As the premiere of The Hunger Games movie closed in on me last weekend, I decided to make a virtue out of necessity and instead of trying to cram the book into one late-night session, I decided to see the movie first to judge it without any preconceptions.
My eldest daughter (18) and my youngest son (12) came with me to the screening yesterday. The daughter had read the books and loved them, and my son had read the first book but was lukewarm about it.
We all loved the movie.
Warning: If you haven’t seen the movie or read the books, now would be the time to stop reading this post because I’m venturing into spoiler territory, though the major ones are behind the jump.
I’m not sure what genre this movie falls into, beyond just calling it a drama. It plays out in many ways like a Greek tragedy, which isn’t surprising given that the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur served as inspiration for Suzanne Collins, author of the book and co-author of the screenplay.
It’s a serious movie and yet a very human movie, and by the time Katniss was traveling to the Capital, I was in tears.
I was surprised that the theme is such a serious one and that the movie resisted the impulse to make Katniss “badass.” She’s a very scared but very brave person trying to stay alive with everything against her, even the puppeteers pulling the strings of the Hunger Games. In the same vein, the action isn’t played for entertainment but is instead solemn and serious. Death matters and it hurts.
In short, the theme of Collins’s novels (so I’m told, anyway) came across very clearly: Death is not entertainment, nor are children entertainment, and certainly the melding of both is something vile. It becomes clear by the end that all of the tributes know this, even the ones out for glory.
I didn’t find the plot hard to follow. Elements that came across clearly: the hunger in District 12, that extra tickets in the Reaping are tied to buying food, that Katniss had to be the parent in the family because her mother wasn’t capable, and that she respected Gale because he was also a caretaker. Gale’s action in swooping up to grab Prim at the Reaping showed exactly why Katniss was drawn to him.
One touch I thought was brilliant was the short film shown at the beginning of the Reaping which explains the backstory of the world in about sixty seconds. Of course, I got a little distracted when I realized that Donald Sutherland was narrating the film, but his voice carries innate authority and added to the history lesson.
Katniss was afraid — anyone would be in her situation — but that she’s intense and also deeply angry at having to live the way she does comes across clearly. Jennifer Lawrence is magnificent and carries the movie.
On the love story, I thought the movie did well with actions in showing why Gale was someone Katniss respected. There wasn’t a lot of heat in their scenes but it didn’t seem like there should be. We see them on the day they’re facing the Reaping. That’s enough to tone down any hormones. Instead, we see why she trusts him.
As for Peeta, if Lawrence embodied her part, Josh Hutcherson was perfect as a solid guy trapped in a bad situation knowing there’s only so much he can control but determined to hold onto that little bit of control, whatever the cost. Katniss won’t let herself even think about whether she cares for Peeta because she knows that to survive, she’s going to have to kill him.
But in the course of the game, he saves her life twice — putting his life on the line to do so — and then when he’s wounded, instead of going to her for help or trying to take down the others with him, he quietly goes off to die. He’s true to himself, always.
Katniss and Peeta isn’t exactly a traditional courtship. It doesn’t need to be. It only needs to be clear why, at the end, Katniss can’t kill him, not even to save herself.
More than that, he understands, in a way no one else could, what she’s feeling and experiencing.
This is exactly what you want in a romance in such a realistic movie. It’s not what they say for each other, but what they do for each other.
Peeta isn’t a killer. He never could be, and he showed Katniss that she didn’t have to be one, either. It’s hard not to love someone, in a very deep way, for that, whether there’s physical attraction or not. It didn’t matter if they were playing up “star-crossed lovers” for the audience. It’s clear these two, in this movie, couldn’t betray each other.
However, the end of the movie leaves it open as to what Katniss feels because it’s clear she wants none of her new life and just wants her old back. Peeta is her new life. Gale is part of the old one.
The shot of her face at the end is haunting because Katniss is just realizing that she can’t truly go home again. And the only one who can understand that is Peeta, not Gale. I may not have read the other two books, but if she ends up with anyone, I’d bet it would be Peeta.
What did the movie lack?
I wanted a little bit more of the other tributes, maybe just another thirty to sixty seconds of their interviews the night before the games. I especially wanted more of Rue because it was unclear to me until her death that she wasn’t just playing Katniss so the older girl would kill the others for her. Apparently, I’ve seen one too many evil children movies. (Hello, Damian…)
The single strongest moment for me was after Katniss covered Rue with flowers and held up her hand, both tribute and silent defiance. That single moment said it all about Katniss’s feelings for the games and the Capital. I loved the reaction shot in the district, and I understand that’s not in the book. I was guessing the original rioter might have been Rue’s father.
The one unclear moment was the flashback with Peeta feeding bread to the pigs. I couldn’t tell at first if he was snubbing Katniss, if he chose to feed the pigs and not her, or if he’d not noticed her at all and when he finally did, threw what was left. And whether he had snubbed her or not is important to what goes on between them before the games.
To sum up, the world made perfect sense to me, I cared about everyone, and I was at the edge of my seat most of the time. I could write a huge paper alone on how the plot kept the tension going by providing small goals along the way. First, Katniss must learn to present herself. Then she’s got to prove something to those running the show. Then she must get past the interview. Then, the games and the various obstacles to overcome. It’s perfect pacing and conflict.
At this point, I’m not sure I want to read the books, because the movie was just that good and I’d be busy comparing it to the book. That might stunt my enjoyment of the story the movies will tell.