Hunger Games

The HUNGER GAMES is a mediocre movie which has been hyped to the point of hyperventilation. I am impressed with the marketing campaign, even to the point where the dictionary site I visit had a picture of the heroine from the film.

I saw it this week, and have not read the book on which it is based, and I acknowledge that this is merely the first third of the trilogy, but, even so, I was disappointed.

SPOILER WARNING! I give away several important plot twists, including the ending, so read no further if you mean to see this movie!

A Picture that Has Nothing to Due with the Dictionary

Now, I know that the problem with an overhyped film is that it cannot live up to the hype. For the same reason that I liked the third MATRIX movie, I was disappointed by HUNGER GAMES. Namely, I had heard so much bad press about the third MATRIX movie, that unless a vent of pure sewage had erupted from the screen, it would have been better than advertised. Likewise, after all this hype, fire should have shot from the screen.

There was a little fire, at least. Jennifer Lawrence was easy on the eyes.

But being forewarned against the danger of over-expectation, I was nonetheless expecting a movie better than JOHN CARTER OF MARS, which bombed badly, but which to me seemed like a perfectly enjoyable sci-fi action flick, based vaguely on a beloved pulp classic by Edgar Rice Burroughs . This was not even up to that level.

Or, to be fair, since I knew I was not in the target audience range, I was expecting a gripping drama, something at least as moving as, for example, A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L’Engle, or perhaps ENCHANTRESS FROM THE STARS by Sylvia Louise Engdahl.

For those of you who from planet Barsoom ergo out of reach of the hype campaign, the conceit of HUNGER GAMES is Shirley Jackson’s THE LOTTERY meets THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME by Richard Connell and rips off BATTLE ROYALE by Koushun Takami.

The premise is that is that in a dystopian future, the Pan-American state of Panem, in order to punish the outlying districts for rebellions of seventy years past, select two children from each of twelve districts by lottery, who are set into a combination gladiatorial game and wilderness survival test, and the twenty-four children kill each other or dies from starvation or exposure to the elements until there is but one survivor.

Sponsors in the viewing audience have the right from time to time to drop packages of food or medicine into the woods to support their favorite. The games are surrounded with appallingly shallow media circus atmosphere, with the gladiators of ‘tributes’ feted and treated like athletic stars, and forced to play to the sympathies of the crowd in order to win sponsors. The masters of ceremonies basically control the outcome of the game, since they can introduce artificial disasters and dangers, such as forest fires and vicious beasts, in order to herd gladiators back to the fray, or to increase the drama for the viewing audience.

The heroine, Katniss Everdeen is a bow hunter and poacher from District Twelve, a Hooverville-lookalike coalmining town, who volunteers to take her younger sister’s place when she loses the lottery.

The balance of the film concerns her training by her handlers to make her into an athletic star pleasing to the mob, and the various dangers, alliances, betrayals, and acts of kindness or cruelty which play out during the Hobbesian war of all against all.

Let me list what I liked about the film before listing the sources of my discontent.

The basic concept is simple, dark, and powerful, a ghastly indictment of the voyeuristic craving for blood and death which underpins violent and dangerous contests. The updating of Roman gladiatorial circus shows with modern sporting event commentaries or ‘Reality TV’ tropes is clever and trenchant. The audience should be a little uncomfortable enjoying a violent show about how bad it is to enjoy violent shows.

Also, the plot is solid, well constructed, with unexpected turns and betrayals, and the events follow logically one from another, without any deus ex machine moments or plot holes. The characters were sharply and clearly drawn and the acting was top-notch.

Second, the main character’s defining moment comes when she steps into her sister’s place to take her death upon herself right in the first act. It is heroic and self-sacrificial. That is certainly to be applauded in any film.

Third, the “look” of the film the art direction and so on, was perfect. It looked convincingly like what it was supposed to look like: a frivolous and ultrawealthy elite at ‘the capitol’ tyrannizing outlying districts of grinding poverty with a sadistic public spectacle. The clothing and costuming of the elites was as artificial and absurd as the powdered wigs and painted faces of the courtiers of Louis XIV. Meanwhile, the proletarians of District Twelve could have stepped off the pages of a John Steinbeck novel.

