Tuesday, May 22, 2012
I Can't Get the Hunger Games Out of my Head
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.