Is the Message of "The Hunger Games" Lost on Those Who Haven't Read the Book?

A "Things That Make Me Go Hmmm..." Post

We all know that the novels versions are almost always better than their movie counterparts. And we all know that there are going to be people who won't read the book, opting for the movie versions instead. That, probably, will never change.

What bothers me, though, is when the book's message is lost or doesn't translate to the audience in the movie version. It ultimately tarnishes the reputation of the book.

Is the Message of The Hunger Games Lost... www.hungergameslessons.comRecently on my Facebook page one of my friends had this question from a family member and was looking for advice on how to respond:
"So...if the statement of the Hunger Games is all about the how low will we go, like low enough to kids hunt and kill each other, cheering for our favorite, then what does it say about us watching a movie with kids hunting and killing kids, while cheering for our favorite?"
It saddened me because I really think the message is clear in the book that violence–and the glorification of it–is wrong. Katniss is sickened by it. The reader is sickened by it. Katniss doesn't want to kill or see anyone die. And the reader doesn't want anyone to die. There is no cheering or fanfare for the Games.

I thought the movie did a good job of translating that message, though there were a few moments that disappointed me in the end [a couple of my complaints here]. And, yet, the first time I saw the movie on opening night, there were people cheering in the theater. Those of us witnessing this looked at them in disbelief and a few shushed them. I can only surmise that they had not read the book.
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I am reminded of the movie "Schindler's List," in which terrible acts of violence are portrayed onscreen. I saw it in the theater when it was first released and can attest to the fact that no one was cheering during those scenes. Same for movies like "Saving Private Ryan" and "Full Metal Jacket." Is it because these movies are based on real events? Have we disconnected ourselves from fictional experiences in such a way that we don't see the characters are real humans being killed? Real humans who are forced to do the killing? Are we so dense that we cannot see that even fictional portrayals hold truths?

Yet, looking at movies that are based on true events, I'm reminded that in that present, we, as a society, were cheering. Even though the war poets of the early twentieth century reminded us not to cheer, there were just as many poets, reporters, and politicians who did the opposite, encouraging the public that it was our patriotic duty to applaud the killing of others. They may not have been so blunt, but ultimately, wasn't that the message?

One argument for the fanfare is that we were the good guys, destroying the evil in the world. Shouldn't we rejoice when we triumph over evil? It's a good point, and I think it's hard to argue against the fact that Hitler was a madman who needed to be removed from power. Does it justify acts of evil in the name of war? Is it okay to kill civilians for a greater good? What about the innocent citizens who lost their lives because they were defending their families, their homes? Does it justify the need to drop atomic bombs on not just one city, but two, taking thousands of innocent lives and probably affecting thousands more years later due to radiation exposure?

The book is always better. www.hungergameslessons.comWe issue service awards and mark the number of raids or bombings performed. Is there an award for turning around and deciding not to attack a village or deciding not to blow up an elementary school? Aren't these are the heroic acts we need to applaud instead?

The anti-war movement of the 60s and 70s seemed to be a turning point for our society, insisting that we cannot continue to cheer for war. It's not a problem-solving method we should encourage and applaud. And for the first time, I think people began to see that the clear-cut line between good vs. evil was blurred. Instead of radio reports that were censored for the public, people began to see the real images of war on TV and in the newspapers. And it looked more like varying degrees of evil battling one another.

"The Hunger Games" exposes the eventual truth of war: there are no "good" guys, no "teams" to cheer for. We are all guilty when we cheer for the death of another. When Katniss tells Peeta she doesn't want anyone to die, she just wants to go home, we feel her pain. We can relate to it because those who serve or those who have children serving in the military probably feel the same way: they don't want to kill (or have their child kill) others. They just want it to end. To come home, safely.

I think the "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay" movies will need to show this message loud and clear. They need to show Katniss' journey from being a survivor, a soldier, then placed on a pedestal as a symbol for rebellion, used as a pawn by both her enemies and her friends, then–most importantly–her realization that they are all, herself included, the "bad" guys.

But this is treading in difficult waters: how do you tell this message without insulting those who serve our country? Will they be offended by the message that they are "pawns" used by our leaders to advance their own agendas? And how do you tell this message without appearing unpatriotic? Katniss loved the people of Panem; she saw good even in the citizens of the Capitol. Denouncing both sides did not make her unpatriotic. It made her human. Expressing this message does not make us love our country less; it shows just how much we love what is best about it: the people.

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