emerge victorious (a status that comes with ample food and money for life) and thus battle to the end .

The film’s fringe focus is on the surrounding society, both in the Districts and in the Capital. The reality-TV/big brother-esq broadcasting of the Games not only captures the people of Panem, it also viscerally affects them, but in starkly different ways. While the wealthy Capital residents place bets and squeal with delight as competitors are killed (often viciously) one by one, those in the Districts mourn their fallen and become incensed by the brutalities inflicted on their citizens by members of the ruling class. It is an interesting premise to say the least.

Commentary:

The film is a creative narrative that embeds a personal story of perseverance, ethics, courage and love within an overarching account of society, class and rule.

Where both the novel and film fall short is their inability to flesh out the story, characters, and social commentary beyond the cursory story of Katniss and her personal psychological struggles. In other words, The Hunger Games could have been more than satisfying but instead opts to gloss over issues of morality, society and mortality in favor of epic fight scenes and a torrid love triangle – elements that undoubtedly boost book and ticket sales but (hopefully) leave readers and audiences wanting more.

However, The Hunger Games does have a lot to offer. For one, it is a great springboard for discussion of larger real-world issues for both tweens and adults. One great discussion I was fortunate to have, came after I viewed the film and focused on the meta-media quality of watching the movie.

Having attended a 7:00 showing opening night, I had the pleasure of watching Hunger Games with a very enthusiastic crowd of primarily teenagers, as well as my good friend and educator, Katie. What struck Katie while watching the movie was how similar ‘we’ as a collective movie audience were to the ‘Capital audience’ watching the actual games. And indeed, we were – during the fight scenes the theater audience reacted enthusiastically – often cheering those characters they liked, while vocalizing disdain for those characters they villainized. Perhaps even more poignant was the collective audience reaction to the romantic scenes, which often evoked whistled and other comments of approval. Eerily, all of our reactions mirrored those of the Capital viewers who were even shown on screen watching and reacting in the same way we were.

When reading the book it is easy to cast judgment on Capital residents; we dismiss them as ignorant, vain, disillusioned, and even cruel. However, what became clear to Katie while watching and listening to the same ‘footage’ the Capital residents saw, is just how similar we are to the fictional ‘villains’ and how these parallels go largely unnoticed.

Let’s hope reality movies never materialize.

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Comments
One Response to “The Hunger Games: satisfying not satiating”
  1. Jeyna Grace says:

    Best adaptation i have seen ever!

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