Why I love The Hunger Games
When I first saw the Hunger Games it was in every conceivable place that you might find a book. However, I usually am not one to pick up bestselling books just because they are bestsellers, and usually I wait until someone I know whose literary tastes I respect reads it first. Such was the case with The Hunger Games for me. I went about my business as usual and the books sat on the shelves of every bookstore, wal-mart, and grocery store in town, and I would walk by without giving them any notice whatsoever.
That would all change when I found myself reconnecting with an old friend from high school, someone who shared my obsession with anime and had accompanied me to many of my favorite movies in high school (so I knew she had good taste in stories!). She then invited me to her birthday party, which happened to fall on the Friday of the opening weekend for the movie. She had not had the same relationship with the Hunger Games that I had but was at this point a huge fan of the series. Thus, her party was a lovely supper she prepared based on dishes featured in the books, and following the supper and cake we would all go out to see the movie. About four of us went together, her, me, my boyfriend, and another friend. I thought the movie was philosophically and politically interesting and also just a really great story. My boyfriend had a problem with the shaky cam, admittedly one of the biggest problems with the move, but it didn't bother me as much. A few weeks after seeing the movie, I purchased the books on my Kindle. So far I've only read the first one, and I thought I should stop at this point to review it now, because if I read ahead much further in the series my review will probably contain more spoilers. There may be a paragraph at the end about the ending of the first book/movie though, so look out. I guess. I'm not the kind of person honestly who gets bent out of shape about "spoilers", because to me I often am able to enjoy a story even when I know the ending, because how they get to that ending is what matters to me just as much. I mean, you might know Donnie dies at the end of Donnie Darko, which I did when I first saw that movie, but that movie didn't lose any of its beauty or "wow" factor for me just because I knew that about it. Anyway, back to the Hunger Games.
The Beginning: Grime and Despair are Contrasted With Decadent Wealth
The beginning shows that in the universe of this movie, economic inequality is at levels that would horrify even the most staunch supporter of social Darwinist capitalism. I think though really, all it's doing is taking the misery and cruel conditions the United States afflicts some parts of the world with in exchange for our wealth, prosperity, and peace back home, and puts those conditions on this continent, in the spotlight.
I was reminded of The Time Machine by H.G. Wells in which a distant future is envisioned by the 19th century writer wherein the poor and the rich have sort of devolved into animals; the rich are indolent and, having everything given to them without the need to work, think childishly while the poor are monstrous killers that live underground and prey on them as food.
The Hunger Games envisions a future where inequality is not that drastic, but getting there. The people in the Capitol of Panem do not work in factories, farms, or mines like the workers in the 12 Districts. Instead, they wear bright colors, have the weirdest fashion trends and obsess over things like parties and looking good. In short, the people of the Capitol are kind of like how Westerners must look to people from poorer countries, or the way the rich people in New York and L.A. sometimes seem to rural Americans like myself. Every economic activity is highly regulated. The people of the Districts are kept poor and ignorant and powerless by the Capitol. Their education is made to revolve around a particular industry (The main character Katniss' District specializes in coal mining), they are not allowed much contact with the other Districts, and The Hunger Games is held every year and has been for 75 years to remind the Districts about the horrors of war that would be the consequences for them should they rebel against the Capitol.
Let The Games Begin!
The Hunger Games randomly select 24 children between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete in a gory, agonizing fight to the death that can leave only one victor alive. Children who are among the poorest of the poor can choose to add their name into the lottery extra times in exchange for a tessera, which is a ration of food and oil. Katniss did this to save her sister and mother from starvation. When her father died in a mine explosion (well, implosion/ cave-in, I guess) her mother became catatonic and depressed, leaving Katniss as the primary breadwinner for her family. Since Katniss was fiercely protective of her sister, Primrose, Katniss was the one who took the tesserae, refusing to allow Prim to enter her name any more than once. However, when Katniss was 16 and her sister was 12, on the first year Prim would have been a candidate, Prim was selected. Shocked and afraid to lose her precious sister, Katniss volunteered as "tribute", to go and fight and try to win in the Hunger Games in her place.
For the first time, Katniss experiences the richness of Capitol life firsthand; hot showers when she never had hot running water before, maid service, and the most delectable foods she'd ever tried. She also learns that in the Capitol, looking good is prompted. To survive in the arena, not only will she have to study combat and wilderness survival, but she will have to prove to an audience that will be constantly watching her every move that she is worthy of aid in the form of gifts sent from the sky from "sponsors". Like Pip from Great Expectations she receives gifts from a mysterious benefactor, but she needs them to survive and before the games even start, she has to earn them. She has to show the mysterious "game makers", the body of judges in charge of the games, her special combat ability (in her case, archery, which she learned from her father and perfected over time by hunting illegally in the woods for game to help her family survive). The real challenge to Katniss however, is the interview: she has to be primped and polished and rehearsed and go on national TV to make herself, in less than 5 minutes, look like the most desirable and popular candidate to win the Games, as that is what will entice sponsors to donate items of value to her in the arena later.
The Romantic Plot
At this point, those helping Katniss along through the interview process realize the only way to make Katniss, with a relatively dull personality, leap up in popularity with the audience: during his interview, Peeta, the boy from Katniss' district, confesses his love for Katniss! This shocks the audience into being unable to forget about Katniss. The audience of the Games is suddenly caught up in this fake "starcrossed lovers" plot, and Katniss goes along with it for survival although she never had any romantic interest in Peeta, and hardly even knew him back home. Although, she did remember that as Peeta was the baker's son, he had given her bread once when her and Prim were starving, even taking a beating from his harsh mother over it.
