Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Hunger Games Movie

I know it's really hard to find people sharing their thoughts on The Hunger Games movie so I figured I'd help you all out by sharing my thoughts!

I have to admit I've read a ton of reviews and feedback and this isn't really a review of the movie as a would be impossible for me to write such a thing, but rather a reflection on the way the two differ and adaptations in general.

First of all, I should say that I liked the movie. Some of the things I liked about it were the acting...the two characters I care about most, Katniss and Peeta, were great and honestly so was everyone else. I liked the way the Capitol looked and I liked the way District 12 looked--all of that worked for me. I cried during the Reaping and when Rue died and maybe during one of the scenes with Peeta and Katniss just because I love them so much. I had so many feelings watching this movie, because this is a story I love and have loved for a long time now and one that is near and dear to me as a shared reading experience and then suddenly it was becoming a shared experience in a new way via film. Yes I'm sentimental. As a story, I feel the film was a pretty faithful adaptation to the book, nothing truly significant was changed.

But thematically I think the film and the book diverge significantly and will continue to do so. I'm going to try to put my finger on why here and most of it has to do with two significant narrative choices they was to make this story bigger than Katniss by removing her narration and limited perspective, and the other is the handling of the Peeta and Katniss relationship.

The book The Hunger Games is told from Katniss's first person present point of view. This makes it really intense and it also invites the reader in to deeply experience the things Katniss is experiencing. I remember having some frustration with Katniss in the first book, a feeling I think is shared by some other readers, because at this point in the story she exists in survival mode only. She knows only one world, the world of District 12 and she isn't thinking about the things both Gale and Peeta are thinking about, because she doesn't yet know herself. This is kind of illustrated in the film with her conversation with Gale at the beginning when he says he might want kids if he lived somewhere else and Katniss is like...but you live here. The possibility of anything else is completely foreign to her. Later when she talks to Peeta and he says if he's going to die he wants to still be him, she's like, "I can't afford to think that way." Katniss is living for survival only and hasn't yet grasped that there are other ways of living. She doesn't know herself, in the way Gale knows himself or Peeta does.

Even while the film technically hits these beats, they faced the obstacle of explaining the way the games work, something Katniss does for the reader as they happen in the books. So in order to accommodate that, they show the way the game makers strategize, they show Haymitch wheeling and dealing for sponsors, they created scenes between Seneca Crane and President Snow in which Snow explains why they have a winner, how hope is more powerful than fear. It was this scene actually, that makes me nervous for the adaptation of Mockingjay or...maybe not nervous, but feeling like the film will fail to carry the same weight the book did for me. I think the films are ultimately telling a story about the revolution of a society and not so much the story of one individual girl, how she got caught up as a piece in others games, and the heavy price she pays as an individual for the revolution. So many of the things Katniss does that were subversive in the book have no effect in the film...I mean I can't help but wonder if moviegoers who haven't read the book would understand just how much they mean. I guess Katniss's loving care of Rue's body after her death results in a rebellion in 11, but they cut the gift from District 11, which also sort of weakens the connection between who Katniss is and what she represents to the oppressed districts. And at the very end when Katniss has the brilliant idea to play the game and she and Peeta threaten to eat the poisonous berries, I don't know everything about those scenes felt rushed and as such it lacked impact. And not just dramatic impact, but narrative and thematic impact. In fact, by giving Seneca Crane story, it stole from what this scene meant for both Katniss and Peeta. We saw the immediate consequences for him, but it was hard to see just how much all of that meant in the scheme of things, and why this act of theirs was so rebellious.

By pulling out of Katniss's perspective, we're robbed of the trilogy's essential transformation themes which begin with the individual. And I think we're also going to pay more consequences for that later on since Mockingjay, in my opinion, is a brilliant tale of the cost of war and revolution for the individual. Is Katniss transformed? Yes, but she's haunted forever by what has happened.

It also changes the dynamic because in the book everything feels very immediate and horrific. But in the film, because you're seeing the bigger impact of it all, you have more of a sense that things are bigger and it's hard to really nail down what that will come to mean for Katniss who is primarily concerned with the people she loves before thinking on a bigger scale. It's hard to get how Katniss comes to see herself as a piece in the game because you're watching how she is one.

Speaking of things feeling horrific, they just...didn't? I know they cut the violence for the rating, but it was hard to really grasp that kids were killing kids. Also, the the film mostly ignored the poverty of the districts, there was no urgency for food which weakened the impact of just how bad life was in the districts and also weakened the Boy with the Bread story.

Anna Jarzab
wrote a great rundown of the changes in the Peeta and Katniss relationship from book to film. I think this is one of the things that makes me the saddest because it was one of the more interesting ideas in the book. It's not just that I loved Peeta, it was Katniss's struggle to know if he could be trusted and her doubts that his feelings were real. It was the creation of a love story that was for show to Katniss and for real to Peeta and what that continues to mean throughout the books. All of this is missing from the film, and it makes sense that it would be a struggle to show that conflict for Katniss, but Anna is right that they could have had that ending conversation where Katniss reveals she did it all for the games. But they didn't. And while I think they had Peeta say he didn't want to forget as foreshadowing for Mockingjay, their relationship is just sort of left there, I don't know, I think they only plan to have Katniss feel torn between Peeta and Gale and never show all of the conflict and complexities of her relationship with Peeta which might ultimately be confusing and is certainly less interesting. And since the real/not real element to Katniss and Peeta's relationship serves the overall theme of the books, it's completely left out of the movie.

Having said all of this, I did really like the movie. I thought there were some nice touches, I thought it had heart and was moving. I just think that the book is going to be the better story ultimately because it engages a variety of ideas in a more complex way. It's really made me think a lot about adaptations, though, like how you can have all the same elements of a plot but end up telling a different story. It made me think of how people always say The Hunger Games is a rip-off of Battle Royale because they share some plot points, when to me, they are completely different books.

Did you see it? Did you like it?


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