THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 690, September 30, 2012
"Exactly like you, I have been a slave to the state
all my life, and I won't vote to let it continue."
Special to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
The DVD of The Hunger Games came out recently. My wife and I watched the film and were disappointed. Some research into its literary background presented some relief for our disappointment.
The following film review contains "spoilers." If you have neither read the book The Hunger Games, nor any of its sequels, nor seen the film, you may wish not to read the remaining paragraphs of this review. On the other hand, you might enjoy the review more than the film.
Some aspects of the story background for "The Hunger Games take very little imagination for those of us who have been keeping up with current events. The country "Panem" exists in a time some decades in the future, after some sort of apocalypse. It is divided into districts, not unlike the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regions. We encounter the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, in District 12, which seems to be located in the coal fields of Appalachia.
Another aspect of the story background corresponds to Agenda 21, the internationalist socialist fascist programme of the United Nations to herd the global population into cities and cordon off wildnerness areas. Everdeen lives near an electrified fence which is meant to interdict travel into a neighbouring wildnerness. However, as she notes, the government of Panem is so bankrupt it cannot afford the electricity to keep the fence operational. So she is able to go into the woods simply by walking through the fence. That proves important, since her family subsists in part on the wild game she is able to hunt and kill with her bow and arrow.
The film doesn't go into much detail, but it is evident from the way she has hidden her hunting equipment that slaves of Panem are not allowed to have hunting bows. There seems to be a scarcity of guns, as well, suggesting that a policy of universal victim disarmament is in place.
Not much is shown of the political operations that pretend to maintain "order" in this dystopia. There is a train ride from District 12 to the arena where the annual Hunger Games have been played for the past 73 years. Everdeen's younger sister is chosen for the current, 74th annual, games, but Everdeen volunteers to be "tribute" for the young women of her region, thus sparing her sister. The games commemorate a rebellion more than seven decades earlier when the districts attempted to overthrow what is evidently a fascist dictatorial government. In order to make everyone pay for the failure of the rebellion, the decadent leaders of the Capitol require a young man and a young woman from each district be "tribute" to play in the games. The games, like some Roman circus events, are a fight to the death. For the past 73 years, the winner of the games is the last survivor who either kills the other players or avoids death from dehydration, poison plants, or wild animals.
What we do see of the politically powerful are caricatures of human beings, dressed in outlandish costumes with plasticised hair dyed in unnatural hues and pancake make-up to deny all lines of facial expression. These characters remind me of fashion models with particularly abhorrent costumes and make-up to wear to flatter some designer's bizarre mood. They also remind me of politicians, heads of major corporations, and others who dress, in our day, in outlandish suits with neckties and other frippery. Even more, I'm reminded of the extremely artificial and ridiculous costumes which accompany formal events, the tuxedos of the early 20th Century and the ball gowns of yesteryear bearing a remarkable resemblance to those of todayas if the culture has stagnated. Many of the costumes in The Hunger Games are reminiscent of these same business suits and tuxedos. It is not really a distant future society that the author, Suzanne Collins, is criticising in her books and film.
You'll recognise in the concept of "tributes" and the fight to the death an ancient myth. It is said that seven young men and seven young women of Athens were sent every year to be trapped in the Labyrinth of the Minotaur on the island of Crete. This "tribute" was sent to pay a penalty for the death near Athens of the son of King Minos. The Minotaur was a half-man, half-bull monster which would kill and eat the fourteen Athenian tributes. The exact timing of these tribute-sacrifices is unclear, with some saying they were annual and other legends saying they were every seven or nine years. It is agreed that Theseus is chosen as one of the male tributes in the third session of the sacrifice. In the myth, Theseus becomes the love object for the two daughters of King Minos, Phaedra and Ariadne.
