Monday, 26 March 2012
May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favour
On Sunday morning, I went to the cinema to watch The Hunger Games. Sunday mornings are great for going to the cinema on your own; I have a shocking concentration span for films and am ridiculously easily distracted. The emptier the cinema is the more likely I will watch the film and follow the plot.
I won't say too much about the film in this post: Juliette at Pop Classics writes brilliantly (as always) about it. It differs significantly from the books in some points (as Juliette points out, the complicity of the people of Panem in the continuation of the Hunger Games, and also in the lack of mutant spy animals created by the Capitol to control the population among other aspects) but I think the adaptation was very, very good.
The book is told in the first person by Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen year old girl living in District 12 (the former Appalachia) in Panem (what remains of the United States of America after an apocalypse). After an unsuccessful uprising 74 years before the events of the book, each district is forced to send a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to fight to the death in a televised battle, the Hunger Games. Katniss volunteers to be District 12's Tribute after her little sister Prim's name is drawn, the first time that she is eligible to be entered into the Reaping, where the tributes' names are drawn from the lottery.
This is a rich, complex book. Suzanne Collins has said that the inspiration came from channel surfing, where she saw coverage of the Iraq war and flicked over to a reality TV show. There are also many parallels with classical myth- Theseus and the Minotaur, where the Athenians are forced to send 14 young men and women to the labyrinth to appease the Minotaur. However I was most struck by the Roman elements: the Roman names of the Capitol- dwellers (Cinna, Seneca, Caesar, Flavius, Coriolanus, Venia, Octavia), the name Capitol, and the Bread (Panem) and Circuses (Hunger Games) approach to controlling the people.
The inequalities are stark in the book: even in a poor District like District 12, the poorest (like Katniss and her best friend Gale) have a greater chance of being selected than Madge, the mayor's daughter or baker's son Peeta, the male tribute of District 12, as the poorer young people enter their name multiple times into the lottery in exchange for a portion of grain or oil. Katniss explains several times that starvation is not uncommon in the Seam, the poorest quarter of District 12 where she lives.
On the other hand, in the richer Districts, where food is more plentiful, young people have been trained from a young age to fight in the Hunger Games, and they usually win. However, they are not used to hunger, like Katniss and little Rue, the 12 year old tribute from District 11. Katniss's prowess with bows and arrows and snares, from years of illegal hunting to supplement the meagre food her widowed mother can provide, and Rue's experience of climbing to harvest fruit, stands them in good stead.
Peeta is far more aware than Katniss of the need to play up to the Games audience's desire for narrative, but Katniss is also constantly aware of the cameras in the Arena where the Games take place. This makes for an incredibly tense read, I found. This link with our society's obsession with reality TV, fame and celebrity makes this a powerful read.
The film is fantastic, but I recommend the book as well, for readers 10+. Both are gory, but not explicitly so. It might be good to read along with your pre-teen child, to discuss any issues that crop up for them.
The title of this post comes from the slogan said by several officials of the Hunger Games. It reminded me of what gladiators reportedly said before combat: "Hail Caesar, we who are about to die salute you".
The District 12 scenes in the film brought this song to mind: Michelle Shocked's the L&N Don't Stop Here Any More. I think it was because the setting reminded me of the 1930s depression, and because it is the coal mining district.