Fourth, establishing that the protagonist is a bow hunter with woodcraft skills takes a large edge off the disbelief I would have otherwise felt at her chances to survive.

Fifth, the film was subtle in several places where it could have been blatant. By this I mean, unlike, say, TITANIC by James Cameron, the audience never had its intelligence insulted. The touches could be as subtle as a failed flunky being locked in a room with a bowl of berries and a look of fear on his face, or the reaction of a gladiator trainer seeing a boy being given a toy sword as a present: and only from the context is the audience expected to understand how horrible or significant these things are.

Do you how annoying voice-overs keep getting put into films like BLADE RUNNER or DARK CITY when they are not needed, and are, indeed, distracting, because the suits think the audience is too dumb to get the point? Well, there are no explanatory voice-overs in this film. Kudos to them for that. Likewise, the sound track was unobtrusive, and the background music was silent during certain moment of high drama.

One subtlety I liked was a mention only in a throwaway line of how often one character has ‘put his name’ into the lottery for the games. The state will give food to the starving each time a hungry child puts his name into the lottery jar. It shows both the cruelty and the indirect nature of the tyranny.

When a main character asks, “Why don’t we just not watch this year? They wouldn’t have them if nobody watched.” his words, with the lighthanded touch typical of the film, condemn the whole participation of the people in their own tyrannization.

This lighthandedness is well served in the violent scenes, by which I mean that the fights were not choreographed ballets of unrealistic wire-fu: they were kids rolling on the ground groping for a knife. The blood and viscera typical of action films was thankfully not present.  The audience sees one or two wounds.

Which serves to introduce what I misliked about the film.

First, the shaky-camera technique leaves me seasick. The fight scenes looked like the cameraman simply somersaulted along the ground. There is no way to tell who is doing what to whom. The camera shots were blurred and zoomed unsteadily even during non-action scenes, as when a character walks upstairs or enters a train car.

Second, the dystopia was not dystopic enough for my taste. Forgive me for being a science fiction fan, and, yes, I know that this is not really a science fiction movie, but science fiction fans like explanations for things. Orwell’s NINETEEN EIGHTY FOUR was an exaggeration of thoughts current in his own day, or perhaps not so much an exaggeration, of a Soviet-like tyranny. Big Brother had a definite philosophy and point. Huxley’s BRAVE NEW WORLD was a dictatorship of the opposite tack, a paradise of total control and total hedonism, where all physical suffering was eliminated, a spiritual rather than a physical nightmare. But again, the dystopia there is guided by a specific philosophy of ‘Fordism’ which is the treatment of human beings like assembly line products.  By way of contrast, in the movie, Panem does not seem to be the way it is for any reason. We see riot police and elites and proles, but no indication of how things got that way , or why the Powers That Be want to keep them that way. (As I say, I have not read the books, which may provide this missing element.)

Third, the heroine was not heroic enough for my taste. When Captain Kirk is placed in an arena by the Metrones, or by the Gamesters of Triskelion, he steadfastly refuses to kill anyone merely for the entertainment of his captors. Here, Katniss is perhaps mildly unwilling to kill, but she is willing to drop a nest of venomous wasps on her opponents, and when a boy ambushes her, she puts an arrow into him, slaying him in one shot, but with no expression of remorse or regret after.

Along the same lines, Katniss is willing to cuddle up and play kissy-face with the boy from her district, Peeta, and it ambiguous whether she is doing this merely a cynical survival technique, to win the sympathy of the viewers. If so, it is particularly cruel, because Katniss has a boy back home who is watching the games. Again, it is not clear if Peeta actually has a longstanding crush Katniss, or is merely playing to the cameras for sympathy.

In either case, this is not the type of behavior drama expects from heroes and heroines, albeit, to be sure, the characters in dystopian novels are always trampled victims, never heroes.

