Monday, April 2, 2012

Duped By the Hunger Games?

We have before us a guest post! With the fiery start of the new film Hunger Games in the box office, it seemed good to compare book to film. At the time, I had not read the book and I still I have not read the film. So I asked Katherine Lee over at NOLA Front Porch to lend her Hunger Games expertise. Katherine is distinguished as the first female to post on this blog. It is honor really for her to be here. Hope to see her again soon. Her post will beginning a small series on the Hunger Games (book 1). Check back for more reflections on the book that has taken imaginations by storm.

Without further ado ....

If you were one of countless individuals who was dragged by an overly eager friend, child, or significant other to The Hunger Games movie, I know what you're thinking. You didn't get it. You didn't see the big deal AND you definitely could care less about this Peeta character everybody is raving about. I hate to even mention the thought, but some of you could even be coerced into reading the books simply because you judged the movie as a "B" at best. You've come to the right place. Call this the cliff notes or maybe just a short cut to save you the embarrassment of being caught reading the trilogy on your morning commute.

The plot of the Hunger Games unfolds in the futuristic former America, Panem, that is divided into 12 districts tyrannically ruled over by the Capitol. Though not directly explained in the books, Panem's name derives from the Latin term for "bread" connecting to "Bread and circuses". The metaphor refers to a government's use of entertainment to distract and appease citizens from the harsh reality of rule, classically demonstrated by the Roman Republic's gladiatorial homicide festivals. The Capitol oppressively controls food production and distribution in the districts, forces citizens to watch required media programming, and even outlaws communications between districts. While the rest of Panem's citizens starve to death, life for the people in the Capitol is glutinous and outlandish signaled by the bizarre make-up and Lady Gaga influenced clothing.

The Capital represents a "dystopian" society, the opposite of the more familiar expression, utopia. The genre of the books is meant to evoke similar themes as Brave New World and Orwell's Nighteen-Eighty Four. The main character, Katniss, hunts for food so her family doesn't starve. She and her best friend, Gale, break the law by selling their yields at a black market known as the HOB. The ultimate expression of Capitol exploitation is the annual competition where each district must submit a girl and boy tribute to fight in an arena to the death. The Hunger Games serve the double purpose of intimidating districts into submission and providing a source of perverse entertainment for citizens. Families have no choice in preventing their children from being placed into a "reaping" lottery from which names are pulled. The incentive for tributes to win the games is to secure an ample supply of food for their district for the coming year.

SPOILER ALERT: From here on out your read at your risk of receiving integral parts of the plotline, reading the book or watching the movie is suggested.

The movie moves like a freight train pressing too quickly through the background of the story and directly into the action of the games itself. Here lies the inadequacy. Audiences were left perplexed by the nature of the games, presented as a violent contest for survival of the fittest where promoting a "fake" romance could easily secure necessities from sponsors. The books represent a more multi-faceted insight into Katniss' interior dilemma of playing the game to save her family versus standing up to the injustice of the situation she finds herself a part. Perhaps the most genuine cinematic look into her interior struggle comes with her sobbing screams after burying her friend, Rue. From her 1st person perspective in the books, the reader feels truly Katniss' predicament throughout the entire course.

Finally, the majority of the complaints about the movie center on the apparent weaknesses in the character of Peeta, the other male tribute representing District 12. The scene in which Peeta tells Katniss that he hopes that the game-makers don't change him is extremely important for understanding his value. Unfortunately, the movie fails to explain the reference and doesn't do him justice. There's a brief flashback scene in which Katniss is starving and Peeta, outside his family's bakery, throws her a piece of bread. Peeta's act of kindness toward her reflects a couple things. First, he did love Katniss from the time she was little. He was not faking the romance. Second, he burnt the bread intentionally to give her at the risk of receiving a beating from his mother- selfless sacrifice. It wasn't, as the movie portrayed, an act of happenstance.

Katniss is drawn into Peeta's goodness. She finds herself slowly being won over by his easy going nature and confidence in her. He sees the best. She notices the apparent differences between his warmth, even in front of the camera, and her cold, paranoid nature. Though she does fake the romance on screen, something more is emerging on the interior. After a hard-knock life of self-dependance and struggle, she finally has someone to trust.

Okay, so maybe, this doesn't mean you're a Hunger Games expert now, but at least you've got the overall idea. For a more in depth analysis of the movie, I highly recommend watching two video commentaries from Fr. Robert Barron. Start with this video ( then move on to his additional comments on the religiosity of the film (

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