First thing I heard about The Hunger Games was that is was “based on the bestselling series by Suzanne Collins“… to which I responded, “What books?” These books are meant to be the next Twilight (Thank God that one’s over!) or Harry Potter (it certainly has the darkness for that comparison), but seeing as I had never heard of them it did make me wonder, if I saw the film would it be full of inside jokes, or more importantly, would I read them after having seen the film? So, would I now? Yes, unequivocally, yes.
So for those of you that don’t know, The Hunger Games is based in a dystopian world, not too far in the future from our own, where poor districts surrounding the rich Capitol must send two tributes, one male one female, both between the ages of 12 and 18, to fight to the death in The Hunger Games. When 12-year-old Prim’s (Willow Shields) name is pulled from the bowl, her sister Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers in her place, understanding it as a death sentence but wanting to survive for her family. While The Hunger Games is broadcast across the nation, those in the Capitol enjoy the televised war infront of them, whilst those within it fight for their lives.
SPOILER ALERT! ARTICLE DOES DISCUSS SOME PLOT POINTS! SPOILER ALERT!
As I did not know exactly what to expect from the film, but saw similarities between it and other dystopias in Brave New World, 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale. The fact it came from a teenager’s book series actually made me worry that it would be yet another film adding to the desensitization of the young towards violence and horror. However, the film was made well: scenes that I expected, such as a perfect shot through the eye of an enemy from Katniss’ bow, were nicely avoided so that although there was a little gore, it tended to be seen by someone dressing a wound rather than cold-blooded murder. This made the entire thing easier to watch. I didn’t feel the hypocrisy of a film on the one hand pointing out the horror of war, whilst at the same time the film industry glorified the war for the audience.
Thankfully, Suzanne Collins herself understands my fears; in an interview for Scholastic she said:
“The Hunger Games is a reality television program. An extreme one, but that’s what it is. And while I think some of those shows can succeed on different levels, there’s also the voyeuristic thrill, watching people being humiliated or brought to tears or suffering physically. And that’s what I find very disturbing. There’s this potential for desensitizing the audience so that when they see real tragedy playing out on the news, it doesn’t have the impact it should.”
The aspect of reality TV was certainly poignant: I found scenes of people watching utterly disturbing, when a little boy was given a sword and mockingly killed his little sister I found it disgusting, cringe-worthy, and when the younger tributes were slaughtered in the first few minutes of the Games I cried for them. It is similar in some ways to the Roman Gladiator fights of history and even they we have often glorified: films such as Gladiator made men and boys want to be him, the hero, forgetting perhaps the story had him forced into the role. There is no way any child in the audience watching the film The Hunger Games, wanted to be those children, wanted to be sentenced to death at the hands of other children. No-one wants that.
The truth the film reminded me of, of course, was that child soldiers exist, that scenes like that exist. Children fighting may seem horrific but the truth of it makes the feeling at the pit of your stomach feel worse and harps back to many wars still being fought all over the world. The Hunger Games certainly is helping people realise what they know in their heart is wrong.
Another very interesting point of The Hunger Games is that it pointed to a cause of war as well as the disturbing nature of it: the two sides of a war don’t often get media interest. When the UK or US is involved we are obviously “the good guys” fighting “the enemy”. This is sadly an illusion as what doesn’t quite get through to the general public is why people struck out in the first place. People don’t fight unless they are desperate. I’m not suggesting violence is good in any stretch of the imagination and nor would I condone it, but when the riots happened in the London and other big UK cities, the government were quick to condemn and left the voices asking what the reason was alone in the dust. In the Hunger Games, when Rue (Amandla Stenberg) is killed, her community riot, they cannot bear to watch anymore, cannot bear to have those “peacekeepers” from the Capitol watching them day after day, cannot stand the oppression which leads to the death of their children (through starvation or fighting) any longer. It has been said that “Britain is only ever four meals away from anarchy” and in the Hunger Games the districts have been dealing with much, much worse. “May the odds be ever in your favor” is the motto but in this tale chance has nothing to do with it, it is everything to do with sacrifice. Katniss will sacrifice herself to save her sister, she and Rue risk their safety to get rid of the food which is keeping their fellow competitors arrogantly safe, and the hungrier you are the more likely you will fight anyone who gets in your way.
Hope is more powerful than fear – this little gem I whole-heartedly believe, but probably don’t have the same praxis as the character who spoke it. Rebellion often happens to change things, in the hope things can be better than the status quo, that people deserve better than what they are getting. Rebellions happen to prove that everyone has the power to change the world, for better or worse, and anyone in charge should be very careful how they treat those beneath them. The Hunger Games does well in that it doesn’t portray its heroine as political, she is simply trying to survive, trying to get home. It’s not about rebellion or overthrowing the system, it’s about survival. Which is why her option at the end of the film (I’m not going to spoil it too much!) is particularly illuminating: in that moment it is a choice between playing the game or being herself and saving a friend. She is not there to make the Capitol fear her, not there to be the winner, or claim glory. She is there attempting to get her and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) home, to their families. This is her hope and even the fear of death isn’t going to stop her trying.
Suzanne Collins did well to flow through the political boundaries again when in came to the competitors. Rue, a beautiful and shy young girl with a cheeky sense of humour, becomes friends of a sort with Katniss. In a survival game where the aim is to be the last one standing, this shouldn’t make sense, but as both are not interested in killing, they take time to protect one another with beautiful shows of altruism. However many times someone names your enemy, it doesn’t mean they are an enemy. These children are pitted against eachother, taught survival skills, and taught to kill. What the heroine does with these skills says a lot about the author of the books: she is not glorifying the war, she is glorifying the love within her character. Without that love for people, she would not have survived.
The survival skills is definitely something I personally want to mimic. Learning how to survive in the wilderness is something that has become at least interesting with people like Bear Grills happy to struggle through harsh situations just to make us laugh, cringe and fear for him. But it is perhaps a skill that the majority of Western civilisation have forgotten, just like the residents of the Capitol – it is fascinating because we ourselves suck at surviving without regular meals, a tv and internet on demand.
I do have one complaint of this film: the end. It just felt a little bit strange, a bit of a drop of a cliff, like the producers had run out of time and so a quick end had to do. I guess this is all just making it ready for the second in the trilogy but I was somewhat disappointed to leave it at that. On the other hand, that doesn’t sound like a bad thing from a marketing point of view: treat them mean and all that. Will the sequel be as good? I guess I better wait and see! In the meantime, go see this movie. Hopefully I’ll have a few book reviews to join with it’s sequel.
P.S. An article about my own belief in a non-passive pacifism is coming soon. This definitely inspired it. Watch this space.
- Director Gary Ross Talks ‘The Hunger Games,’ Katniss & Politics (screenrant.com)
- Why The Hunger Games is a Phenomenon (socyberty.com)