Fourth, I simply disbelieved that Katniss was the first volunteer in this system, assuming volunteering to take another’s place had been legal for seventy years. I simply do not believe every single healthy and morally straight seventeen year old boy in an entire district population would stand idly by and watch a thin thirteen year old picked at random get hauled off to certain death. Teens commit suicide for many more frivolous reasons than this. I would have liked an explanation as to why this should be.

Fifth, I found it distracting that the film never makes it clear to what degree the Hunger Games are meant to be arbitrary and unfair. The umpires change the rules at least twice during the games, and do things like herd one gladiator into an ambuscade, or drop supplies or gifts to aid one side or the other.

I assumed it was intentional but here is one time I wish the writing had been blatant rather than subtle. Because if the winners and loser are picked by the interference of umpires and audience sponsors, then the drama of the final battle is resolved only because umpire interferes, herding the final three survivors together.

Finally, and related to this, the children are between twelve and eighteen, and half of them are girls. Now, if it were the policy and cruelty of the tyrants to kill twelve or more girls and small children at the hands of young men old enough to enter boot camp, that would be understandable. It is just an execution.

If, again, it was the cruel practice of the tyrants to throw sixteen and fourteen year old girls into the gladiatorial games so that the boys old enough to enter boot camp would waste time and energy protecting them, as the natural chivalry of the young male (visible in all ages of human history but ours) would not allow them to fight and murder girls.

We are not talking about a thirteen year old girl with a gun facing a sixteen year old boy with a gun. We are talking about youths the age of Naval Academy midshipmen fighting girls young enough to be watching MY LITTLE PONY with knife and short sword.

Examine the two pictures following, and tell me who you think would win a round of fisticuffs followed by a quarterstaff bout with baseball bats?

Rue from HUNGER GAMES

 

Cato from HUNGER GAMES

For those of you interested in history, female gladiators, known as gladiatrices, did exist in ancient Rome. The practice was unseemly enough that even the Roman Emperors after Nero could not tolerate the spectacle: it was reformed out of existence. There is no evidence they ever fought male gladiators, perhaps for the same reason we Americans do not have any women as linebackers in NFL teams.

But I do not think this is what the filmmakers had in mind. I assume I was seeing a politically correct ‘Xena Warrior Princess’ world where the young stalwart, strong enough to lift and throw heavy weights the other children cannot, is right to think that the girl fifty pounds lighter and half a head shorter than he is likely to defeat all comers including himself and emerge the victor.

The film attempts manfully to support this absurd expectation, by reciting the statistics from previous games, saying how many children died of thirst or exposure rather than violently under the blades of others, but the film belies this by having every death be a violent one, or a poisoning.

Like I said, I am assuming the film makers had in mind that whoever drew the short straw during the lottery was sending a little girl to be beaten to death by a stalwart youth, perhaps with the additional psychological torture of making boys kills girls. But, again, I cannot tell for sure if that was what the writer had in mind, because, if so, some sort of hint, one line of dialog, to show that the two sexes and all ages are not equal on the battlefield would have calmed my uncertainty.

Frankly, I was expecting the main character to defy the rules of the games at some point, win over the hearts of the viewing audience, and trigger a rebellion or something of the kind. There was something that was supposed to be something like that at one point, but it was too subtle for me: I did not see why either the crowd or the umpires reacted as they did at the film’s end.

The third act annoyed my Christian sensibilities for two reasons.

First, when a fellow tribute dies before her eyes, Katniss, covers the corpse thoughtfully with flowers and cries, but does not say and prayers over the body. I assume this was done to spare the sensibilities of the antichristians in the audience, but the idea that rural coalminers don’t have any vestiges of religion struck me as needing some sort of explanation.

Second, the umpires, in order to boost ratings, because Katniss and Peeta are a popular couple with the viewers, announce a change in rules, allowing for two survivors rather than one. Then when they emerge alive from the final battle, the umpires change the rule again, saying only one can survive. They both prepare to commit suicide by eating poisonous berries, and the umpires change the rules a third time, asking them to stop and telling them they both can win.  So threatening suicide wins the day. Yeah, suicide!

