Just when I thought I was out, she pulled me back in!!!!!!
This movie review/conversation stuff is all getting very serious, isn’t it people? I promise you that Sarah and I will be reviewing movies at some point purely for their entertainment content. Really, it will get fun. But trying to convince each other what we do and don’t understand about the movies we do and don’t like is big fun, too.
I figured I had two options in relation to Sarah’s explanation for why The Hunger Games was a good movie. I could either shrug my shoulders and say, “OK” and shuffle along down the road. Or I could be Doug and engage.
Since I’m Doug, I am choosing to engage.
In fairness to Sarah, I probably should have been more specific about what I needed some ‘splaining about. Because while her breakdown of how The Hunger Games mirrors classics such as Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World and Carrey’s The Truman Show was spot on, I kinda, sorta already got that part of it. Throw in a dash of, as she mentioned, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”, “The Most Dangerous Game”, maybe a sprig of Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Orwell’s Animal Farm and, more recently, the Japanese Battle Royale, and we’ve got a pretty good rundown of what The Hunger Games picks and chooses from as source material. While I will admit to never having read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, much to Sarah’s surprise I think we may have had the same reading lists in school, because everything else she mentions I have read and almost all the way down the line, enjoyed a lot as a kid and teen. “The Lottery”, which I will mention in a bit, was a personal favorite of mine in middle school. In fact, my wife and I were out after seeing The Hunger Games and I told her maybe I would go home and read the far better version of Hunger Games, “The Lottery”. A truly brilliant short story.
The irony of Sarah mentioning the laundry list of works that The Hunger Games is based on is that part of my disappointment in the movie was that the stuff she mentions is all so much better and deeper than The Hunger Games (I will continue to reiterate throughout that I’m talking about the movie, not the books). Again, she mentioned “The Lottery”. It’s the first thing I thought of after seeing the movie. The writer of that story, Shirley Jackson, funnily enough talked a lot about perceptions after the publication of that story. She told stories of the letters she received after writing “The Lottery”, and how she was amazed at how almost universally the early letters regarding the story completely missed the points she was trying to make. Jackson talked about how people were infuriated by the dark message they saw in the story, while missing the larger themes entirely. So, I apologize to the makers of The Hunger Games, Installment One if I didn’t get it, and I promise not to write them any hate mail.
We’ve established that The Hunger Games takes from a lot of stuff. It’s not the point of the story, or what it’s supposed to be “about” that I needed some ‘splaining on, though. In fact, after seeing the movie, I would actually be moderately interested in reading the Hunger Games books, because I could see some very, very faint sketches of pretty interesting themes that I would imagine are better explored in the book than in the movie. No, what I need some explaining about was why the movie didn’t do a better job, or maybe the ways the movie did do it better that I missed. My problem was that the movie barely connected me to the characters. There was just so little emotional investment. My sister reacted to my comment about wanting to take a shower after seeing the movie with a perceptive response. Which was, that’s pretty much how you’re supposed to feel after seeing this installment. And I get that. Again, I assume the story ends in overall redemption and comeback for the repressed. The more disgusted you feel with the situation, and the more connection you feel with the oppressed, the more uplifted you feel when they finally overcome. I’m not being sarcastic here, these are classic themes that done well are usually right up my alley.
The problem for me is that I didn’t feel like I wanted to take a shower because I was disgusted by the world the characters lived in or because of what was being done to them. In the end, I wanted the shower because I felt like, not completely but to a large extent, there wasn’t enough done to make me feel anything for any of the characters or their plight, other than to a very tiny extent Katniss. For me, the movie largely failed in coloring in the details, so all I really had left was a bunch of faceless kids being plunked down to kill each other. I know there is more to come in future installments, but watching this first installment purely on its own terms, it had me feeling like The Hunger Games was uncomfortably closer to, say, Stone Cold Steve Austin in The Condemned (go ahead, look it up) than it was to 1984 or “The Lottery”. Or even The Running Man. If that’s all the movie was shooting for, OK, I’m over analyzing it. But I’m pretty sure it was trying to get across a lot more than that.
It largely comes down to perceptions and points of view and here is where I did get something out of Sarah’s response. She made some great points about the similarities between A Separation and Hunger Games. Sarah did not necessarily dislike A Separation, but her reaction to that movie was different from mine largely, I think, because she is bothered on some level, generally, by movies that present people who “settle” or “give in” to their situations. I would counter by saying that the point of A Separation is that most people, most of the time do the best they can and aren’t giving in or rationalizing but simply battling the best they know how. Not all situations are created equally and sometimes a person’s best isn’t perfect or even good enough. Not everyone can shoot an apple into a wall with a bow and arrow from 100 paces. But the point here is that, really, neither one of us misread A Separation. We’ve simply reacted to it differently. There’s no way we can “convince” each other to see it any other way than how we saw it. There aren’t “right or wrong” answers when it comes to this stuff.
So while I disagree with Sarah’s take on A Separation, I completely understand it. When it comes to The Hunger Games, I get why she compares The Hunger Games to all the stuff we all read in high school. There are similar themes there. But I don’t get out of her response why The Hunger Games actually deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as all of this other stuff quality wise. I know what the themes are, but what actually makes the first Hunger Games movie (which is what we’re talking about, not The Hunger Games books, just this first movie) effective in presenting those themes? And if the answer is that I have to wait for the next three movies, well isn’t that a clever way to get an extra $30 out of me?
In the end, to a large extent, The Hunger Games is the old story of everything old becoming new again. Maybe I’m just an old codger that thinks “my” version of this stuff, like “The Lottery”, is better and can’t be topped. This type of writing done for teens is always more exciting when you feel like you are discovering it for yourself the first time. For sure, I wouldn’t be as affected reading “The Lottery” for the first time today. And twenty-five years from now this story will be rehashed and the kids of today will say, “This sucks compared to The Hunger Games.” I’m probably being too hard on this movie. I probably hoped for too much. So, I’ll just chill out and stop being such a party pooper. It’s still a super cool phenomenon, and cool that kids and teens are so into a story that in the end, I assume, presents an uplifting, you can do it message. Remember, kids, never give in to The Man. And particularly for young girls, what could be wrong with having a character like Katniss to attach yourself to?