The Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence is brilliant. The movie is not. Oh, it’s fine if you need a big screen and comfy seats to rest in for 2.5 hours(!), but it will likely disappoint many hard-core fans.The fact that my seats were 10 feet from the screen and the assholes behind me who insisted on laughing during scenes that were meant to be poignant might have had something to do with why I didn’t enjoy it as much as you might; but considering that I had to work from memories of the book to evoke said poignancy myself, I don’t think I need to reserve judgement.

It’s not the cast, who generally acquit themselves quite well. It might be the direction- too many close-ups, too many quick pans and cross-cuts, too many of various other problems that I could feel but do not know enough film theory to explain. It might be the marketing: “Team Peeta” and “Team Gale” did sound a bit foreboding. But most of all I think it’s the “flattening out,” the appeal to a queasy mainstream: as Andrew O’Hehir hints at in this Salon piece ,

The problem really isn’t the lack of explicit violence; far more important, we get no sense of the hunger, thirst, cold, disease and harrowing physical torment undergone by Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the shy, blond District 12 baker’s son who has long loved her from afar. OK, they get a few superficial nicks and scratches, but they look as well-fed and runway-ready in the second half of the movie as they did at the beginning.

(I should note that the rest of his issues with the franchise don’t bug me as much, though.) Because while “The Hunger Games” is, in many ways, rather typical (good) YA speculative fiction, the books managed to retain a sense of calculated brutality that was quite jarring, considering the intended audience.

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[MINOR SPOILERS] The one-line hook of the series, for those few who still haven’t been exposed to it, is: “Teenage girl is forced to fight in a televised free-for-all fight to the death between children by a tyrannical state and eventually leads a revolution against it” but the structure is not quite that simple: Katniss has no intention of being a rebel leader, she just wants to save herself and her family, and the nature of war (the “glorious revolution” that most of us were rooting for as soon as we were introduced to the world) and its resolution depicted in the third book is… not pretty. The ending tries for a certain hopefulness but the philosophy espoused is deliberately inward-looking, as the author simply can’t think of a positive spin on the way the world is going, both within the book and by the barest of analogies the world today. But for all that it is an incredibly gripping series, not nearly as much “work” as I might have made it sound like, and I finished all 3 of the books in a week. Overall, well worth a read, but only worth a watch if you don’t expect too much.

PS: I did have a problem with the book initially: namely, an  instinctive rejection of the idea that anything quite so brutal as the premise could become so thoroughly legitimized within the context of the story. But as soon as the aptness of the dominant allegory- Panem is the Roman Empire, of course- stuck I realized that that was my problem, not the book’s. Of course brutal things can happen on a wide scale, and of course they can be normalised: it happens every day! Every war-zone, every “Killing Fields”, produces societies with  hierarchies of repression far less veiled than the ones our more extreme liberal brethren are inclined to see (not without reason) everywhere. In retrospect, I’m rather surprised at my initial naiveté, even though that was barely a month back.

UPDATE: Check out Yglesias’s post on the viability of Panem’s economy and some other interesting ideas.

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2 thoughts on “The Hunger Games

  1. Shirley Jacksons work, “The Lottery” first appeared in The New Yorker magazine in 1948 but now Penguin Classics publishes her works.
    Suzanne Collins “Hunger Games” has simply expanded on Jacksons short story.

    Minor Differences:
    While Jackson does not make clear why the lottery and sacrifice must take place / Collins provides a reason.
    Jacksons’ village can communicate with other villages / Collins’ districts are all isolated and restricted under marshall law.
    Jackson mentions an old ritual hand salute but the villagers do not perform it / Collins has district 12 perform the ritual hand salute for Katniss.
    While Jackson made the villagers responsible for carrying out the lottery and sacrifice / Collins has given the responsibility to conduct the lottery to a representative of the Capitol and the actual sacrificing happens in an undisclosed location, death match style among the tributes.

    The bare bones of these storys are the same (coal-mining towns, a lottery and sacrifice).
    At best, Suzanne Collins should have published “Hunger Games” as an adaptation of Shirley Jacksons’ work.

    • Well, everything is a version of everything else. You don’t have to bring up “Remix Culture” to rationalize it, it’s been going on for years. Shakespeare stole, etc etc.

      Also, Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy.

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