Very noble and pagan, I am sure, but it should have been explained why the two children did not simply throw their weapons down. Whatever the penalty was for refusing to fight should have been made clear.

And then both children meekly accept laurels and plaudits from the hands of the tyrant, and continue to play along with the pretense that they are athletic stars when they no longer under any apparent threat of death.

A final thing I missed was any character arc. I did not see that Katniss was anything but a worse person after this drama, albeit I admired that she was more noble and forgiving than other children trapped into the games. But if someone told me that the story in the book had been about the Stockholm Syndrome, where prisoners sympathize with their own oppressors and kidnappers, I would not have expected to see the events in the movie played out any differently.

The point of the story seemed to be that one should do whatever it takes to survive, no matter how demeaning. This is made explicit when Peeta says he does not want “them” to change him, that if he is to die, he would prefer to die without being a different person, by which he means, I assume, without a compromise of his virtue and integrity. Katniss answers that she does not have that luxury.

Hmph. Since there are sequels due out, I will not complain about the lack of closure on the two major plotlines, but so far, while it is a well acted piece, nothing in it struck me as (1) particularly original from a science fiction point of view, or (2) particularly romantic or noble from a dramatic point of view, or (3) uplifting from a moral point of view, or, (4) unlike other dystopia novels, did there seem to be a warning for our own times of what might happen if any dangerous trends are not countered. Is it a warning against glamorizing violent sports? I saw the same thing in DEATH RACE 2000 and ROLLERBALL and THE RUNNING MAN.

I would say the film was worth renting from Redbox, but not worth the ticket price of a matinee at a theater.

 

41 Comments

  1. Comment by RachelK:

    Some of these things are clearer in the book. For instance, Katniss mentions that everyone hates seeing twelve-year-old girls drawn because they’re certain to die, and most of the examples of younger or female victors win through cleverness rather than brute strength. From what I’ve heard, although I haven’t seen the movie yet, the ending is also clearer in the book. In the book, Peeta was bleeding to death from an injury inflicted by Cato; if they’d just thrown down their weapons at the end, Peeta would have died. The suicide gambit is also less of a sincere attempt at suicide than a game of chicken; Katniss doesn’t expect the gamekeepers to call her bluff, and it isn’t clear what she would have done if they had. I’d suggest reading the books and seeing if they make you enjoy the world better, since they have a lot of the movie’s apparent strengths but not, say, shaky cam, and they provide extra background.

  2. Comment by John Hutchins:

    You need to read the books, a lot of your complaints are answered in the books.

    Not going to answer everything, that is best left to the books themselves but I will address this one:

    “(4) unlike other dystopia novels, did there seem to be a warning for our own times of what might happen if any dangerous trends are not countered. Is it a warning against glamorizing violent sports? I saw the same thing in DEATH RACE 2000 and ROLLERBALL and THE RUNNING MAN.”

    The Hunger Games is not a warning of our times but a commentary on our times. The author has spent significant time in poor foreign countries and is commenting on us. We are or live in the Capital, with our “panem et circenses” where the hunger and the killing is just hidden from our view. The movie and the merchandising become very ironic with that knowledge. It is a commentary on our fixation on things like reality T.V. (especially games like Survivor or other elimination games) while creating, causing, or ignoring the hunger, wars, and suffering of those that toil to produce our makeup, clothes, food, and fancy gadgets.

  3. Comment by coleman:

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, but your reaction to it sounds very close to my reaction to reading the first book in the series. I found it gripping and exciting – but the drama and excitement all rested on the fight for survival, and it felt uncomfortably close to being one of the viewers back home. I kept expecting the book to redeem itself with some kind of self-sacrifice on Katniss’s part – some unwillingness to participate in the violence – but it didn’t happen. It was all about the winning strategy. I assume that there’s more of a resolution and more character development in the sequels, but I felt cheated by the first book – I was willing to read through a spectacle of violence in the expectation of SOME kind of resolution other than mere survival, and I got none of that. I was irritated enough that I haven’t yet read the sequels, which is in fact pretty dumb, since I suspect the sequels do redeem the story to some extent. I’ll get around to them eventually.

