The Hunger Games

I finally saw The Hunger Games.  I had to wait until the initial furor passed so Bette and I could get adjacent seats.  I have read all three books of the series—of which I thought the first was by far the best—and was eager to see what they did with the movie.

Here is a truth I am just beginning to accommodate myself to: the movie you see is the movie you are ready to see.  Here are some of the themes I was ready for.  The courage Katniss showed helped her to prevail even in difficult circumstances.  Kindnesses showed (Rue to Katniss and Katniss to Rue, for instance) can make unexpected differences in the outcome.  An evil empire can sustain itself for a long time with the ritual humiliation of the provinces provided there are “Peacekeepers” around for the few times humiliation doesn’t work.[1]  True love will, in the end, conquer all obstacles.  The transition Katniss makes from Diana, the goddess of the hunt, to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, is amazingly effective.

I liked the movie.  I thought it added some very good information to the story the book offered.  The tech specialists in the booth targeting the fireballs and placing the beasts and rejoicing in their artistry—that was a good touch.  Seeing all the engaged participants at the arena is a lot more powerful than reading about them, especially watching them suspend briefly their taste for gore so they could enjoy a really stirring teen romance.

The book is much more subtle about a lot of things.  It is narrated in Katniss’s voice, so it can give us a lot of the anger and the self-doubt and the ambivalence that are hard to portray visually.  Because Katniss sees Peeta[2] more fully in the book, we see Peeta more fully in the book.

The movie I saw was the movie I was prepared to see and I regret to say that it was a movie about U. S. imperialism.  I wasn’t happy about that, but it is what I saw.  The gross discrepancies between life in the provinces and life in the Capitol really rocked me.  In Book 1 and in the movie, only the dissipated and avid, the fans of haut cuisine, haut couture, and violence (and their slaves) live in the Capitol.[3]  These people have no appetites except for vanity and entertainment; their rulers have no appetite except for dominant power.  It is those traits that make necessary the life in District 12 to which we are introduced first.

The gaps between rich and poor in the United States are among the worst in the industrialized world, east or west.  I remember the images of “poverty” that were broadcast and published when JFK “discovered” poverty in West Virginia in 1960.  He was surprised because he had been living in the Capitol.  It has gotten a lot worse since then.  Take a look at Richard Wilkinson’s richard_wilkinson.html .  It is seventeen minutes long, but the first 5:30 will make his point.  If the link doesn’t work for you, go to, type Richard Wilkinson in the search bar and click on the first video on the list that comes up.

Here’s an account of some food differences.  Katniss’s stylist, Cinns, is not presented as a bad guy, but the life he knows is the life where a fabulous lunch appears when you touch a button.  The appearance of this lunch causes Katniss to reflect on it this way.

Cinna invites me to sit on one of the couches’ and takes his place across from me. He presses a button on the side of the table. The top splits and from below rises a second tabletop that holds our lunch. Chicken and chunks of oranges cooked in a creamy sauce laid on a bed of pearly white grain, tiny green peas and onions, rolls shaped like flowers, and for dessert, a pudding the color of honey.

I try to imagine assembling this meal myself back home. Chickens are too expensive, but I could make do with a wild turkey. I’d need to shoot a second turkey to trade for an orange. Goat’s milk would have to substitute for cream. We can grow peas in the garden. I’d have to get wild onions from the woods. I don’t recognize the grain, our own tessera ration cooks down to an unattractive brown mush. Fancy rolls would mean another trade with the baker, perhaps for two or three squirrels. As for the pudding, I can’t even guess what’s in it. Days of hunting and gathering for this one meal and even then it would be a poor substitution for the Capitol version.

What must it be like, I wonder, to live in a world where food appears at the press of a button? How would I spend the hours I now commit to combing the woods for sustenance if it were so easy to come by? What do they do all day, these people in the Capitol, besides decorating their bodies and waiting around for a new shipment of tributes to roll in and die for their entertainment?