In the movie, it wasn't as apparent to me that Katniss was faking the romance with Peeta, but from the books, it's obvious that it was all a lie, at least on her end. Peeta had true romantic feelings for Katniss, but she was in love with her best friend, Gale, who had been her hunting companion for a long time. I think she also was trying not to get attached to Peeta because she knew that according to the rules of the Games, either he would have to die or she would.
The Ending (Spoiler Warning!)
Despite the fact that the strongest players teamed up to attack her specifically, Katniss ducks and dodges various hazards put out by the game makers, barely making it but somehow managing to stay alive, befriending a little girl named Rue who reminds her of Primrose and reminds her of why she's fighting, only to watch her die. She hears a cannon whenever someone has died in the arena, and the number of tributes alive decreases by the day.
Midway through this, she hears a puzzling announcement; now the game makers have allowed a rule change wherein two tributes from the same district could win together. She then realizes Peeta and her do have a chance to make it through the Games together and both could emerge as victors. However, Peeta hasn't got an ounce of Katniss' wilderness survival skills and is badly wounded when she finds him, as another tribute, Cato slashed his leg with a sword and left him for dead. He has managed to evade the other tributes and live this long only through cunning camouflage. As with Rue, however, Katniss is motivated by compassion to care for him, hiding him in a cave, tending to his wounds, and hunting so they can both survive. Then they hear another announcement: each of the remaining tributes (I think at this point there are only four left) are being given something they desperately need back at the place where the Games started, a big metal um... thingy called the Cornucopia. The idea is to make the games more interesting by drawing all the Tributes to a single area to fight it out for the items. Katniss knows what lies there for her; Peeta is in desperate need of medicine, real medicine, and all she has are herbal remedies from wild plants that aren't doing anything, and Peeta doesn't have much time (or blood) left. Peeta doesn't want her to go to the Cornucopia, knowing she'll be risking her life, but with a gift from her sponsors, she's able to drug Peeta and make him sleep for a day while she goes off to grab the medicine for him. She's successful in this, but as soon as Peeta recovers due to the medicine, the Game Makers throw another challenge at them. The dogs.
In this post-apocalyptic world, the Capitol has a history of genetically altering the wildlife and using biological warfare. The creatures they come up with are known colloquially as muttations. Mockingjays were from a bird called jabberjays the Capitol originally intended to be used as spies, birds that could repeat back human voices they've heard. The birds, all male, were released into the wild, but they ended up mating with mocking birds and forming a new species. The muttations were given more time in the book than the movie, but I think they were fascinating.
Anyway, the dogs they send after the remaining tributes are also muttations. They are strange wolf-like creatures with human-looking eyes; they specifically were given eyes and hair colors and faces designed to resemble the tributes that had died. This particular horror of the Games was something I didn't remember noticing in the movie, but the book deals with this shocking twist; in the end, the remaining tributes are left to re-confront all those that have died, as monstrous beasts.
Peeta and Katniss survive by climbing to the top of the Cornucopia, and the last tribute remaining alive is finally killed by the dog-like monsters after a long battle. Actually, he is so badly wounded that he begs Katniss to shoot him with her arrow.
At that point, it would seem that the ordeal for Katniss and Peeta would be over and they should be celebrating. But the announcement comes saying that there really can only be one winner. Since these games are all about firmly reinforcing the power of the Capitol, the game makers probably never intended to bend the rules, they just did this to create drama by forcing the last two remaining tributes to be from the same district, giving a more dramatic finale to the games.
Katniss and Peeta both happen to have poisonous berries with them at this time, because Peeta accidentally picked them and almost ate them before Katniss remembered they were poison and warned him about them. They each proceeded to take out a berry, show the cameras, and were going to eat it. The mutual suicide was an idea Katniss came up with to deny the game makers a victor and the Capitol audience the pleasure of seeing one of the "star crossed lovers" be forced to smash the other's skull in. Just when they were about to eat the berries, the game makers announced the rules were changed back, the games were finished, and the pair were declared the victors.
Why I Love The Hunger Games
It's obvious that the book is better than the movie. The book has more important details and the cinematography of the movie is well, shaky. However, there were many things the movie got right; if they were trying to draw in interest for the books, they succeeded. The costuming and set design was spectacular, the Cornucopia looked dazzling, futuristic, and original. The people in the Capitol looked like a field of wildflowers, each costume in the crowd was more impossible and wealth-showing than the last. The Capitol audience looks like a swarm of cosplayers or Lady Gaga fans.The scenery takes your breath away, from the dense greenery of the forest, the glittering modern marvel of the Capitol, the set designers also expertly captured the misery and grittiness of District 12. The costumes from District 12 look sort of like they're plucked straight out of Little House on the Prairie, and I love seeing Hunger Games as a dark, edgy, more futuristic foil for Laura Ingles Wilder's happier, more nostalgic narratives. I liked Katniss as a hero too, because while she was definitely strong and brave, she was motivated by compassion and love even in a world that demanded that she make very tough moral decisions in order to stay alive. It was amazing that she volunteered for Primrose, allied with Rue even though she was undoubtedly the weakest participant, and helped Peeta stay alive even though she didn't necessarily love him back the way he loved her.
Another thing I like is guessing at the symbolism of the story. 12 is a number loaded with symbolism, from the 12 apostles of Jesus to the 12 labors of Hercules. However, what I connected to the Hunger Games most was that there are 12 signs in the zodiac, and Sagittarius, with a centaur archer as its symbol, is the sign occurring in the twelfth month.
This story has everything; a romantic plot with twists and turns, a story about political dominance and class struggle, and a kill-or-be-killed story of heroic survival.