The Hunger Games Movie

I, like many others, braved an incredibly crowded movie theater to watch The Hunger Games this weekend  Here’s my rundown of the experience.

The movie did these things really well:

  • Illustrating the material differences between the Capitol and District 12.  The Capitol was as opulent and over-the-top and District 12 was as poor and coal-mining as I had imagined when reading the book.  I think this is one of those points that is far easier to show in pictures than in words.
  • Showing the manipulation of the Games by the Officials and government.  The war room where they conjured up fires, muttations, and more was a really great way to demonstrate both how the Games were a television show manufactured for entertainment and how the government had a direct role in manipulating the tributes into using violence against one another.
  • Rue’s death.  I was sobbing at this point of both the book and the movie and I think the movie did an excellent job portraying one of the most heartbreaking scenes of the book.
  • Effie Trinket.  She was a surprising source of comic relief throughout the early part of the film and in the books she annoyed me.  It was really necessary to have her moments of lightness in a movie that was so dark and heavy.

What the movie did not do so well:

  • The romance.  I will say that it must have been very difficult to try to show Katniss’s complex feelings for Peeta.  However, they didn’t do a very convincing job on the romance front at all.  I did not get the impression that Katniss was faking it with Peeta.  In fact, I didn’t feel like Peeta was even that into Katniss.  The overall chemistry between Katniss and Peeta fell flat, for sure.  I didn’t walk away rooting for them to work it out, like I did in the book.
  • The girl on fire dresses.  Ok, I admit that going into this movie I knew I would probably be disappointed by the special effects for these dresses because fake fire is notoriously bad.  This movie proved no exception.  Those dresses are best left for the imagination, I think.

Some side notes:

  • My husband refused to believe me that this movie was hyped to the nines and that even on Sunday at 10am, in the Bible Belt it would be crowded.  We ended up sitting three rows from the front and his sore neck will be like me constantly whispering in his ear “I told you so.”
  • Some of the scenes were nauseating.  Especially the tracker-jacker hallucinations.  If I had wanted to pay money to feel nauseated, I’d have bought a plane ticket or a ticket to Six Flags.
  • I joked to my husband that we needed to make some Team Peeta shirts for the movie. He, just to be contrary, claims he is Team Snow and tells me not to hate the player, hate the Games.
  • Gale is hotter than Peeta.  I was all Peeta all the way in the books.  But Gale’s good looks might change my mind where the movies are concerned.
  • I lent my copy of The Hunger Games to my sister.  So excited to convert her!
  • Overall, I liked the movie and thought it represented the book pretty well.  The pacing was a bit problematic, but that’s why the book is always better than the movie 🙂

So, tell me, how was your movie-going experience?  What did you like/dislike about the movie?

Violence and Dystopia

Today I’m talking about violence in dystopia.  If you would like to read more of my thoughts (and some insightful comments) on the dystopian genre: check out my posts about the present popularity of dystopia and the role of the strong female hero in dystopia.

**As a warning, I have to use a couple spoilers in order to actually talk about this, so beware if you are concerned with spoilers about The Hunger Games, Divergent, Partials, or the Chaos Walking series.**

Dystopia is a fairly violent genre and that violence in dystopian lit seems to span a range of cultural notions about violence.  Since this post would be out of control if I talked about all of them, I want to focus on the relationship between violence and government in dystopias.

First, we see governments using violence as a means of social control.  In The Hunger Games, for example, the Capitol pits its citizens against one another in a fight to the death in order to retain its tenuous control over the districts.  Having the districts direct their violence towards one another serves to prevent the districts from turning their superior manpower and resources into violence against the Capitol.  In Divergent, the Erudite and Dauntless leaders conspire together to turn the Dauntless into a mind-controlled army who will kill off any resistance.  This allows the Erudite to rebel against the established order without getting their own hands dirty and also gives them access to the best, most obedient soldiers.  Can’t get much more social control than mind control.  In Partials (which I am about 3/4 of the way through), the Senate launches “rebel” attacks on their own town.  By doing so, the government tries to scare their populace into unity (and thus compliance with unpopular fertility measures) by creating a shared enemy.

These pictures of government-sanctioned violence shouldn’t come as much surprise, since we have seen plenty of violent governments in recent history.  What is interesting is that these examples do not (initially) involve the government directly inflicting violence on its own people, mainly because no one dares to rebel against the government’s order in these societies.  Rather, the government requires/forces/prods its citizens killing one another to distract from their actual discontent with the government.  This sort of violence seems to serve the purpose of reinforcing how corrupt, unjust, and dystopian these societies actually are and to justify the next government-related type of violence– war or revolution.

The Hunger Games trilogy and the Chaos Walking trilogy both feature all-out revolutions/wars (I am leaving off books in incomplete series because the wars haven’t started yet).  This is probably the closest that dystopian violence gets to being regenerative… in that it is used to regenerate society and set it on the path to a new, more peaceful and just order.  At the same time, however, the individual characters suffer tremendous loss and personal suffering as a result of war violence.  Katniss may gain the hope of a new future without famine and the games, but only at the cost of losing her sister, her spirit, and Peeta’s sanity.  Todd and Viola may save the New World from self-destruction, but Todd ends up in a coma, tons of innocent people and Spackle are killed, and perhaps worst of all, Todd is forced to lose his innocence through killing another person.  The price of violence is incredibly high in dystopian societies and often it is incredibly senseless.  I can’t think of a better incident of senseless violence than when Aaron kills Manchee in The Knife of Never Letting Go.  In the end, though, we are given the message that this violence is justified and worthwhile because it results in the ousting of a unjust (and often violent) regime.