  4. Comment by Pierce O.:

    Third, the heroine was not heroic enough for my taste. When Captain Kirk is placed in an arena by the Metrones, or by the Gamesters of Triskelion, he steadfastly refuses to kill anyone merely for the entertainment of his captors. Here, Katniss is perhaps mildly unwilling to kill, but she is willing to drop a nest of venomous wasps on her opponents, and when a boy ambushes her, she puts an arrow into him, slaying him in one shot, but with no expression of remorse or regret after.

    Arguably the tracker jacker nest is self defense, since her opponents have made it clear they are waiting around to kill her once she comes down from the tree. As for shooting the boy, I felt that scene was poorly handled by the filmmakers. In the book, she comes across the boy as he is stabbing Rue to death (rather than ambushing them both) and in a fit of rage and protectiveness puts an arrow through his head.

    Along the same lines, Katniss is willing to cuddle up and play kissy-face with the boy from her district, Peeta, and it ambiguous whether she is doing this merely a cynical survival technique, to win the sympathy of the viewers. If so, it is particularly cruel, because Katniss has a boy back home who is watching the games. Again, it is not clear if Peeta actually has a longstanding crush Katniss, or is merely playing to the cameras for sympathy.

    A lot was lost in translating the first person narrative to film. Gale and Katniss are childhood friends, and Katniss has no idea Gale thinks of her differently until the second book. Peeta is genuinely in love with Katniss, but she thinks both of them are just doing it to survive.

    Fourth, I simply disbelieved that Katniss was the first volunteer in this system, assuming volunteering to take another’s place had been legal for seventy years. I simply do not believe every single healthy and morally straight seventeen year old boy in an entire district population would stand idly by and watch a thin thirteen year old picked at random get hauled off to certain death. Teens commit suicide for many more frivolous reasons than this. I would have liked an explanation as to why this should be.

    The boys can’t volunteer for the place of the girls because the rules say it has to be a boy and a girl from each district.

    Fifth, I found it distracting that the film never makes it clear to what degree the Hunger Games are meant to be arbitrary and unfair. The umpires change the rules at least twice during the games, and do things like herd one gladiator into an ambuscade, or drop supplies or gifts to aid one side or the other.

    Since the games are meant to be Capital entertainment, the Gamemakers will do whatever they need to prevent the combatants from turtling and making a boring game. The supply drops are from sponsors in the audience, not the Gamemakers.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Sorry if I was unclear: I did not say ” a thirteen year old girl” I said “a thirteen year old.”

      Yes, I understood the rules about one boy and one girl. That wasn’t my gripe. I don’t believe all the seventeen year olds would stand around and watch as some kid the age of my un-athletic son was hauled off to die for 75 years without even once anyone stepping up.

      I grant the dramatic purpose of being the “first volunteer from her district” but in reality, I would hope it would be otherwise. You would think each district would intensively train two seventeen year old volunteers, and then, each and every year, have them volunteer no matter whose name was picked. I sort of thought that was what District One was doing.

      • Comment by Pierce O.:

        No, you were clear, mea culpa. District One does do that, but for far less noble reasons. The “Career” districts embrace the Games and raise their children to see participation as the highest possible honor. I liked how the movie gave Cato a little monologue before his death, showing the horrible consequences the Games had had on the society of his District; it made him tragic instead of merely loathesome.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          “I liked how the movie gave Cato a little monologue before his death, showing the horrible consequences the Games had had on the society of his District; it made him tragic instead of merely loathesome.”

          I liked that too. I should have added it to the list of assets.

