Wednesday, May 9

The Hunger Games
 May The Odds...

The Hunger Games. A popular book, trilogy, and now movie. I have a lot of thoughts on the books, and I'm still somewhat processing the movie. It's a big story. And it's also not. What makes it great? What makes it not? And what do we do with that?

I have no idea what to tell you to do with the books, movie, or overall story. I don't know what to do with it myself. All I can do is share some of my mixed thoughts.

For starters, it's brilliant. No, really. The books, in first-person point of view, show us an intimate, in-depth look at a world that feels like the Great Depression + nuclear war aftereffects + ruling politics gone terribly, terribly wrong. And since it's in first person, we get just about every single thought and feeling that Katniss experiences. (I even used it in a paper I recently re-found as a useful book for examining the reality of facing one's own death.) And the use of present tense amplifies the immediacy and intensity of every. single. thing.

And the movie is a pretty great adaption of the story from the print media to audio/visual media. The actors portrayed their characters spot on. The additional points of view of the gamemakers, President Snow, and Rue's district fleshes out the world with things that wouldn't have translated from the book otherwise. The core conflict of the games is lived out. The subtext conflict of fighting corruption is shown a little more than in the book.

Some things in the movie were a little weird, like the crossover of worlds when Katniss has delusions from the Tracker Jacker venom. And, honestly I was really looking forward to the visual portrayal of Katniss' costumes, Cinna's masterpieces...and was disappointed. They were nice, but for me a little of a let down. And we didn't get to see Haymitch's character arc as clearly, even though we saw him working behind the scenes (a nice touch). But all in all, those things 1) aren't enough to detract from the movie as a whole and 2) are a part of the media.

It's Good, Or Is It?

It's a compelling story. Katniss obviously has a lot of determination and bravery. Peeta carries his compassion with him into the arena. Rue and Prim motivate Katniss to action. Haymitch...well, Haymitch is one of my favorite characters, sweetheart. He actually has a defined arc of character growth. The worlds are clearly distinct, and the complications are simple enough to follow while still making things interesting and hard for the characters. So what's the problem? What bothers me about the book and movie?

1.       As much as the characters distaste the concept of the Hunger Games to begin with, they follow through with it, not even really trying to stem the symptoms, much less trying to stop the problem.
2.       It's a rather draining read or viewing experience.
3.       Katniss' defiance is mostly accidental.
4.       And there is a distinct lack of hope. Throughout. Even the happy ending (in the book) has immediate hopelessness and loss to it. (The movie's happy ending felt like, "Yes, we 'won.' But it wasn't enough.")

And that last one, even more than the others individually, gives me pause. Put these all together, and by the end of the story, whether book or movie, I feel hollow, even dirty. I feel like I have been torn down just about as much as Katniss has been. But it's not because I've literally gone through everything she has, and it's not because I relate with her 100%. I like her okay, and I understand a degree of where she's coming from, her motivations, and her actions. But I'm very different from her and get frustrated along the way.

What Kind of Message?

It's not a happy book. Not every book has to be happy; I get that. But the "no hope" laced throughout and coloring the ending is, I think, damaging to people. People need hope. It's damaging to me. I need hope in order to get up in the morning. This work of fiction tends to sap it from me, translating into real life where I interact with real people, oozing a loss and hopelessness through my actions by taking root in my thoughts and feelings.

What is the message of The Hunger Games? What do you take away from it? Can you see how things could be better (and if you can, why couldn't/didn't the author?)? Is it a warning story? Watch out, or this will happen to our world (it is, after all, futuristic United States of America). Is that Suzanne Collins' goal? Is that enough?

Now we have to ask what we do with the story. It does get us to think, I'll give it that. Where do our thoughts take us?

And Happy Hunger Games

There are many more things I could say about The Hunger Games. Things I like, and things that concern me. And I could continue on into Catching Fire and Mockingjay. But for now, I think this is plenty.

Do you have a reply for my concerns? What are your thoughts on The Hunger Games, both book and movie?


  1. First of all, I haven't read the books or seen the movie. So my comments won't be about those. I think this is a topic worth talking about, so I'm glad you brought it up and were willing to voice an opinion. That said, I think I disagree.

    I don't disagree that people need hope. But I think I disagree that people need to get that hope from their fiction. All too often I find hopeful endings in fiction to be contrived and generally inconsistent with how life works for most of us. It's a saccharine kind of hope, and leaves me wondering why the author thought I couldn't handle the world they've created being messy. In any event, a fictional hope can't uplift for very long. There's one story with a truly hopeful ending, and that's the one we need to look to. Not every story is a repetition of the eucatastrophe in its totality.

