Review – The Hunger Games Movie

Photo by Mya Jamila

Photo by Mya Jamila

After all my obsessing over the trilogy, I feel I must at least give you some sort of review of the long awaited movie The Hunger Games. (Read my “review” of the books here.) First off, in situations like this, it almost goes without saying that the book was better than the movie. Both Jacquelyn and I were grateful for having read the books, so that we could fill in what the movie dismissed.

Overall, the film was good, exciting and entertaining, which is the most important part because “They just want a good show. That’s all they want.”  Lots of action and strong characters – loved Haymitch and Effie. The books are written in first person, from Katniss’s perspective, so the movie allowed us  to see what the book did not: what happened in the gamemaker’s room, the Seam and the other districts while Katniss was in the arena. I liked that! However, I missed hearing Katniss’s internal emotions, thoughts and conflicts; and I don’t believe the movie provided good alternative ways for viewers to understand her. I wonder how those who haven’t read the books are responding to her character.

My biggest disappointment was no surprise, but disappointing nonetheless. As expected, filmmakers feminized Peeta. In the book, he is not only physically taller, stronger and dangerously skilled with a knife, his entire personality is more self-assured, courageous and unflappable. Filmmaker’s traded Peeta’s original sense of integrity, determination and desire to protect Katniss for wavering emotions, fear, uncertainty and all the trappings of a love-sick schoolboy. In the film, he comes across as googly eyed over and dependent on the girl who must save him, but in the book he is her equal – equal but different.

I do not understand, nor will I ever, why Hollywood insists that all artistic male characters be emasculated. So he paints and bakes. So what? For heaven’s sake, I know a boatload of men, several in my family, who are artists, musicians, and cooks, and not one of them has traded in their manhood for an apron or a banjo. Believe it or not, they can handle both.

I must confess that weak male characters are a pet peeve of mine – just ask my best friend and our daughters, they can tell you all about it! There’s a whole list of male characters I won’t even tolerate – including, yes, the guy from The Notebook. Yuck! You can analyze it all you want, but regardless of what you come up with, half this world is populated with men and I’d like to keep it that way. No, I do not want women to rule the world! And, no, I do not want men to be more like my girlfriends! I want men to be men. And yes, they can be artistic and sensitive and good in the kitchen, without being stripped of their masculinity. Oh, Paula Cole, have you yet found the answer to your burning question…Where have all the cowboys gone?

I have one more question for the filmmakers and screenwriters (including Suzanne Collins who was not only the books’ author but also a screenwriter). Why in the world didn’t you use children to play the flashback scene where Peeta feeds a starving Katniss??? There is no excuse. NONE! And, I can’t help but add a correction for my readers and potential movie goers. In the book, during the flashback scene, Peeta  is a young boy who artfully burns the bread on purpose and endures a beating from his mom, hoping that his mother will force him to feed the burned bread to the pigs. She does, enabling him to sneak out back and give the bread to a young, starving Katniss instead. The movie took this strong portrayal away from Peeta by showing him as an uncertain teenager who threw leftover bread toward Katniss like she was a dog.  In the book, Peeta saved and sustained her, even when they were young –  a- beautiful picture of his character and love for her, that was completely lost in this ridiculous scene!

Finally, a word on the violence. I believe the filmmakers did a great job handling such a violent story for a young audience that included many grade school children. Personally, violence does not generally upset me as a movie-goer and so believe me when I say, the movie definitely pushes the boundaries of PG-13 when it comes to violence. All other content, however, was well within the bounds of the rating.

Even with all its imperfections, I still very much enjoyed the movie. I wiggled in my seat like a schoolgirl, waiting for it to start. And afterward, Jacquelyn and I analyzed the movie over the phone for two hours. Perhaps I am a harsh critic who likes giving her opinion too much, but there you have it, my feedback on The Hunger Games.

Hungry Anyone?

If anyone had told me a month ago, that my next favorite book would be about a futuristic society that punishes their citizens with high-tech, Hollywood style gladiator games, I would have thought they were crazy. But when my cousin showed me The Hunger Games movie trailer on his phone at Christmas, I was hooked before I even had the book in my hands! My daughter and I spent two nights reading it aloud to each other, alternating chapters. Shouting when it was time to trade the book, “Hurry! Give it over!” or if the person reading paused to catch her breath, “Keep going! Read! Read!” On the last night, we stayed up until 2:00 a.m. sustaining ourselves with granola and chocolate just so we could make it to the end. Which of course was only nominally satisfying….because it is a trilogy!!! We devoured the next two books in a matter of days.

