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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I Can't Get the Hunger Games Out of my Head

Ever since I saw The Hunger Games last week the movie keeps keeps intruding on my thoughts. No matter what I'm doing the tap-tap-tap on my memory chips continues. So maybe if I write about it, I can move on to other things. Spoiler alert - read at your own risk.

First of all, I had no plans to see the movie. The premise sounded too violent and I hate gory films. (I've never been able to watch Braveheart a second time because of the scene where Wallace's bride has her throat slit). We were actually going to see The Avengers (sold out) which is a little hilarious in retrospect. My sister said it was funny but my brother and sister-in-law told me later it is nonstop violence. My sister-in-law left mid movie.

But I digress. The Hunger Games is frightening - not so much because of the characters stalking and killing each other (mostly non-graphically), but because the movie so accurately depicts America here and now.

Here's the premise. You have an elite government, the Capitol, keeping control over the people using force and a media and entertainment industry to keep the people in line. The "beautiful people" (who are dressed like clowns - a brilliant move by the director) suppresses the twelve districts who do all the work to provide the good life for the elite. The districts are being punished for an uprising years ago. They are never allowed to forget that their annual "tribute" is in punishment for the uprising. They are held down by a military dressed like the Empire's troops in Star Wars.

The only hope for the districts is the possibility of one of their representatives winning the hunger games for the year. So all the workers in the separate districts are pitted against each other reducing the likelihood of unity to fight against the tyrannical government. (If the number of districts was thirteen I would think the author had the original colonies in mind.)

The hunger games, like the bread and circuses of the Romans, keeps everyone distracted and "entertained" -free entertainment for the masses. "What if no one watched?" one of the characters says early in the movie. But, of course, everyone does, both the governing and the governed. It is the spectacle of Survivor, American Idol, game shows, and all the other modern reality shows rolled into one -- except that "the survivor" is literally the last one standing after everyone else is dead. Ah...but our modern world even offers us that in pornographic snuff movies and sensational murder trials like O.J. Simpson, Scott Peterson, and Casey Anthony. We are fascinated by it all just like the audiences who watch the hungar games.

The heroine, Katniss, provides us the image of self-sacrificing love. She is in the game in the first place because she volunteered in place of her little sister. She practices self defense throughout, but never participates in the stalking and murder of the other "tributes." Her only inexcusable act of violence occurs near the end when, out of compassion, she kills an enemy being attacked and torn apart by beasts. She befriends a little girl, Rue, the youngest of the contestants, and when Rue is killed surrounds her body with flowers, Queen Ann's lace. We see her performing the corporal works of mercy again and again: feeding the hungry, tending to the sick, preparing the dead for burial. Rue's murder and the respect Katniss shows for the little one, who resembles Snow White in repose, causes an uprising in Rue's district when her father (presumably) attacks the soldiers. The fight is a preview of the defiance inspired by Katniss who has opposed the manipulation of the tyrannical government from the outset. In the end, it is she and Peeta, the other tribute from district 12, who win by forcing the government to allow two winners or none. They threaten to swallow poisonous berries rather than for one of them to kill the other. In the process, they bring down the organizer of the game, Seneca, who is forced by the tyrant Snow to eat the poisonous berries.

The Hunger Games gives us a sharp image of our sick culture, the culture of death, and it isn't pretty. But it also illustrates that tyranny is weak. It can only survive by using force and can never rest. The human spirit is indomitable. The movie is profoundly Christian and I wasn't surprised to find that the author, Suzanne Collins, is a Catholic. I want to read the series now. The Hunger Games is the kind of fiction that is seen as subversive by tyrants, which is why, I think, it keeps intruding on my thoughts. I'm not finished with it yet.


Anonymous said...

You really ought to read the books!! All the ideas come from the author, not the director, so the whole premise of the Capitol and the commentary on our media, etc, all come from there. There is also a lot more in the books than was included in the movie. For instance, there are thirteen districts! The 13th was just destroyed, which is why it isn't mentioned (yet) in the films.

Anonymous said...

"I read it as a break to all the pregnancy and baby books, and I couldn't put it down. The book goes into more detail than the movie (for example, there were actually 13 colonies--number 13 was the colony that rebelled and was annihilated by the Capitol). I had to be talked into reading it because I didn't like the premise, but it was thought-provoking, and I ended up enjoying it. I hope to read the next two soon!"

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

I'm going to suggest the book to my book club. My daughter made an interesting comment about being at the movie and having the sense that the audience was like the crowd in the Roman arena watching. Too true. Very disturbing all around, but also makes one think. Seems like it will take quite a bit of processing.

I once saw a show about an unethical experiment that really took place where "doctors" in white coats told participants to administer what they thought was an electric shock to a volunteer they thought was agreeable. Most complied with the "authority figure" even if they were crying as they administered the "shock." I think the movie brings up the entire question of authority (illegitimate in this case) and how those under a tyranny respond to it.

Anonymous said...

Be warned: the books are much more violent than the movie.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Hmmm...well I may need to change my mind after reading. I've received some emails about the plot and the dearth of moral adults. Of course, that is also a problem in our culture today with adults who are willing to encourage immoral behavior of their children to get along. PFLAG is a perfect example. Enter the virtual world where we play the sex game that men and women are interchangeable, that the bodies of two men or two women coming together in a perverted manner is the same as marital intercourse, etc. We live in "interesting" and X-rated times.

Anita said...

Without having read the book or seen the movie it reminds me somewhat of "Brave New World" (Big Brother is watching you) and the short story, "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, a haunting story that has always remained with me.
I want to read "The Hunger Games" now. It's frightening to think what tyranny and a breakdown in society would do to it's citizens, but all we have to do is read the history books.
Great review!

Anonymous said...

The first book was by far the best but they were all good. It definitely gets you thinking.