      • Comment by JoAnna:

        According to the book (and I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I don’t know what’s explained or not explained) it’s illegal for district residents to train for the Games. Some districts are more babied by the Capitol than others and their Peacekeepers look the other way when training occurs (and there’s competition for a place in the games, so when someone tries to volunteer, the tribute rejects their attempt?).

        As to why no one else volunteers… a lot of the teenagers are the sole means of support for their family (or so I gather – Katniss and Gale definitely are for their families) so part of it might be fear that their families will starve if they die in the Games.

    • Comment by Mary:

      Even though Katniss is not in love with Peeta, she’s doing it to save his life. Is it cynical to guess what will play to the audience and so preserve their lives?

      • Comment by John C Wright:

        “Is it cynical to guess what will play to the audience and so preserve their lives?”

        Well, yes. That is the very definition of cynicism, isn’t it? How it is different from a defendant lying to a jury to gain sympathy? The motive is survival. The cynicism it to expect and want to put this motive paramount above all others.

  5. Comment by JoAnna:

    Panem does not seem to be the way it is for any reason. We see riot police and elites and proles, but no indication of how things got that way , or why the Powers That Be want to keep them that way. (As I say, I have not read the books, which may provide this missing element.)

    Yes, it does. Basically, the Hunger Games are a punishment for the districts that rebelled 75 years ago. The riot police and etc are there to subdue the districts and quash any rebellion; the Hunger Games are basically to spit in the districts’ faces and say, “See, I can take your children and kill them; and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

    Frankly, I was expecting the main character to defy the rules of the games at some point, win over the hearts of the viewing audience, and trigger a rebellion or something of the kind.

    Read books two and three.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “the Hunger Games are a punishment for the districts that rebelled 75 years ago. The riot police and etc are there to subdue the districts and quash any rebellion”

      Sorry if I was unclear, but that information is indeed in the movie. My puzzlement was what was the philosophical or historical reason, the Big Brother or the Fordism, which made Panem what it was? If it was just the Evil Empire as in STAR WARS, fine, its evil for the sake of evil. If it is an evil similar to one of which we ourselves are guilty, what was it? One reader on this blog indicated it was an exaggeration of America’s postcolonial evils of hiring foreigners and buying their products while ignoring their wars and famines: but I saw nothing like that in the movie.

      Like I said, many things in the film were quite subtle, and so maybe I missed an important line of dialog.

      • Comment by JoAnna:

        It’s never really explained in the books why Panem is the way it is; in book 3, one of the characters mentions that a republic form of government had been tried and had failed, so I got the impression that Panem came about due to rich, greedy people gaining power and taking over. I’m actually hoping Suzanne Collins might write a prequel with more backstory.

      • Comment by Mary:

        The real thing she was targeting was TV shows. In fact, she got the idea once while switching between two different TV shows and imagining their being done together.

  6. Comment by JJ Brannon:

    Read the books, John!

    While they may also disappoint you, this was one of the most subversively Christian YA series written, although it may have failed in that ambition.

    I had the same anger at the seemingly inexplicable setting. Then I grew suspicious. Then I opened my heart so that my mind could see.

    Hint: the names are significant.

    JJB

  7. Comment by David_Marcoe:

    As someone else who read the books, I can say I enjoyed the first two and loathed the third. To expand on what John Hutchins said, the authoress has stated that the initial idea came from flipping between episodes or survivor and Iraq war footage. The Hunger Games are basically a metaphor for war and the cycle of violence. With the rebellion that finally comes in the third book, and Katniss as figurehead, Collins goes out of her way to draw parallels between the roles of major players among the rebel forces and the Capitol (with Katniss a pawn of both), creating a pattern of moral equivalency, along with blatantly manipulative and logic-breaking scenes to tarnish the rebels. The book itself is nearly nihilistic by its end, having Katniss go through the motions of life, rendered “alive but dead” by her emotional and psychological scars (in heavy-handed stereotyping of soldiers).