Theseus was the son of King Aegeus of Athens. Upon departing, he promised that if his ship returned with him alive, it would show white sails. Otherwise, it would travel under black sails. Ariadne showed Theseus how to find his way in the Labyrinth by using a ball of string. In thanks, Theseus abandoned Ariadne on the island of Naxos and continued toward Athens with Phaedra. However, he neglected to put up the white sails. When his father saw the ship approaching under black sails, Aegeus killed himself by jumping to his death into the Aegean Sea, which bears his name. His death cleared the way for Theseus to become king of Athens.
Rather than fighting a mythic monster, the tributes of the Hunger Games are forced to fight one another. Various training is provided before the games begin. The victor of the 50th games is the adviser to Everdeen and the male tribute from District 12, Peeta Mellark. In the film, this adviser is portrayed as frequently drunk by actor Woody Harrelson.
A part of the games is the search for "sponsors," presumably advertisers who will provide limited help to a player in exchange for future endorsements. The objective of the sponsors seems to be to keep the players aligned with the political and economic interests of the decadent elite. Certain districts, including District One, are occupied by wealthier people and have provided considerable advance training to their tributes. So, the games are played in the mode of Orwell's Animal Farm, where some animals are more equal than others.
By the point in the film where the games are going in earnest, the freedom-oriented viewer wants to see this decadent society brought down. None of the elite members of society are the least sympathetic. The structure of society appears to create a permanent underclass, the productive people who mine coal, grow food, or make technology run, all of whom are subjugated by an elite group of parasites. Not unlike a society we see around us.
After singing a lullaby while Rue dies of her injuries, and then covering her body with flowers, Everdeen spots one of the cameras televising the games to the various districts. She gives a three fingered salute which reminded me of the Free State Wyoming salute. Apparently, it is a signal associated with the failed rebellion. Upon seeing their young female tribute die, and seeing this signal from Everdeen, the people of District 11 rise in rebellion. They challenge and attack the overseers who attempt to whip them into line.
Maybe I'm a little too hungry for change, but the rebellion seems short-lived owing to superior firepower and dominance of the air by the Capitol. The film shows some scenes of rioting and even organised resistance to the overseers. The arrival of tanks and aircraft brings the rebellion to an end.
And the film drops the topic of rebellion in favour of a love story. My wife and I were aghast.
Their adviser tells Everdeen and Mellark to fake a love affair. It would be "good for ratings" and generate sponsor support for them. They assent to this deception. It isn't difficult to establish, since Mellark, during his pre-game interview told the show's host that he had feelings for Everdeen which had never been requited. So when Everdeen and the remaining players are told that two players may win if they are both from the same district, she goes in search of him. This rule change inspires her to help him heal his wounds and defeat the remaining players.
However, the perfidy of the power elite is never-ending, and they announce yet another rule change requiring a fight to the death among the remaining two players. Everdeen and Mellark determine to foil this game by eating poisonous berries, taken at the same time, which should leave the 74th games without a victor to be paraded about and shown on television. Seeing them about to take this dramatic action, the hosts change the rule back and end the game.
What a rip-off. The games end, the two tributes return to District 12, and all is "well" with the world. Or as well as one can get in a slave society dominated by a decadent and repugnant elite. Why aren't the people of District 12 rising in rebellion when they see Everdeen give the rebel signal? No answer is found in the film.
Presumably some of these nuances are found in the book, which I now plan to read. It turns out that there are two sequels, "Catching Fire," and "Mockingjay" which detail unusual events surrounding the 75th Hunger Games including an actual, full-scale rebellion. Presumably the success of the first film has already generated budget for making the two sequels. I'll be curious to see what sort of society Suzanne Collins thinks ought to replace the decadent culture of Panem.
Meanwhile, if you haven't seen it, and chose to read this far, you know what to expect. So, you can choose for yourself whether to see this film.
Was that worth reading?
Editor's note: Additional information may be found in "Two Dystopias, A book, movie and manga review" by Eric Oppen in Issue 633, August 21, 2011, and "Letter from B. Potratz" in Issue 667, April 22, 2012.