    I tend to enjoy stories much more if they leave something for me to sort out and think through. In the context of the story, this makes it more real to me because my life doesn't hand me a happy ending every two hours or so, so I'm incredulous when it treats fictional creations so gently. If the characters are well developed, they can and should endure hard emotional blows just like real people. And a major part of the story that brings me hope is that all around me I can look and am aloud to say "that's not how it's supposed to be." Life doesn't hand me something to hope for out of that, I have to bring it myself; I think fiction should frequently do the same. To force all fiction to provide an escape is to needlessly limit its ability to communicate. Catharsis matters, too.

    So my favorite book is Watchmen. I like scary stories, dark stories, stories that don't tie things up in neat bows for me and that don't tell me I should buck up and be hopeful at the end. Stories where there aren't white hats and black hats, but where sometimes the "good guys" make really bad choices with lasting consequences and sometimes the "bad guys" make really noble choice with lasting consequences.

    But that's just my preference. Your preference is obviously different, and that's fine, too. That's the great thing about fiction: it can do so *many* things for so many people. This is a good conversation to be having, especially with people of such differing opinion.

    1. Okay, it took me a while to process this enough to make an intelligent reply, but now I'm so tired, it may not sound like it. Here goes.

      I think we actually agree with each other more than either one of us may have thought at first. But we absorb and process things differently (and, yes, we have different preferences in some areas).
      I think what struck me the most is that, while I see hope in stories as pointing back to God, you see the "this isn't how it should be" as pointing back to God as the answer to the problem. Right? In which case, it is really encouraging for me to hear that perspective and know that it's there.

      I, personally, am so easily brought down by hopelessness that I get bruises from it when it's as prevalent in fiction as it is in The Hunger Games (just look at Katniss' eyes). And then I have to figure out why I have bruises, how that relates to my real life (if at all), and recover by straightening my toyed-with emotions back to what I know to be true. And since I have that problem, *knowing* God and *knowing* He is the ultimate Hope, I figured it's at the very least a potential danger zone for others. And that's what brings me concern (and, again, that's why it's encouraging to hear that you reach the same conclusion from the opposite direction).

  2. OK.

    1.) I have also neither read the books nor seen the movie.
    2.) I agree with Norman on all of his non-personal-preference statements.

    I, however, *don't* tend to seek out stories that don't tie up at the end. I much prefer my fiction to at least resolve, even if it's not all happy. I like Twilight Zone episodes and other fiction that resolves FAST at the end and leaves me breathless. I like long, complicated stories where everything ultimately ties together for happiness, like The Mysterious Benedict Society. I like fiction where the resolution is consistent with the message of the rest of the story (a good example of how NOT to do that is the movie Eagle Eye w/ Shia LaBeouf -- the protagonist really should have died like it looked like he would).

    However, when I come across stories (or songs, or art) that don't resolve, or where there is a distinct lack of hope, it only serves to make me think of the author or artist. Is this how life looks to them? It reminds me that there are people without hope, who believe the world is hopeless. It helps me remember to treat others gently, and to inject hope into the world wherever I can in my small way.

    So although I don't really enjoy, for example, movies where nothing happens and everyone is just as depressed at the end as at the beginning (example: Rachel Getting Married), they for whatever reason don't depress me or leave me feeling as equally hopeless as the characters. And of course I honestly don't know what makes the difference between you, me, and Norman on that.

    1. I am much like this. I wish the depressing stories didn't mess with me. I'm not sure why they do (some of my favorite songs are sad ones and I'm fine with them...).

      I wonder what makes that difference. There's another interesting topic to think on. :o)

  3. Jessie, I was thinking of Eagle Eye! It really captures what I see as the happy/hopeful ending for the sake of having a happy/hopeful ending. Some stories (or parts of stories, perhaps) don't naturally end on an upbeat note. Those stories can still be worth telling, I think, although they won't be appealing for everybody.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I haven't read the books, but I have heard a detailed summarization and seen the movie. It was enough to see the lack of hope.

    It's like real life, without God — or at least an ignorance or denial of God. That is one of the things about a story that can most frustrate me. Sadly, that's how a lot of the world is, and how some people see the world.

    1. Yeah, and I know there surely are plenty of people who face that type of hopelessness every day...but that makes me sadder.