The politics of imperial control was familiar to me as a Cold War phenomenon.  I know we still maintain alliances in order to protect what we call our “national interests,” but the process isn’t as clear to me now as it was then.  We rationalized our support for the most brutal dictators because, as the more candid members of the foreign policy elites would say, they were “our dictators.”[4]  But I didn’t hear President Snow say anything, in public or private, that does not echo U. S. foreign policy themes.  It’s what you do and what you say when you have an empire to manage.  It’s not for the squeamish, we are told, but somebody’s got to do it.

The fashions that were prized in the Capitol were much worse in the book than in the movie.  You’d think it would be the other way around, but I think the director looked at the possibility of just filming the outfits described in the book and deciding he just couldn’t sell them visually.  They are made much more outlandish, of course, because we are introduced to the story through the eyes of District 12, the coal mining district.  Still, with unlimited money and no goals other than to outcompete the men and women you know who will show up at the games, these grotesqueries are what will result.  If that doesn’t look at all familiar to you, take some time to look through a really hard-edged fashion magazine.  The best I could do here is the contrast of the “dressed up in her mother’s dress” Katniss and the way over the top Effie Trinkett.  There is a level of U. S. society that really IS the Capitol and the money to do that comes from all the District 12s over which we maintain economic, political, military, and cultural dominance.

Let me conclude by reminding you and I liked the book and liked the movie.  I did not go to see the movie in order to see the pictures I did see or to be reminded of the contemporary realities I was reminded of.  But when I left The Hunger Games, I wasn’t hungry anymore.

[1] The name “Peacekeeper” recalled to my mind the U. S. “Peacekeeper” MX missiles, of course.  If “keeping the peace” is the only goal of policy, intercontinental missiles ought to do it.

[2] Great name for a baker’s son, I thought.

[3]  The ordinary hard-working men and women who will nevertheless be killed when the Capitol is overtaken by the rebels will not show up until Book 3 and my guess is that they will not be seen at all in Movie 3.

[4] The most readable account I know about from this era is John Kenneth Galbraith’s “tract” The Triumph, which was almost certainly intended as a sent up of Dean Rusk, Kennedy’s then Johnson’s Secretary of State.  Rusk himself was a charmer.  I saw him win over an auditorium of hostile young people by saying that he had been raised in a southern town so small that it didn’t even have a village idiot and everybody had to take turns.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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4 Responses to The Hunger Games

  1. Melisa says:

    I just finished all three books in the series…Started with the Hunger Games because I wanted to read it before seeing the movie and then I couldn’t stop until I finished the last book and got an ‘ending’, at least the ending that I was ready to have. I think the last book really ties everything together. I feel like I am still processing the book(s). Thanks for the post! I really agree that there is so much symbolism about todays society that do not make the book so exagerated….

    • hessd says:

      They are page-turners for sure, Melisa. I took a few months off after the first one because I was entirely out of control. The geopolitics of Panem got wrapped up, certainly. For Peeta and Katniss, I thought there wasn’t enough left of them to be together in any meaningful sense. As much as I approved the turn of plot that gave them children, I couldn’t realy believe it.

  2. Bill says:

    “…the movie you see is the movie you are ready to see.”

    I too saw the movie and have since read the trilogy. I like the movie and I liked the books. I went to see the movie because enough people in my life told me I should. Especially young people, teens and young adults. I have been surprised by the movie they were ready to see and it has affected my sense of the movie.
    The Sunday after the Saturday I saw the movie, I met with our confirmation class, 11 15-year olds. They saw a strong girl – an idea that the promoters of the film readied them to see. They saw a world where tech is used for evil, but they did not connect that to their ubiquitous iPhones at all. One of them said it was an imaginary future that will never happen. Another said that it might. But they thought it was nice that the theater suggested that they all bring a can of food to donate and help fight hunger.
    It is a good movie and they are good books. But the Capitol really just wants to keep us entertained.

    • hessd says:

      I wonder if those books will give you a chance to talk to the 15 year olds, Bill. That would be wonderful. I agree completely about the Capitol wanting to keep us entertained. I am reading Sherry Turkle’s “Alone Together” about human and robot interaction and especially what it does to us. It is beautifully written, but it engages me in the nightmares your 15 year olds missed.

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