    And the absence of religion is also true of the books. I find it to be indicative of their overall spiritual poverty, especially the third. Rebel forces often talk about what they are against–it seems to be their hatred of the Capitol that primarily fuels them–but hardly about what they are for. I am reminded of what Chesterton said in The Everlasting Man, “The truth is that only men to whom the family is sacred will ever have a standard or a status by which to criticise the state. They alone can appeal to something more holy than the gods of the city; the gods of the hearth.” There is never any appeal to something more sacred than their hatred; no liberté, égalité, fraternité, no “all men are created equal,” no call to defend Rome. Though there are invocations to “justice,” (most prominently given in a speech about how the Capitol will burn if the rebels do) there’s hardly any talk of freedom. There’s not even any real thought given of what form of government they want afterward, merely a passing mention of trying republican institutions, with Katniss expressing skepticism, after what they’re ancestors did to the world (Panem is the remnants of North America after unspecified wars and man-made environmental disasters). The whole thing is Orwell gone full retard; all of the pessimism, with none of the moral clarity.

    Addendum: I forgot, there are some scenes where Katniss agitates against brutal tactics being considered on the rebel side, with an appeal to what they are fighting for, but like I said above, it’s never made quite clear–never given real exposition or example–of what they are fighting for.

  8. Comment by Joi_the_Artist:

    I actually liked the third book, but I’m often in the minority on that, so I’ll let it be.

    One problem the movie had to conquer (and I haven’t seen it yet, but hope to soon) is the fact that the book is told in first person. The reader spends a lot of time in Katniss’ head, and any change out of that is going to lose some of the information that is available to the reader.

    Also, it’s important to keep Katniss’ age in mind: most 16-17 year old tend to be at least a little selfish and overly dramatic. She grows out of a lot of that in book 3 (in my opinion) when a source of respect that she’d taken for granted is taken away, and she has to see herself through less rosy lenses. (There’s also the epilogue to Mockingjay, which indicates she’s grown further, but again, different readers interpret that differently.)

    • Comment by David_Marcoe:

      Also, it’s important to keep Katniss’ age in mind: most 16-17 year old tend to be at least a little selfish and overly dramatic.

      That’s part of the problem, I think. She isn’t a typical teenage girl. She can’t afford to be. She’s been raising her sister and feeding her family since she was twelve. My great grandmother was an Arkansas hillbilly (a literal hillbilly: lived in a cabin in woods, got their water from a stream, etc.) who was married at thirteen and divorced at fifteen, with a kid. She was a hard woman. We see some of that with Katniss, in the beginning of the first book. She’s distrustful, unsentimental, calculating, and even ruthless, but her motivation is to keep her family alive. Now, if Collins wanted to give glimpses of a normal teenage girl underneath, that would’ve added more depth, but we have long passages consumed with Katniss’s plunges into angst and indecision; a repeated process of forming a resolution, experiencing some setback or upheaval, and then spending pages swinging like a pendulum from one course of action to another, in the tumult of her emotions. How that girl kept her family alive is a wonder to me.

      There’s also the problem of hanging a heroic storyline on an unheroic character. You can certainly do it, but you have to be clever about it, with satire, irony, or a convincing arc of character growth. Collins is not that good a writer. If you’re into the third book of your trilogy before your character is showing signs of growth, you’re in trouble.

      Personally, I’ve grown weary of modern female authors writing emotionally self-involved female characters. Jane Austen could write vibrant, yet flawed heroines with the confines of rural English gentry life, without angst-ridden tedium, or having to put a bow or gun in their hands to signal “strong female character.” Indeed, it’s the classics where I encounter endearing and well-defined female characters in a variety of circumstances, such as the unflappable Betsy Trotwood and whimsically fey Miss Mowcher. It just makes the contrast all the greater.

  9. Comment by Alan Silverman:

    I echo the comments of other people; many of your qualms are handled either by the book or the remainder of the series.

    By way of contrast, in the movie, Panem does not seem to be the way it is for any reason. We see riot police and elites and proles, but no indication of how things got that way , or why the Powers That Be want to keep them that way. (As I say, I have not read the books, which may provide this missing element.)

