Some random thoughts that occurred to me as I was watching the latest Hunger Games movie this afternoon.
Panem evokes the Roman Empire so deliberately that it cheapens its own sense of novelty. The sense of a Circus Maximus when they parade the various tributes in their horse-drawn chariots. The Arena in which the Hunger Games are conducted echoes a modern Colosseum. The idea of combatants as celebrities mirrors reality exceptionally well. The President is a president in name and (apparently) an imperator in function. The feasts where the guests vomit during its course so that they may continue feasting. The gaudy fashions. Even the notion of the Capital and the dowdy provinces is very Roman. As is of course, the inevitable provincial rebellion by the barbarians and the sack of the glorious city.
Someone should perhaps have a quiet word with the screen writer about structuring stories. This one started pointlessly, meandered around for 30 – 45 minutes in which nothing of note happened and contained no obvious closure upon its completion. I understand this is the middle book in a trilogy, and so by definition it has a lot of ‘middle’ in it, but at the same time it was capable of having a story arc within in that would carry the audience. This was a movie that could be described as (i) these are the consequences of Movie 1 and (ii) this is the background for Movie 3 and 4. Star Wars did most of that with some scrolling narrative on a screen. Lord of the Rings had Bilbo tell a few tales at the beginning. Maybe Hunger Games needs to have someone set the scene rather than laboriously show it to us.
Why is the imperator / president so stupid? Does he not realise that crushing people with increased oppression whilst they still have hope will encourage not discourage a revolution? Why is he making these decisions based on casual chats with one person (Plutarch) without recourse to any other advisors (who is new in his job, which has nothing to do with national security, and no proven track record) and his own intelligences services and armed forces? After all, those armed forces seem highly competent. Sure its economy of story telling, but it makes President Snow seem monstrously stupid rather than terrifying for someone who has absolute power.
What happened to air travel? How come the country is dotted with trains which cross the country yet no one flies? Flight is possible, and often used quite casually it seems for other reasons but no one thinks to fly the Tributes from district to district. Opulent luxury trains are an odd choice.
Katniss Everdeen is a caricature of female strength. I see her more of a feminised Rocky or John Rambo rather than any true standard bearer for the power of the feminine. The movie makes a great point of her being rather emotionally dead on the inside from seeing too much bloodshed. For all her skill, strength, bravado and supposed leadership, the movie exposes her at its end to be a pawn of a conspiracy of men. A conspiracy so important that she couldn’t be trusted with it, even though half her supposed opponents were inducted into it. A conspiracy run in part by a drunk and a pretty boy. So much for all her supposed prominence and importance. She comes across as a figure head, the ceremonial lead fighter in the battle, but not a military leader and certainly not the great political leader.
At the same time, I find her character an interesting reflection on the question of sacrifice. Katniss faces the choice between greatness and happiness, in a way that I suspect many great people do but is torn between the choices. Decisive action, perhaps history defining options, are offered to Katniss and she is determined to avoid them. It takes the conspiracy to force her hand.
Peeta is without doubt a wet rag of a man, as many people have mentioned to me, and much of Katniss’ behaviour towards him seems senseless. She is emotionally distraught for someone she doesn’t consider to be even a friend. But we are told early on that she is required to deliver a convincing performance in this greatest love story. Is she playing this up to the expectation’s of President Snow or is she genuinely upset at what is going on? We are constantly reminded how convinced President’ Snow’s little granddaughter is by the grand love story so it does suggest the later. Is it also perhaps a case of how pretending to do something for long enough can make it become real?
I have a degree of sympathy for Peeta. Robert Heinlein once memorably wrote:
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-Robert A. Heinlein
And in some of these things Peeta is many miles ahead of Katniss. His grasp of strategy obviously exceeds hers, pointing out the obvious effect of killing the enemies is inevitable conflict between the survivors. He is able to comfort the dying, in a way that Katniss manifestly regards beyond her capacity. He remains calm under pressure, speaks where Katniss is speechless, leads the way and comfortably follows orders. He may not be a man like Katniss is, but he is in a distinct way, perhaps a more modern way, a man. He is not the alpha male that Katniss is.
How the hell does Beetee have access to this giant spool of wire that is able to conduct lightening, yet be so super thin? On the other hand, it was pretty obvious the moment that there was lightening and they showed you Katniss shooting arrows into the roof, that the required spool of wire was going to be found. Especially since they went far far far out of their way to make it clear that Panem was having trouble keeping the lights on.
Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, feels like what Owen Wilson would be as an actor, if Owen Wilson were ever to stop playing the same character all the time and learn how to act. I highly doubt that will ever happen.