I finally got around to seeing the Hunger Games films last night (well, the two that have been released so far). I hadn’t read the books, and for the purposes of entertainment without the need to lambast every deviation from the ‘true’ storyline, this was a good thing. This is what I knew about The Hunger Games going in:
- The first film featured Jennifer Lawrence’s breakthrough performance
- She must have done a good job
- Young people are sacrificed for something or other in some kind of sick yet public game in an alternate universe
And I wasn’t wrong. We are introduced to Katniss Everdeen, a seemingly free spirit determined to get on with the job and make the best of what little she and her family have in the 12th and final district of a land ruled with an iron fist. The theme of love, friendship and family ties is displayed to us early on; the shared struggles of a family appeal to our emotions and allow us to appreciate the increasingly apparent strength of our leading lady, and give our attention to a worthy character’s cause.
Fear is never far away in the Hunger Games. The drab, greyed outfits that Katniss and her sister Primrose wear and the foreboding train ride towards tragedy and misery are all too reminiscent of World War II. One can see why Katniss is steely – the annual selection of young ‘tributes’ by one of the most unfortunate lotteries imaginable has, naturally, hardened her and sparked a smouldering distaste for authority. Each year’s Hunger Games reminds District 12 and its neighbours that peace comes at a price. The message is seemingly well-intentioned: rebellion and war are indeed destructive and the masses must be reminded of this. And reminded powerfully, by offering a boy and girl from each district to participate in a televised fight to the death. Sacrifices for the greater good are justified, are they not? The answer to this question lies at the heart of brewing public discontent and in the minds of the chosen few charged with leadership and the keeping of ‘peace’.
Love and bravery abounds in Katniss, who offers herself as the first ever voluntary tribute upon hearing the terrible news that Primrose has been chosen. Katniss demonstrates the unexpected strength that can come from adversity, and that our choices not only define us, but set our direction on the moral compass.
How humans deal with fear depends upon a great many things, and the various ways in which humans attempt to do so are quite well-portrayed in The Hunger Games. This is evident in the stark contrast in attitude between District 12’s male tribute, Peeta Mellark, and Katniss. Peeta resigned himself to death before the Games had even started; Katniss, on the other hand, felt that winning was the only option. Then we see the infuriating resignation and cynicism of Haymitch, a man who has travelled beyond fear and emerged into mysterious (and drunken) territory.
So far, it seemed that despite its promising characters, this was little more than a futuristic teen action/survival film. But the next few minutes really began to pique my interest and fuel many trains of thought.
We are introduced to the big city centre of the land of Panem, known as the Capitol. Though its citizens are garishly dressed by real-world standards, it seems almost fitting. I’ve been a city girl all my life, but can imagine how it would feel to travel to the city from the country for the first time. Dresses and suits that seem so impractical in the name of style, concrete as far as the eye can see, and crowds that must be entertained for sanity’s sake. Katniss and Peeta, along with the rest of the competitors, are thrust into the limelight. Some are well-prepared, but Katniss evidently struggles to adjust to the world of fakery for the purposes of entertainment, and tries her best to concentrate on the task at hand. However, she realises that this is not enough; the cynical but wise Haymitch reveals to her the realities of survival in the public eye, such as the need to mingle with and impress those with power and money for sponsorship. There are stark parallels between this fictional Capitol and other real-world cities and political hubs, including Hollywood. The films held my interest up to this point…now they had my full attention.
Through the challenges that she faces during the Games, Katniss demonstrates a strength of character that belies her physical capability, and serves us a much-needed lesson. The nuances, politics and gameplay within high society, the need to gain and maintain power, to control the masses, and to stamp out revolution in the name of an unjust peace are also very cleverly portrayed within the Hunger Games series. The inequalities and injustices that abound in our world; the fight to survive, compete, and thrive – these themes are ever present, screaming for our attention and awareness, and reminding us of our evolutionary roots. Whether we cast ourselves back to ancient times when warriors killed each other for sport, or forward in the future to forcefield-bound competition arenas with virtual obstacles, we as humans invariably compete – for attention, for power, for freedom, or for love. But if I were to take one message from The Hunger Games, it would be this: although we must compete for the things we want or need in this world, let’s all try to be more like Katniss Everdeen and be a good sport about it, because compassion never goes astray.