    This was one of the things that bothered me about the books. Katniss’ depiction of the geopolitics of Panem is in very broad brush strokes, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how the country actually runs. Though, the fact that her knowledge of politics is woefully inadequate gets highlighted some in the second book, and is blatantly clear in the third.

    After some thought, I realized that realistically, given how little many 16-year-olds seem to be in America of the political situation, it should be no surprise that an uneducated 16-year-old with no real interest in politics would know rather little about the situation.

    And regarding the mutual suicide, from the book:

    Yes, they have to have a victor. Without a victor, the whole thing would blow up in the Gamemakers’ faces. They’d have failed the Capitol. Might possibly even be executed, slowly and painfully while the cameras broadcast it to every screen in the country.

    Which didn’t translate as well to the movie.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “I echo the comments of other people; many of your qualms are handled either by the book or the remainder of the series.”

      Since this is a comment with which I opened the article, and repeated in the body, I would not tend to disagree. But I was giving my opinion on the movie I saw, not movies I have not seen or books I have not read.

  10. Comment by WyldCard4:

    1. A thought on the lack of volunteers. These are not modern teenagers. These are largely working teenagers. In the books at least, people regularly starve to death in District 12, and the loss of a healthy 17 year old working in the mines could make the whole family suffer. This will vastly limit the supply pool, and that pool is already pretty small considering District 12′s size, especially as the people best suited for volunteering are the ones most likely to have dependents. Still I agree that the total lack is strange. The books also noted that it had happened in the past, just not in a while.

    2. Training for the Games is illegal. Which means it only happens in the rich districts. I haven’t seen the movie, but the books make it clear that Panem is EXTREMELY repressive in lower numbered Districts. People are regularly killed for minor offenses such as stealing. Organized training is therefor close to impossible. Disorganized training probably happens, but not much more than that. It was noted in Catching Fire that District Twelve was contributing to Katniss’s survival by donating money to her.

    3. I really do not think this book was intended as a cautionary tale. It was a parody of our current culture more than a warning. It was hardly my favorite, though it was better than I expected.

  11. Comment by danguyf:

    I am forever surprised at how our tastes in movies differ so. The Avatar:tLA film was entirely horrid, and the first ten minutes of The Hunger Games were better than that movie’s entirety.

  12. Comment by Paul Amore:

    My concern about this movie is the message that it sends. By showing how, in a dystopia, the people cheer and watch as children are murdered, it’s saying, “See how enlightened our world is, where we do not do this.” And then you go and watch what’s actually on reality TV and see how people’s souls are murdered.

  13. Comment by Nate Winchester:

    Hey, the hot lead is from Louisville, KY, so I’m still obligated to go see it. ;)

    Along the same lines, Katniss is willing to cuddle up and play kissy-face with the boy from her district, Peeta, and it ambiguous whether she is doing this merely a cynical survival technique, to win the sympathy of the viewers. If so, it is particularly cruel, because Katniss has a boy back home who is watching the games. Again, it is not clear if Peeta actually has a longstanding crush Katniss, or is merely playing to the cameras for sympathy.

    In either case, this is not the type of behavior drama expects from heroes and heroines, albeit, to be sure, the characters in dystopian novels are always trampled victims, never heroes.

    And that I can somewhat explain. The story is drawn of female fantasy.

  14. Comment by Pierce O.:

    Do you how annoying voice overs keep getting put into films like BLADE RUNNER or DARK CITY when they are not needed, and are, indeed, distracting, because the suits think the audience is too dumb to get the point?

    For the benefit of anyone who has not seen these films yet: watch the Director’s Cuts, which do not have the voice overs (I got really lucky with Dark City. From what I’ve read, the voiceover reveals the whole premise of the film).

  15. Comment by DGDDavidson:

    I probably shouldn’t say it, but the off-hand reference to My Little Pony makes this movie review twenty percent cooler.

    . . .

    I’ll go away now.

  16. Ping from “THE LOTTERY” & The Hunger Games | Eslkevin's Blog:

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