I believe that this is a dangerous book, an allegory of free-market capitalism’s corruption of youth’s innocence, portraying the way that market forces push young people into mercenary survivors who will do whatever is required to survive. The correlation between this televised Battle Royale and high-stakes testing, with all its Darwinian aspects, was not lost on me. That Suzanne Collins’ story has become popular in the age of RTTT gives me hope, since it suggests that a significant number of my fellow citizens (and the young adults to whom the book was targeted) are noticing the way that youth in America have been undermined.
The movie, which I saw tonight and whose sentimental parts made me cry, does a faithful job of showing the book’s incendiary sub-textual message–in one sequence particularly, in which the members of Rue’s District 11 revolt when their child is mercilessly killed by a member of a more privileged class. It reads as if a member of the 99% had been slaughtered by a 1%-er, and to drive home the point, James Newton Howard‘s emotional score swells, and our heroine, Katniss, mourns Rue’s heartless death in heart-rending sobs. In a way, The Hunger Games is a propaganda film for the Occupy movement. It shows how the culture of survival-of-the-fittest has perverted our youth, and it invites the audience to become angry along with its protagonist.
I did not particularly care for the rapid-cut, hand-held camera style of the movie, but I felt the film-maker did a good job of getting the narrative across. I very much felt like I could believe in the lower-class heroine, Katniss Everdeen, portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence, although I wish she had been a bit more emaciated (hungry-looking). Still, her unconventional beauty compelled my attention, and when she expressed herself in looks and gestures, I felt I could totally read her feelings.
The book, which I read back in 2010, has some extremely subversive messages that the film preserves, more or less. Here are a few from the book–
On the material basis of affection:
“Sometimes, when I clean a kill, I feed Buttercup the entrails. He has stopped hissing at me.
Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we will ever come to love.”
On the need to retain one’s authenticity in a time of mass conformity:
“I want to do something, right here, right now, to shame them, to make them accountable, to show the Capitol that whatever they do or force us to do there is a part of every tribute they can’t own. That Rue was more than a piece in their Games. And so am I.”
On the worst sort of political oppression–that targeting the youth:
“It sends out a very clear message: “Mess with us and we’ll do something worse than kill you. We’ll kill your children.”
On the corruption of public officials:
“Most of the Peacekeepers turn a blind eye to the few of us who hunt because they’re as hungry as we are for fresh meat as anyone. In fact, they’re among our best customers.”
On how the 1% lives:
“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 rill in and die for their entertainment?”
That a film like this is #1 at the box office this weekend gives me some hope, suggesting as it does that young people may be realizing that, like the “tributes” of Panem, they are pawns in a crooked game, one that has them running from high-stakes tests to student loans to material-based careers, and that instructs them, from the start, to see their fellow young people as adversaries, not fellows. Reading Collins’ book, and lining up to see this movie, they are expressing themselves like the silent people of District 12 in the book, who by saying nothing are saying “we do not agree. We do not condone. All of this is wrong.”