Movie Monday: The Hunger Games

March 26th, 2012

I cannot remember a time my heart has pounded so hard during a movie. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m partial to Dianic huntress characters, but when it comes to provoking a purely visceral autonomic response The Hunger Games is probably one of the best films I’ve seen. Understand that I walked into the film almost completely unaware of the story. I saw someone reading the book on a recent flight and was intrigued by the cover. Then I heard a pretty strong endorsement of the film on Free Talk Live last Tuesday. But I knew almost nothing about the film when I saw it, and even less about the book. I hadn’t even seen a trailer. If you just want a reading of general enthusiasm I think this film is well worth seeing in the theater, and I left eager for the sequel, but if you’re comfortable reading some spoilers, read on.

The basic idea is that war has been abolished and in its place there is this tournament called The Hunger Games. Two teenage Tributes, a male and a female, from each of 12 districts are selected to fight in an annual battle to the death and the winner is showered with wealth and fame. For the upper class in District 1 the Tributes are snobby rich kids who are trained to fight and kill for the glory of their district. For the lower class in District 12, where our protagonists are from, the starving are bribed with handouts of food to enter their name in a lottery, and being selected as a Tribute is basically a tragic death sentence.

The world reminded me of a mash-up between the movie Robot Jox in which war is replaced by a gladiator-style tournament between giant robots and the movie Running Man in which a totalitarian police state pacifies the messes by transforming criminal justice into a game show. Indeed Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games has said that part of her inspiration for the story was the growth in popularity of reality TV.

I knew I was in for a treat when I saw this scene relatively early in the film. Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are selected as the Tributes from District 12 and taken to the capital. The tournament has not yet begun and both of them are restless with worry and unable to sleep knowing not only that their own lives are on the line, but also that there can be only one winner. Then Peeta makes the quintessential libertarian argument that keeps resistance alive in the hearts of man (and woman) in any story about authoritarianism: self ownership. Peeta Mellark tells Katniss Everdeen that even if he must die, he wants to find a way to tell them that they don’t own him. Live free or die baby!

Needless to say they both find a pretty… Shakespearean way to do just that. But I’ve already said too much.

But the most important scene in my mind, and the one I hope fans of the series think about very deeply, is a discussion between President Coriolanus Snow and Seneca Crane, the Head Gamemaker. The real meat of the conversation isn’t in the released clip, so you’ll have to go see it. But basically the President is explaining why he doesn’t root for underdogs, and suggests if they wanted to intimidate the lower districts they could simply execute the Tributes, which would be much faster than hosting these drawn out tournaments. The President reveals in this scene quite a bit about successful human livestock management. Namely, that ruling through fear is more expedient, but not as cost effective, as ruling through contained hope.

It’s hard to hear something like that without drawing correlations to real presidential campaigns. Indeed, many parallels can be drawn between the Hunger Games and Democracy itself. Each party sends in their “tribute” and the people root for their candidate regardless of how despicable they may be as individuals. Although it’s less direct, no matter which candidate is elected they will be sending your children to die. Every election cycle the media distracts from the real issues and transforms the process into a horserace where integrity is sacrificed for entertainment. At the end of the day, when both parties are essentially the same, and the elections change very little, we have to ask ourselves as President Snow did, “Why do we even have a winner?”

It’s very easy to imagine secret chiefs peddling influence and favors in Washington with exactly the same attitude as President Snow. Sure, they have the military power to rule the people directly through intimidation and coercion, but that’s simply not as cost effective as giving us a State controlled reality TV game show to dump our hope into.

About the Author: Davi Barker

In grade school Davi refused to recite the pledge of allegiance because he didn't understand what it meant. He was ordered to do as he was told. In college he spent hours scouring through the congressional record trying to understand this strange machine. That's where he discovered Dr. Ron Paul. In 2007 he joined the End The Fed movement and found a political home with the libertarians. The Declaration of Independence claims that the government derives its power “from the consent of the governed." He does not consent.