A book that keeps me up at night is one thing. Lots of books keep me up at night. So how do I know if a book’s really gotten to me? If, when I get about 50 pages or so away from the end, I stop reading, because I just don’t want it to be over, don’t want to let the characters go. When I pick it back up, I take my time, savor those last few pages. Even with my daughter waiting anxiously to talk about the final book that she’d already finished, I read the ending slowly, mourning its passing with the turn of each page.

The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins, hardly lacks attention on the blogosphere. In fact, I may be the last blogger in the world to write about it. That’s why I am not going to give the standard review, critique the book or conjecture about whether this trilogy is a rip-off from a Japanese novel with a similar plot, as apparently some have suggested. (The one thing I have to say regarding those rumors is that good writing requires hard work, creativity and talent, and while these books might not rise to the level of classic literature, they are riveting. That doesn’t happen by accident.)

For those of you wondering if you should read the book, I will offer these general thoughts: Many people may be turned off by the overall concept, the graphic violence or the complete lack of anything spiritual in such a dark world, but the novel itself isn’t dark, like say The Golden Compass. The Hunger Games trilogy is about hope and the power of life to endure, spring up even, in the most neglected of places. If your kids read it, I suggest you read along with them so that you can discuss it together. My daughter and I are still talking about it!

So why am I really writing this post? What do I have to share of any real substance? Well, perhaps nothing more than to say this book confirms the relevance of Christianity’s message and the power of its imagery even in our post-modern world. I am not suggesting The Hunger Games is a Christian book or even that the author was using Christian themes. In some ways, I think Collins was avoiding religion altogether. Why else would she have created a society who faced death every day, but spent so little time thinking about the afterlife or searching for meaning? Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining! Just acknowledging that some of the treasures I found hidden in this book were likely not put there on purpose.

*Spoiler Alert* The next several paragraphs contain some spoilers. I tried not to give away too much, so I think you could read it without ruining the books or movie, but proceed at your own risk!

First, I find that the premise of the story – that a higher power, The Capitol, rules over the masses by deceiving, oppressing, enslaving and dividing them, causing them to fight one another instead of their real enemy, the sinister President Snow and his government – is not all that different than the spiritual battle depicted in Christianity. Are we not being deceived on a daily basis? Are we not oppressed by doubt, fear, self-righteousness, pride and resentment? Do we not war with one another, if not with swords and guns, then with words and emotions?

Then, there is the love story. Peeta, who represents hope, practically oozes all things good and light. He is a baker, an artist, a natural leader and a man willing to sacrifice his own life for the one he loves, Katniss. In fact, at one point he dies and – wait for it – comes back to life. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to spell this one out for you, but the material’s too good – I can’t not write about it.

At a pivotal moment in their relationship, when they are far from home and in danger of dying, Peeta gives Katniss a locket with pictures of her mother, sister and best friend, Gale. Gale, like Peeta, is in love with Katniss; however, Katniss is unsure of who she loves, unsure if she is even capable of love. While Katniss doesn’t know what she wants, Peeta is unwavering in his love for her. When she needs him, he is there. When she pushes him away, he loves her from afar. When she’s at her worst, he loves her anyway. As they look at the pictures of her family and Gale, Peeta offers Katniss his life, asking her to let him die in her place – he wants her to live, to be happy, to marry Gale and have a full life, even if that means giving her up, giving everything up. That, my friends, is sacrificial, selfless love – the truest form of love there is.

Do humans universally long for this kind of love? A love that sacrifices oneself to save another? If our music, movies, plays and books are any indication, then we must. Images of heroes surround us – heroes that can save us, from loneliness, grief, pain, danger, self-obsession, self-loathing, even death. So it should come as no surprise that so many people love these books. Whether we know it or not, the story stirs something deep within us.

Finally, as a baker, Peeta literally feeds and nourishes people in a starving community. This, I imagine, was no accident on the author’s part because he is ultimately the one who satisfies Katniss’s deepest hunger. I can’t help but smile a little at his name, which is actually a homonym for a kind of bread eaten by millions of people the world over. But I wonder if as Collins was writing Peeta, she considered the One who truly satisfies.

We, every one of us, are part of a Hunger Game. Only this is no game. This is real. Look around you. Think about it. Why are you here? Who’s really in control? Are you still a slave to the unseen powers of this dark world? Do you know who your enemy is? Are you hungry? Starving for the truth? Desperate for something…or someone to satisfy your soul?

He’s out there, you know. Your Rescuer. The One who said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” is all the food your starving soul needs. And He’s the only chance you have of getting out of this arena alive.