The Problem with the Hunger Games

Add The Hunger Games to the endless list of films that everyone knows are about something, but no one can agree on what.  Unfortunately, The Hunger Games  only has one clear message: there are good people, there are evil people, and it’s okay for good people to kill bad people.

[Yes, this entire post is nothing but spoilers for The Hunger Games.]

The Hunger Games has many opportunities to ask many fundamental questions about what makes us human, about the nature of good vs. evil, about desperation and survival, friendship and betrayal.  And while it is cleverly ambiguous in terms of what political stance it’s taking, there is no question that Katniss is doing the right thing every time she kills a person.  Not only does she kill a number of people without showing any remorse or conflict, but every person she kills is not regarded as being a peer, another cog in the machine, or another pawn hopelessly being played.  No, she kills every one of them as if they are an instrument of evil… and the audience is meant to feel the same way.

We know from the very beginning that Katniss is who we are rooting for.  It’s hard to say why, other than that she is on the screen the most.  She’s anti-social, rude, condescending, self-righteous, and she breathes through her mouth, Twilight-style.  We are told that she is one of the few good people in The Hunger Games.  The rest are “career” tributes, expendable extras, or nice people who she wants to protect.

Can anyone explain to me why no one in these teen movies knows how to breathe through their nose?

The Career tributes are the most troubling.  They are a group of other teens who a) are all good looking and athletic, b) hang out with one another and for some reason do not kill one another, and c) are absolutely terrible at the competition.  At one point, four of them go to sleep at the bottom of a tree, with zero plan to protect themselves or even post someone to watch for the night.  So… Career Tributes are not only really evil, but they’re also really stupid.

Career Tributes. They want to kill you, which they have no right to do, so you have to kill them, which you have every right to do.

Katniss and Peeta kill a total of five people between the two of them.  Every one of these deaths strikes to the very heart of what’s wrong with The Hunger Games: there is no concept of humanity or moral ambiguity in any of these deaths.  In every instance, we have a good teenager killing a bad teenager.

Bees: Katniss gets her first kill when she drops a nest of bees on four sleeping popular kids.  The bees swarm one of the girls and kill her in the most graphic death scene in the film.  Katniss spends the scene hallucinating, having convenient flashbacks that fill in the gaps of some of her past, and prying a bow out of the dead girl’s hands.  The death is oddly glorified, and Katniss seems to be completely indifferent to it once she wakes up from her flashback nap.

Rue: Rue is the real opportunity for the story to get disturbing and thought-provoking, and to actually ask some real questions.  What would happen if it came down to Rue and Katniss?  Or Rue, Katniss, and Peeta?  Obviously, it would be a lot harder to root for Katniss if the last act consisted of her chasing down Rue and killing her.  But Rue’s death is just another example of the cheap, shy-away-from-the-dark-stuff storytelling that powers The Hunger Games.  Rue is a nice little girl who did not deserve to die.  The guy who kills her is apparently a completely evil Career Tribute who was working together with all the other Career Tributes as part of some conspiracy to kill all the good people first and then kill one another.  Katniss takes the guy down immediately and does not give it a second’s thought, but then creates some elaborate funeral ceremony for Rue.  The only thing I could think during that entire scene is “well, that’s convenient.”  What was Katniss’s plan?  Save Rue’s life so that she will have to kill Rue herself later?

Rue’s death gets even more baffling when you get to the Katniss vs. Another Evil Girl fight scene toward the end, during which the Evil Girl basically wins the fight and spends a few minutes monologuing about something, including that she was proud to have killed Rue.  Then the District 11 Tribute comes out of nowhere and kills Evil Girl and lets Katniss go.  The really baffling thing here is okay, so that girl really was evil, huh?  She deserved to die, didn’t she?  It’s good that the District 11 guy came and killed her.  Oh, I didn’t realize he’s a good guy.  Hmm, I guess that makes sense.  Obviously, the bad guys will kill him so that Katniss doesn’t have to.

Then Peeta and Katniss accidentally kill the red-headed girl when she eats their poison berries (foreshadowing.)  Next, they fight with Cato for a really long time and then they kill him too by feeding him to future-wolves.  Cato does a little I’m-The-Bad-Guy monologue before getting torn apart.

Thus, Katniss has managed to skate through the entire book/film without every making a difficult decision, a mistake, or even taking any responsibility for her actions.  She does what she has to do, but nothing she has to do is anything more than black-and-white, they are bad guys so they deserve to die.

The Hunger Games ends up having pretty much the same message as Taken: Kill everyone. They deserve it. (Not that I dislike Taken, but that’s not a kids movie.)

It’s a scary mindset, and a very dangerous one to be teaching to teenagers.  Should young people really be reading and watching a story where the idea is that some people are just plain evil and it’s okay to kill them?  Isn’t this the exact mindset that is causing so much trouble in the world today?  Isn’t this the mindset of terrorists, violent protestors, politicians who demonize their opponents, and school shooters?  And here we have a book and film suggesting that it’s okay for children to kill other children, because some children as just evil?

Twilight might advocate rape, manipulation, and teen dating violence, but The Hunger Games could be just as dangerous by advocating that some people simply deserve to die.

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4 thoughts on “The Problem with the Hunger Games

  1. Darren

    thanks, you just articulated some of what i felt after seeing this today. abhorrent idea for a YA film, made me sick watching it even though the camera conveniently shook and blurred its way through the violent scenes.

  2. thanks for articulating some of what i felt when seeing this tonight. abhorrent idea for a YA story, especially as it seems to skip over any examination of the themes. and the camera conveniently shook and blurred its way through the violent scenes, which meant the viewer was absolved of any responsibility to feel or examine the violence in any depth either.

  3. Pingback: The World Needs Bad Men: How the Bush Era Caused the Anti-Hero Wave that Gave Rise to Trump – What Would Bale Do

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