The Hunger Games: American Archetype

BY CAROL LEE

As an avid reader and loyal fan of all literature captivating and unique, I immediately jumped on The Hunger Games bandwagon at my friends’ and even my 14 year old sister’s insistence. I found Collins’ ideas incredibly fresh and her characters poignant, especially Katniss who strikes me as an empowering female figure. I enjoyed Catching Fire almost as equally as I did the first book, and I didn’t hate Mockingjay (as many do). To me, the progression of the series toward civil war and more political content was necessary and inevitable.

When the movie was announced, I had mixed feelings: I wanted to see the story unfold on the big screen but was only too familiar with the likes of a failed movie adaptation (think Eragon, which I refused to watch after 15 minutes due to emotional and physical pain). On opening day, March 23, I entered the theater with a tentative sort of excitement and a moderate level of expectation. One large popcorn, an ICEE, and two and half hours of visual stimulation later, I emerged relatively satisfied; the movie rang true to the book, and the visuals were commendable.

The camera work may have been too shaky at times (I believe to minimize violent imagery and retain a PG-13 rating), but UCLA English professor Sarah Mesle finds this aspect of the film “effectively nerve-wracking” as a fight-to-the-death experience should be. She also notes the striking resemblance of the scene of Katniss running through the woods at the very beginning to that of the archetypal scene of Hawkeye in “The Last of the Mohicans”. Even the idea of the colony versus the capital is a large reference to American Revolution sentiments. The unity of the oppressed districts against a common “bad guy” (the Capitol) is a familiar theme within literature and film and as always, generates an audience response that roots for the underdog (Source of ideas: Mesle; unsure how to cite this). The filmmakers of “The Hunger Games” were able to successfully manifest these ideas into the visual imagery of the film, creating an inherent American awareness.

Katniss running from fireballs. From thehungergamesmovie.org, copyright Lionsgate/Murray Close

Professor Mesle also points out that the translation from novel to screen was quite faithful, except the film had a different focus, “shifting from the emotional experience of an angry, bitter girl to a political context about men, where men have the major stakes.” Female representation in media is incredibly important to me so I did feel a twinge of disappointment at the diminishment of Katniss’s strong feminine presence. However, I realize that this film must set the stage for the planned film sequels both to generate suspense and kindle audience interest. In this aspect, I found it engaging and successful.

As a member of the API community, I can’t ignore the blatant lack of people of color (apart from Rue, Thresh, and the people of district 11). However, I also can’t ignore that I enjoyed the movie immensely; I was most impressed by the successful book-to-film translation (usually a rarity), and in my opinion, the acting, script, and visuals were all excellent. Hollywood may have disappointed me again with its usual diminishing of the female perspective and its lack of a racially diverse cast in the film adaptation of The Hunger Games, but I still continue to hope that the casting calls for future characters (be it Finnick Odair, Joanna Mason, or Mags) are less rigid in terms of race. And now we sit back, debate furiously on which actor should be cast as Finnick, and wait impatiently for the November 22, 2013 film release of Catching Fire.

Further reading:
Ashley Truong’s The Hunger Games’ Casting and the Problem of the White Savior

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