Skinny Love: Thoughts on The Hunger Games

Ever since the Harry Potter film series began, it seems like Hollywood is devouring one young adult book title after another. As I’ve said in other posts, I am indeed a fan of Harry Potter; however, I’ve never bothered with Twilight  (with the exception of a drunken public reading at a friend’s house, which was hilarious). Accordingly, I was decidedly ambivalent when The Hunger Games hype machine got into gear.

A few days ago, though, my Mom asked me if I wanted to check out the movie. I rarely turn down an invitation to a movie, especially when someone else pays for the ticket and the popcorn, and it’s Mudder so I can’t say no. Moreover, The Hunger Games has gotten good reviews, and a lot of friends whose opinion I trust spoke highly of the source material.

Before I continue with my analysis/review, I will say that I actually did enjoy the movie. I’d give it a soft 8/10, my biggest beef being the shaky cam and ridiculous close-ups. Seriously, WTF is up with directors lately using that frantic cinematography? It’s not edgy; it’s annoying and distracting. Stop it. Just stop.

Katniss is an interesting and sympathetic protagonist for whom I found myself rooting. Like Harry Potter, she is likeable and exceptional without being reduced to a Mary Sue, wish fulfillment on behalf of the author. Perhaps this is the effect of Jennifer Lawrence (an actor I really like), but it’s believable how she can be so charismatic and desirable, yet still retaining a toughness and willfulness.

The post-apocalyptic, modern interpretation of the Theseus myth was also very well done.  The contrast between the capitol and the districts was heavy handed, but the performances of Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, and Woody Harrelson brought enough levity to make it work.  The idea of a televised Roman gladiator arena is of course not new, yet Suzanne Collins seems to have found her own voice amongst some well-trodden ideas.

Also, Haymitch (Harrelson) was an interesting character that needed more attention. He seemed disgusted by the whole thing and indulged as a way to self-medicate. These things were hinted but not sufficiently developed.

Finally, I will point that I haven’t read the books, nor do I plan to. My observations are limited to the film, and if the books fill in the gaps that I point out then great, but please, fanboys, refrain from any outbursts along the lines of, “OMG IF U READ THE BOOKS UD NO PEETA’S DAD IS A PAINTING GENIUS WHICH IS WHY HE COULD DISGUISE HIMSELF LIKE ROCKS ERRRRMEEERRRGAAAHHHHD.”

(You know what they call The Hunger Games in France?)

!!!SPOILERS!!!

I found most interesting about The Hunger Games is the aforementioned contrast between the rich and poor. The adaptation of the Theseus myth in which the beleaguered districts must offer tributes to the Sovereign as payment for their sinful rebellion is brilliant. What we get is an allegory on the relationship between the rich and poor, with the poor as a disposable labour resource for the rich. Judging by the story, it seems the Districts produce and manufacture goods for the Capitol, who then in turn consume the lion’s share and niggardly distribute the scraps to the Districts as rations.

More importantly, the poor are used as entertainment for the rich. The titular event is a ritual for the state that is, on the surface, meant to commemorate the war, but, as the President reveals, is also a means of control. Snow vaguely explains to Seneca that the games are about “hope” and that hope can be more powerful than fear. I found this concept criminally underdeveloped as it is what gives The Hunger Games its unique quality. The Games create a sense of false consciousness for the Districts, that participating in the Games, and even more so winning, is a great honour, and that one should be proud to fight and die for their District. This beholds the Districts to the Capitol: they need the Capitol to be legitimized, which in turn strengthens the Capitol’s hegemony; it now owns both the bodies and minds of the Districts.

This is of course a colossal gamble on the part of the President. After all, beaten and trodden they may be, entering people’s children into a life or death lottery and then making them watch their kids get slaughtered is still a pretty hard sell. Because the effect of false consciousness was not sufficiently developed (in fact most seem to despise the Capitol and express their disdain fairly openly), it was not particularly dramatic when Rue’s District riots when she’s killed. Watching, I found myself thinking, “Why hasn’t this happened before?”

If Katniss is Theseus, then Snow is King Minos, the Capitol is Crete, and the arena is the labyrinth. But who/what is the Minotaur? It would be tempting to suggest the cruel Cato, but that’s slightly incomplete. On the one hand, it does make sense; Cato is groomed to be a Tribute, and is thus the Capitol’s monster much like the Minotaur was Crete’s monster, used to kill the Athenians that were sent into the labyrinth. However, the Minotaur was the inter-species son of Pasiphae, Minos’ wife. It was a Cretan. Conversely, Cato was from the Districts. Therefore, while the Minotaur was other to Theseus, and was part of the hegemonic order, Cato is Katniss’ socioeconomic equal.

This perpetuates the false consciousness that I referenced earlier. The Districts are now at war with themselves. The Minotaur is not the sovereign, it is yourself.  It is not the Capitol that is responsible for the inequality of the Districts, it is the Districts themselves, and in order to achieve transcendence, the poor must kill each other and sublimate themselves into the Capitol.

Enter Katniss.

Katniss is a hero not because she wins the game, it’s because she subverts it and the system it perpetuates. In the myth of Theseus, he is able to find and defeat the Minotaur with the help Ariadne, Minos’ daughter, who falls in love with Theseus and enlists the help of Daedalus, architect of the labyrinth (and coincidentally the contraption that allowed Pasiphae to fuck a bull, which birthed the Minotaur). Of course, Peeta – seriously, the son of a baker is named Peeta – falls in love with Katniss and helps her survive, but I wouldn’t make the Peeta-Ariadne connection. Rather, I would say Ariadne is the people of the Capitol. Ariadne could help Theseus because she was part of the system that oppressed him. Accordingly,  the people help Katniss by fawning over her, giving her gifts to help her along, which pressure Seneca to change the rules.  Likewise, Haymitch and Cinna are Daedalus-figures, as they are architects of the system, but also facilitate the people to help Katniss.

In the end, Katniss doesn’t defeat the Minotaur so much as she dissolves it. More specifically, she reveals that there is in fact no Minotaur at all, and that the real enemy is the Capitol. Firstly, Katniss forgives Cato by mercifully killing him before the dogs can eat him alive. Secondly, when Seneca tries to pull the rug out from under her and force her to kill Peeta, she calls their bluff and refuses to play the game. Seneca tries to make Peeta into the Minotaur thus perpetuating the false consciousness of the Districts; however, when Katniss sees that there is no real “winner” she strips the veil from the Capitol, shattering the illusion of the Minotaur.

As a subjective evaluation, I really hope Katniss doesn’t hook up with Peeta. That guy is a total pussy, and Gale seems best kind. I didn’t really buy the Peeniss romance. While it is fairly evident Katniss was performing in order to survive, I felt like Peeta was, too. The story seems to suggest that Peeta is sincere in his love for Katniss and that Katniss is friendzoning him, but it still struck me as odd. Peeta seemed opportunistic and was playing up his crush in order to ingratiate himself to the Capitol. Perhaps this will get cleared up in the sequels.

I also really like Arcade Fire’s “Abraham’s Daughter”

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~ by braddunne on April 26, 2012.

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