The Hunger Games is the strange and particular kind of movie/book pairing that makes you aware of the way in which it is easier to get drawn into a book that has fundamental issues with believability than into its movie version, simply because watching a movie is more passive than reading a book; it leaves more room to question things in the part of the brain that isn’t active in following the story. This is especially true because The Hunger Games is a first person narrative, and it loses something in its shift to the screen. Katniss is not a subtle character—she is all virtue and strength, all altruism, committing the kind of sacrifice that morally implicates everyone around her in a reimagining of her social order, and without the small window into personhood that the first person lends her she is flat. She is not a person. Katniss is feminism without nuance, an answer to a call for a new kind of heroine that is really just a rephrasing of the question, and at the end of the series, it seems likely to me that readers were just as invested in the resolution of her love triangle as they were in the outcome of the rebel force she lead to insurrection.
The premise: we find ourselves in a dystopia future nation called Panem, once fraught with war, that now keeps its people in check and reminds them of their uprising by requiring each of twelve districts to submit a child as “tribute” to fight to the death each year. In a twist that makes things seem as much like a Paul Krugman opinion column as a children’s book, everything is shaped by an undercurrent of class warfare; in the poor outlying districts, children enter their names multiple times in order to get a payment of additional food from the government, while in the capital, where everyone is dressed like a contestant on Ru Paul’s Drag Race, people eat their fill so many times over that they use pills to induce vomiting so that they can continue eating.
There are parts of this movie that are difficult to suspend from questioning; ignoring their silliness is an active undertaking. It is very difficult to take a love triangle seriously when the participants have the names of kinds of bread and Upper West Side Jewish ladies. Lenny Kravitz makes an appearance in this movie, his outrageous outliner-wearing career at an all time high and his career career at an all time low. He is very distracting. Mostly he just seems like he wants to bone Katniss, which is off-putting because I imagined him as a gay dude. But then again, I refuse to get upset about characters being depicted differently than I imagined them, because that would make me no better than the people on Twitter who complained “why does Rue have to be black not gonna lie kinda ruined the movie” and wrote that because the little girl was black, they no longer felt moved by her death. This would make me lose all faith in the people of The Internet if Reddit hadn’t done that for me a long time ago.
The Hunger Games was a silly book and a silly movie but it got some things right. Its popularity proves its own point in a smart little way, which I think is epitomized by the following exchange. I was walking with a friend over spring break when several angelic little girls on the street behind us began talking excitedly about the movie. Their conversation went partially as follows:
Little Girl 1: And then all the children fight to the death! They’re our age!
Little Girl 2: That’s terrible!
Little Girl 1: Exactly! That’s what makes it so exciting!
As much as it may have been a strange experience to listen to a seven-year-old talking about kids killing each other with such zeal, she had a point. This movie is good because it’s fucked up. Which is funny if you think about it, because in a way that makes us just like the people in the capital, enthralled by all the violence but rationalizing it because we are rooting for the right people. Just like the Mormon undertones in Twilight didn’t turn anyone Mormon, the message of class warfare and dissent will probably not turn millions of thirteen-year-olds into Occupiers of Wall Street; they will probably just go from watching future, dystopic reality TV to current dystopic reality TV on Bravo. Suzanne Collins got that much right.