The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games March 26, 2012

Tonight I went to see the movie The Hunger Games with my son. It is fantastic and well deserving of all the attention it is getting. But in addition to being a movie with excitement and adventure that can be enjoyed by fans young and old, the movie also offers sharp social criticism.

I won’t offer a recap here, since those who’ve already seen it will understand what I write, and those who have not can find plenty of summaries elsewhere. IO9 has a post on how the book and movie differed. The key element to know about is that a set of twelve districts had rebelled against the government at some point in the past, and as part of the peace treaty after the rebellion was put down, those districts have to send one boy and girl each year to compete in the “Hunger Games” which are a fight to the death.

I’ve read some responses to the story which are negative, some which say that it is “no worse” than other violent stories kids are exposed to, and some which are positive. I definitely situate myself in the last category.

I write this as someone who has not read the series and so cannot comment on the book the movie is based on, much less the ongoing narrative continuing into the sequels. But the movie provides a wonderful opportunity to talk about how one deals with real life situations.

The question of what would happen if everyone stopped watching raises a key question very early on.

The scene that next gets most directly at the issue is a discussion between Katniss and Peeta before the games actually start. Peeta expresses the hope that he will not let the games “change him.” Katniss responds by saying that she can’t afford to think like that.

The movie itself leads one to consider two angles on the Hunger Games which are central to the plot. We can figure out how to succeed playing within the rules that society has established for us. We can ask how we win at the game. But we can also try to step back and ask whether the nature of the game, the nature of society itself, can be changed.

The majority of people, young and old, are thinking about how to succeed, or at least survive, within society as it exists today. Only very few ask how we could reform or revolutionize society to make it different. The Hunger Games encourages the more mature viewer to ask precisely those questions.

And it provides some interesting answers.

There is no way that one person can unilaterally stop watching what is on TV and start a revolution that way. But by participating without allowing ourselves to be dehumanized and made callous or turned into cutthroat murderers by the way the game is played, we can make a difference. We see this ever so powerfully when Katniss takes the time to place flowers around and upon Rue after she has been killed, and offers a kiss and sign of concern to her district.

It sparks an uprising in the film.

I was astonished to read that racist fans of the book were surprised that black actors and actresses played certain roles. When I asked myself what our society’s “hunger games” are, I thought immediately of Trayvon Martin (and now reading through posts I skipped when I had not yet seen the movie, I find that I am not the only one). Whole segments of our society are left to live in poverty, while a select few rule from fancy homes and watch the “games” of gang and poverty and crime-related violence, and their victims, from within elegant surroundings, as a form of entertainment. And even when those placed in that situation seek to live in peace and kindness, they still often end up dead before their time. The odds are not in their favor, just as the same is true in the movie’s Hunger Games, even as people wish the participants that the odds might always be in their favor.

How do we not merely survive or win but challenge a society that makes us play its “hunger games,” without allowing ourselves to be transformed into killers in the process? The movie actually provides the answer. By deciding that we would rather die than kill one another for its entertainment.

It does not bring immediate transformation. But it is a start. Because as Rev. Jesse Jackson reminds us, referring to recent events, “the blood of the innocent has power.”

Did you see the movie? Please share your thoughts about it in the comments section below!

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  • Having not read the book did you feel the significance of Rue’s death?  I tried to watch the movie and pretend that I didn’t bring the significance of the characters in with me from the book and from that did not really feel like Rue’s death felt very strong.  The book takes great pains to show how Katniss associates Rue with her sister and, perhaps partly because a first person narrative can tell and not show, we can really feel how important Rue becomes to Katniss.  I felt the movie did not show this well.  I had similar feelings about Aslan in the first Narnia movie.

  • I felt it came across well, even if it may have been accomplished more subtly than in the book. I certainly picked up on the sisterly sentiment from Katniss. As a viewer of the movie who hasn’t read the book, I definitely found the scenes powerful. Whether I would have found them as powerful as in the book if I had already read the book, I can’t really say.

  • Thanks for the link! Though we may not agree on the answers, I think you’re exactly right to say that this story asks the right questions. I, for one, would much rather see others debating the questions and arriving at different conclusions than deciding the questions aren’t worth considering at all.

  • A NEWB

    After watching “the hunger game” in the cinema I
    did think the plot was very good I enjoyed how the fact that the main character
    was in fact a female a good balance of action and aggression mixed with strong
    emotions such as love and nurture, but had felt that there was more the film
    could have explored and brought to attention ( I havn’t read the book so this
    is why I refer to the film).  I really
    believed the ending of the hunger games would have brought some sort of
    rebellion and showed some sort of morals, something along the lines of how we
    should all be free. But to me I felt as if the main character played the system
    got out and then didn’t achieve anything but mere survival and then faced a
    decision between two guys she fancied. I personally wanted more in the film
    about how she was able to change the city and the wealthy are narrow minded who
    were following a hierarchical system which not only impersonalizing the individual
    or controlling them as a herd of cattle mindlessly in search of  constant entertainment of which they were
    lacking any real substance or thought. It angered me to think no such morals
    were explored more in depth in the film. I’m not sure if this is covered in the
    book but this might just be the case why Stephen King marked it as a grade B.

    Were there a few metaphors for life or the current situation
    or the future situation we are headed towards? May be Suzanne Collins was just
    trying to show how in the future media will play such a grave importance on how
    the public will be swayed in their opinions and morals from  the TV, we are already headed there if not
    already there, a less extreme version of “The Hunger Games” can be compared
    our very own Big Brother or the Apparatus, even X factors, even most of our
    modern day wars are subjected to the crafts of our manipulated media. Do you
    think Suzanne Collins is urging the us to wake up and rebel? May be we are not
    supposed to change society, just each other and in that sense we do change our society.
    Maybe we are not supposed to change our true core beings but to preserve our
    own true natures in the hunger games we all face daily.  

  • Just Sayin’

    I watched this last night with my son and I must say, the plot has more holes than a sieve.  And it’s basically dishonest: it’s about teenagers killing teenagers but the killing is sanitised, shot from any and every angle so as to obscure the actual killing!
    And she goes home afterwards showing not the least bit of trauma!

    • Well, our societies today do send teenagers off to kill one another in wars, or leave them to kill one another in urban poverty and gangs. And so I find it refreshing to have an author focus such attention on this aspect of society that we often simply take for granted as the way things are.

  • Just Sayin’

    And when do people most turn to prayer and religious texts?  When they are suffering tremendous stress and especially in times of personal peril, and when they are in unfamiliar situations being called to commit callous acts. 
    But not the tiniest hint of that in The Hunger Games!
    I think this film will age very, very badly indeed.

  • Just Sayin’

    The bizarre and totally impractical white uniforms of the police/soldiers looked like something straight out of Logan’s Run (a somewhat similar and, in my opinion, a better film).