Well, Doug requested an explanation and I am here to help. When the movie concluded, the first thing Doug said was, in fact, “I need a shower.” My one sentence response was a proclamation that The Hunger Games was a combination of The Truman Show, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Brave New World. I wasn’t joking. It fails to achieve the classic level of the Orwellian novels that I was compelled to read in high school, but if somebody had started chanting “kill the pig” at some point, I swear I would have started to have myopic teen flashbacks. That being said, times change and so do kids and what they relate to. Like Doug, I haven’t read the book, though the first in the trilogy has been lying on my dining room table for days, but I think Suzanne Collins and the other writers who worked on the screenplay, did essentially what they set out to do. I think it is accurate to say that Doug appreciates the subtleties in movies and when someone takes a message and pummels the audience about the head with it, the message may get lost in the general cacophony, but the point of The Hunger Games was not the increasing callousness that we have grown to accept in our entertainment; the point is the increasing callousness we have grown accustomed to in each other. At least that’s what I got from the film, but then, maybe I am an Hunger Games apologist.
Considering that Doug gave a pretty accurate account of the actual goings on in The Hunger Games, I feel compelled to talk a little more about the story and how it conflates so many dystopian universes I have read about and seen portrayed in films over the years. First off, even without reading the book, I have read this story before and you likely have too. If you’ve read George Orwell or Aldous Huxley – as I was required to in school – then you have read a better version of this story. If you watched the movie 1984, you have essentially watched this movie. Or better yet, perhaps you, like me, were required to read the rather horrifying short story “The Lottery” in junior high. “The Lottery” has almost the same plot as The Hunger Games; in order to secure a good harvest, a small town holds a lottery to pick a tribute to . . . who knows what, I suppose the god of good harvests, and then the townspeople stone the lucky winner of the lottery to death. There’s also “The Most Dangerous Game” in which a big game hunter gets bored with hunting animals, moves to an island where he can capture sailors and, once they are caught, he releases them onto his island and hunts them for sport. If they survive for three days, he releases them, but as the story opens, he’s never had anyone survive for three days. Probably, the most similar thematically to The Hunger Games, is Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which a war-mongering society is ruled by the cultish personality “Big Brother” and the “thought police” crack down on anyone who so much as thinks against the government. Similarly, to The Hunger Games, the world in Nineteen Eighty-Four is split into only a few factions, Eurasia and Oceania being the two at war in the book, and the people are distracted from their terrible and oppressive lot in life through perpetual war and government propaganda, much like the districts in The Hunger Games are cajoled into subservience through first, the threat and then, the pageantry of the Games and everything that comes with them. The main character in Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston is eventually arrested and undergoes reconditioning by the “thought police” after falling in love and starting to, most likely impotently, plot against the government. His reconditioning, of course, mainly consists of torture, both physical and psychological, until he eventually betrays the woman he loves, telling his captors to torture her instead of himself. That is the goal of the “thought police”; to torture love right out of Winston and the next time he sees his love, Julia, he holds nothing but contempt for her and she for him. They loathe each other and Winston has been so thoroughly brainwashed that he believes he has won over himself, conquering his “sickness”, and becoming loyal to “Big Brother.” If you want cynical, horrifying, and soul crushing, Orwell is your man and Ms. Collins ain’t got nothin’ on him. I say this all only to say that I have heard that kids are now receiving The Hunger Games as assigned reading in school and, as compared to what I read in school, I have to say, The Hunger Games was positively uplifting.
That is why it was most interesting to me that, when we left the theater, Doug described The Hunger Games as perhaps the most cynical movie he had ever seen. I can only assume that he has not watched 1984. I found Doug’s passionate dislike for The Hunger Games curious, for a lot of reasons, and gave it some thought after we left the theater. It’s interesting to me that Doug could name a movie like A Separation as his favorite film of the year, but then say that if he had gone to see The Hunger Games alone, he probably would have walked out. The opposite of cynicism is optimism and it is not like A Separation was brimming over with optimism. In fact, in my opinion, A Separation is probably the least hopeful movie released in 2011 or so far in 2012. Not that I wish to get into another The Tree of Life – style standoff with Doug, but he and I do disagree a little on the judgments, or lack thereof, made in A Separation. For me, too often, the movie presented characters who either did not know how to or chose not to make their situation any better. They are struggling only to try to present themselves in the best light and never to take responsibility or seek a resolution to their situation. At a most basic level, the overarching elements in A Separation and The Hunger Games are quite similar and so it did boggle my mind a little that Doug had such a negative reaction to The Hunger Games – a film that I found to actually be somewhat hopeful and certainly more optimistic than the dystopian society presented in the classic 1984. Given Doug’s reaction to The Hunger Games, I can only assume that had he gone to my high school, he would have dropped out – or been the cleanest teenage boy ever in existence – solely because of the assigned reading. The bottom line is that A Separation and The Hunger Games left me pondering the same question; how did these people let it come to this?? And that is exactly the point. In both films, you are dealing with stifling and oppressive regimes that maintain power through rigid and unrelenting control that we would like to think Americans would never allow ourselves to be subjected to. But like Orwell and Huxley before them, author Suzanne Collins and filmmaker Asghar Farhadi use their own points of view to try to present people actually in that “dystopia” and remind us all that, when you’re in it, all you want to do is survive. That’s a very human inclination and, I think, usually a pretty good one. However, whereas A Separation presents an all too real world with characters who respond to their conditions with the despondency of a resigned nation, The Hunger Games, the first part in an obviously fantastical trilogy, presents some stirrings of the human inclination to fight on, to “game the system”, in a good way of course, and, whether it be through revolution, resistance, or some other solution, to find some way, not just to survive, but to remain true to oneself through it all. That seems like a pretty optimistic message to me.
There, did I help, Doug?