There are lots of reasons to love The Hunger Games movie – the acting, the fast pace, the special effects, the story. It is essentially true to the book and depicts the various layers of controversy and complexity. It’s all just as I imagined it.
There is one aspect of the novel*, however, that resonates more vividly in the movie than in the book – the political and cultural setting. In the book(s), we are immersed in the story itself and in the characters. We know that the capital holds the games to keep the districts in submission by reminding them of its power. We know that the games are represented as reality television. We know that nearly everyone watches the games intensely, the capital folks for general amusement and the district folks for the tiny hope that their respective representative might be the victor. The games are horrifying enough in the books, but the visual representation of them as reality TV with all its inane conversation and the trivialization of children’s deaths is simply chilling.
I used to think that Anil Kapoor in Slum Dog Millionaire was the sleaziest game show host I’ve ever seen, but he’s a standup guy compared to Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, the TV host of the games. His “sincere” interest and enthusiasm for the games, his booming laugh, and his chivalrous gestures belong to an Olympic event, not one in which children kill children. He embodies every game show host or local news anchor you’ve ever seen – handsome, charming, and vain, manufacturing interest, enthusiasm, or outrage as the story demands.
It’s all spectacle for the masses, the dystopian bread and circuses for a future society. Underlying it all is creepy President Snow’s admonition that the most important thing about the games is that it gives the people hope, and hope – just a little bit, not a lot – is what keeps them from rebelling. When hope is gone, there is real reason to overturn the government.
All good theatre makes us examining, for a moment, the human condition. It’s a mirror to our thoughts and behaviors. I’m hoping that English and social studies teachers will ignore the impending state tests for a few days and talk to their students about the book and the movie. It’s what we used to call a “teachable moment,” and they may even to better on tests with a better understanding of the role of government. At any rate, may the odds be forever in your favor.
*Published by Scholastic