The ultimate message, then, seems to be that violence is both contextual and costly.  Violence for no reason or for means of social control is bad, but violence in support of revolution is ok… though either way people will die, lives will be changed, and not necessarily for the better.

Feel free to share your thoughts on dystopian violence in the comments!

More thoughts on dystopia: The Strong Female Hero

My thoughts on the popularity of dystopia are here.

In grad school, I took a course where we tried to answer the question of why cowboys and the American West were so prominent in 20th century American culture.  One of the most convincing answers was that the cowboy gave boys a template of masculinity in an era where masculinity was put to the test by industrialization and women’s entry in the so-called public sphere.  In West of Everything, (check that out if the Western is of particular interest to you) Jane Tompkins claims that girls like herself identified with cowboys because pop culture of the 20th century (until probably the 80s or 90s, at least) didn’t offer an equivalent female hero.  The women in most Westerns are either virginal brides or prostitutes; they are there to either save or serve the men.

All that to say that I find it pretty remarkable that dystopias, as a new cultural phenomenon, often feature strong female heroes that both boys and girls can identify with.  Heroes like Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games or Tris from Divergent seem to embody a more modern idea of femininity which encompasses success in both romantic and interpersonal relationships and in a career or other non-familial/romantic areas.  If being a woman in today’s culture means “doing it all,” then we certainly see a girl like Katniss living up to that ideal.  She is able to juggle the more traditional female roles of a romantic relationship and caretaking of her sister and mother with the more modern female (or perhaps even masculine) roles of breadwinning and fighting a war.  She best displays this “doing it all” femininity when she is in the first games– she takes care of a sick Peeta while in the midst of fighting the other tributes and struggling for survival.  She is caring and compassionate and strong and violent all at the same time.  I can’t even express how awesome I think it is that kickass, complex, do-it-all female hero is this popular in today’s culture.

At the same, however, it is really interesting that while the strong female hero is gaining popularity in dystopian novels and movies, some government officials are working to restrict access to reproductive control for women.  Some dystopian lit actually deals directly with the restriction of women’s rights (The Handmaid’s Tale and When She Woke are notable examples which come to mind), but I have yet to read any of those so I can’t comment on them.  Is the strong female hero we see a response to these threats to restrict women’s rights?  Probably in some cases, but I think it is also likely a representation of the plurality of feminine identities in modern society.  After all, Katniss is popular in the same time and space as Bella Swan, a female lead derided by some for her lack of strength, personal convictions, and individual identity, as well as her deference to the men in her life.

What are your thoughts?  Why do we see the rise of a strong female hero with dystopia?  How do you think the strong female hero relates to gender roles and issues in contemporary society?

Dystopian Fever

I, like many others of you, have been hooked on dystopian lit lately.  Even my husband, who reads fiction very sparingly, told me yesterday that he needs to finally get through Brave New World.  I told him I’d been thinking the exact same thing.  (I foresee a trip to the bookstore in our future!)  My friends who haven’t heard the term “dystopia” loved The Hunger Games and gush about it on facebook (the only reason I picked up the books in the first place, I am not a trendsetter).  Apparently dystopia is such a trend that even NPR is reporting on the explosion in dystopian lit being published.

So, the historian/cultural studies person in me asks… what is going on in this cultural moment* that makes post-apocalyptic and dystopian stories so appealing?

In the NPR article I linked to, Lauren Oliver, author of Delirium, is quoted saying that in dystopia lit, “The young protagonists are inheriting this kind of dark and broken world, and with a little bit of pluck and courage, try to navigate it and try to salvage some kind of a happy ending. And I do think there’s a lot of parallels to how young people kind of feel nowadays as they’re confronting this future that’s very uncertain in this country economically and they’re inheriting what they see as kind of a broken world.”

I agree with Oliver’s assertion that dystopian lit is appealing because of the economic uncertainty of our times. In addition, I would add to the list of reasons why dystopian lit fits right now our increasing dependence on technology and our increasing awareness of environmental issues, social inequality, and political nonsense.  It doesn’t seem that far-fetched right now to imagine our world being destroyed as a result of greed, social or political upheaval, environmental ruin, or technological disaster.  There are a multitude of contemporary issues– unemployment, political polarization, women’s reproductive rights, energy supplies, fracking, the higher education bubble, social inequality, big government, religious freedom– that could, if taken to their extremes, drastically change the way we live now.  What would happen if we let these things get the worst of us?  Dystopian lit offers some cringe-worthy answers, for sure. I like to think, though, that most dystopian tales are also empowering and hopeful.

Dystopian protagonists have their work cut out for them.  People they love die.  People they love are lost to them.  They have to grow up too quickly.  They face life-threatening situations.  They have to make choices that no one envies. But often there is a glimmer of hope in seeing these young heroes fight the establishment, fight for right, and fight to heal their broken world.  These are young people standing up for what they believe in!  These are young people fighting to make a difference no matter the personal cost!  Those are some pretty awesome heroes and role models, if you ask me.  Who doesn’t want to imagine that the human spirit and love can persist even in the most daunting circumstances?

So while we may relate to dystopian lit because it portrays a world similar to our own, I think we love it because it presents us with some really worthy heroes and gives us all a little hope that we can mend the problems we face today.

What do you think?  Why are we so fond of dystopian lit right now?  Is this a trend you are in on or are you hoping for it to pass quickly?  What are your favorite dystopian novels?

And if you are looking for even more books to satisfy your dystopian fever, here is a list of Hunger Games Readalikes that I found helpful!

*I just want to be up front and say that I write my opinions as an American, so some of my conclusions may not ring true for other parts of the world.