Dystopian futures and Fight’s to the Death are Child’s Play.
When The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins was first published in 2008, it shot to the top of the Amazon best sellers list. Now with the release of the film, it has taken its place up there again along with the sequels that complete the trilogy, Catching Fire and Mockingjay.
The Hunger Games tells the story of Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year old girl who lives in an unspecified but not too distant future. In this world is the country of Panem, which used to make up the United States of America. Panem is divided into districts that are numbered 1 through 12, all of which serve the Capitol which is ruled over by the tyrannical President Snow. 75 years prior to the setting of the story, the districts rebelled against the Capitol and lost, resulting in District 13’s destruction and the creation of the Hunger Games. Every year a male and female aged between 12 and 18 are randomly selected from each district and are required to participate in a televised fight to the death, thus asserting the Capitol’s dominance over the poverty stricken districts and serving as a constant reminder that the districts should not rebel again. There can be only one victor. When Katniss’ younger sister Prim is selected as District 12’s female tribute, she volunteers to take her place, facing almost certain death in order to save her family.
As well as the best sellers list, The Hunger Games also made it in to the list of top 10 most frequently challenged books of 2011, moving up from 5th place in 2010 to 3rd. Surely the release of the film and the resurgence of the books popularity has contributed to the rising in the ranks of banned books. It is amazing then that such a controversial book which is, admittedly, aimed at younger readers, spawned a film with only a 12a certificate. Did the adaptation withdraw some of the content that has made the book ‘unsuitable’ for its target audience or has the film remained faithful to both the book and the author who appears to be of the opinion that young readers are mature enough to deal with the issues tackled in her dystopian tale?
On the initial reading of The Hunger Games it was apparent that the story was as much about romance as it was about tyranny and oppression. Of course Collins could have just been cashing in on the success of the Twilight novels by introducing a love triangle into an otherwise uninspired story, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. The complicated relationship between Katniss, fellow District 12 tribute Peeta, and her childhood friend Gale is as compelling as the main plot to survive the Games. The sometimes lengthy portions of the book that are dedicated to developing Katniss’ difficult relationships also serve as an ice breaker, a lull in the story that gives the reader some time to calm down from the almost constant suspense caused by the time spent in the arena. This is not true of the film however, possibly due to the fact that the film has more pressure to be set up for sequels, the love story takes a back seat in favour of more time spent surviving in the arena.
For such a violent story, The Hunger Games (Ross: 2012) shows a distinct lack of gore. It stands to reason that to remain in keeping with the films 12a certificate, actual physical violence would need to be kept to a minimum. Viewers of the film are witness to tributes in the arena taking arrows and spears to the chest but what is lacking from these potentially troubling scenes is any sign of actual blood. While it is ethically questionable to show children bleeding to death in films, this is exactly what is happening, and by neglecting to show this the anti-totalitarian message of the film is somewhat nullified. This isn’t to say that the film should be considered tame; one scene shows Katniss fleeing a group of male tributes. These tributes, from districts 1, 2, and 4 are known as careers since they treat being selected for the Hunger Games an honour, and relish the sport. The intensity with which they follow her is reminiscent of certain scenes in A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick: 1971), and as such are very disturbing. The scene comes across almost as sexual perusal and concern for Katniss shifts from being for her life to being for her innocence.
So while the book, and to a lesser extent the film, deals with issues of loss, tyranny and mutilation that some people may find inappropriate for young readers and viewers to experience, the content is treated in such a way that it is accessible to younger people. Katniss is identifiable to female and male readers alike and the love she constantly expresses for her family in both mediums of the story is a perfect counter argument to for the ‘quick to judge’ readers who challenged this tale for being anti-family. The book was also challenged for being satanic or of the occult; however there is no sign of this is in either the book or the film. Simply put, it is a story of a corrupt and often barbaric government system that has strong allusions to states in the world today. If the story has message then it is that one person, however insignificant can make a difference. This is relayed in both the novel and the film and far from being something that children and young adults should avoid, it is a notion that should be embraced. Words by Daniel Buckley.