As a new Thanksgiving (more or less) tradition, Ali and I went to see the most recent and last installment of The Hunger Games. We were both thankful we had a good meal beforehand and that we don’t live in Panem. I haven’t read the books but Ali said Mockingjay Part 1 was the best book to movie adaptation she has seen and that this one was even better than the book. If you want to argue that, I guess you’ll have to figure out how to take that up with her. Also, I realize that only the first movies is “The Hunger Games” and that the second was “Catching Fire.” But, much like Game of Thrones, the title of the first book gets imposed on the series (which is maybe more intentional in this case).
I’ve written about The Hunger Games before, but that was three years ago and in reference to the first installment. Having seen them all now, here some random thoughts.
First, I tend to really hate the middle of each movie. Even knowing how the whole series ended before watching the first movie, I really didn’t like the intensity of the “fight for life” segment that takes up the main part of each movie. The “arena” where this fight takes place shifts in each movie, coming ever closer and closer to the heart of The Capitol. In each case though, Katniss always seems to be up against a severe and brutal assault engineered by The Capitol. Since you’re identifying with her, you feel the brutality of it, and I just don’t enjoy that as a form of entertainment. However…
Second, while we’re on the subject of identification, D. L. Mayfield makes a fascinating point in her article on the movie at Christ and Pop Culture:
Instead of Katniss, the person I think Suzanne Collins meant for us to truly identify with is Effie Trinket–the preposterous, good-hearted, naive accomplice and benefactor of the Capitol. We love her because she is silly and distracted but ultimately not responsible for the evils of her country. At the end of this film she kisses Katniss and wipes away a tear or two from her flickering blue eyelashes. Life will go on for her, we understand, in a somewhat normal way. Removed from the real violence and cost, Effie never fully understands her participation nor the consequences of the politics of oppression that dictated Panem. She herself had been a consumer of this story of Katniss, the Mockingjay, since the beginning. She sheds a tear and then moves on, a result of living and growing up within the capitol, a result of being on the dominant side of history. If Effie has been permanently affected by the violence and horror of both the Hunger Games and the subsequent casualties of war, we don’t get to see it. And in a way, we hope she doesn’t.
We want life to go on as normal. We want to escape the realities of the world we live in. So we blink back our own few tears, get out of our seats, and leave the theater. We try, just like Effie, to forget all that we have seen and know, because that is the easier way to live.
I think this is right on, at least in terms of The Hunger Games as cultural critique. The majority of people who reads the books or see the movies are not Katnisses. They are not oppressed and in need of some salvation from the horrors of everyday life (at least at the cultural level). They are instead, like Effie: part of the dominant culture and generally not affected by the plight of those less fortunate. We may collide with it here and there, but that’s about it. That is probably part of why I don’t enjoy the fight for life as a form of entertainment. There’s a sense in which is shouldn’t be entertaining because it can too easily map onto real life struggles of people in our current world, not necessarily some future dystopia. For more on that point, you should read the rest of the article.
Lastly, I couldn’t help but think of Katniss as a kind of counterpoint to The Dark Knight’s joker. Think about it from the perspective of The Capitol residents. Here, I’ll put in analogical form:
Katniss : Capitol residents :: Joker : Gotham residents
To the Capitol residents, Katniss is an agent of chaos, eventually upending their way of life and disrupting the status quo. We view this a good thing in The Hunger Games and a bad thing in The Dark Knight. Because we are viewing things from Katniss’ point of view, her actions are a little more understandable (and sometimes predictable) than the Joker. However, she has a consistent pattern of playing by her own rules and asserting her own will to power in the pursuit of liberating the oppressed. I tend to wonder if Nietzsche would be comfortable calling her an Überfrau. For her perpetual assaults on the status quo, she might very well earn that title. She is certainly doing so on her own terms, an important existential prerequisite. She also celebrates life in all its forms, but is not afraid to kill if it suits her. All lives matter, but dictators must die.