I saw The Hunger Games on opening day. I waited in line with enthusiastic teenagers (mostly girls) and the parent who drove them to the theatre. Although the drivers were not overtly enthusiastic, I know they were eager to see this movie. They didn’t, after all, drop the kids off and head to Starbucks. Like me, they wanted to see if the movie was as good as the book. We were not disappointed.
I liked the book. It had an engaging plot and interesting characters. I read it rather quickly and it wasn’t until I saw the movie with the teenagers that I understood the importance of the story. It is more than simple entertainment for it has some pretty poignant themes. I hoped these were not lost on the young audience.
The Games themselves are essentially Reality TV. They are like Survivor where the losers don’t just get voted off the island; they get butchered at the Cornucopia. They are like Top Chef, where the main ingredient might be the tribute from District 4. They are like Fashion Star where Cinna gets offers from all three buyers. There’s even a brief nod to Extreme Makeover where the tomboy from District 12 is waxed and buffed, and this morphs into a What Not to Wear “reveal as the Capital audience cheers at the transformation. North American audiences are obsessed with Reality TV—there are literally hundreds of these shows. In The Hunger Games, we get a picture of what it is like to take Reality TV too far. But, when we turn to shows like Big Brother for entertainment, we must ask ourselves, “Haven’t we gone too far already?” If we will watch Toddlers & Tiaras, how far are we from watching twenty-four children kill each other in an arena with a camera in every knothole?
The film also interrogates the appropriateness of violence as a form of entertainment. It wasn’t that long ago that boxing was the most violent sport on TV and nobody I knew actually watched it. There were, of course, hockey fights and the choreographed violence of professional wrestling, but these are not nearly as violent as the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) which have a very large following today. Is The Hunger Games a violent movie? Yes it is. But this isn’t the most important questions. The critical question is, what does the movie say about the violence? Clearly, it doesn’t just censure the fights to the death; it is very critical of turning violence into a spectacle.
The third theme has to do with the injustice in a system where a minority of the citizens live a life of frivolous indulgence and consume the materials produced by the sweat and blood of the poor. The Games reenact what is occurring systemically in the world of the movie—the vitality of the residents of the outlying districts is consumed for the entertainment of the privileged. As ludicrous as we find the painted pets and sculptured facial hair in the Capital’s citizenry, how ridiculous is our indulgence in our pets and coifs to the world’s poor. Let me put it this way; the money I spent on seeing The Hunger Games, would pay to feed a hungry child in East Africa for a year.
It is my fear that the multitude of young people viewing this film will experience Katniss Everdeen’s victory in this year’s Hunger Games as mere spectators. Sadly, this would closely associate them with the citizens of the Capital, and not the Girl on Fire.