The odds are never in your favour: devouring The Hunger Games

Tess Holgate watched all four Hunger Games movies over 28 hours to bring you this review of the film franchise. She’s a little bit keen to take archery lessons, a little bit scared of death by tracker jackers (genetically engineered wasps), and a little bit paranoid that everyone is out to get her.

Aside from the fact that she is forced into an arena to fight-to-the-death with 23 other teens, I wouldn’t be surprised if many teenage girls wanted to be just like Katniss Everdeen.

The Hunger Games trilogy is set in Panem, a non-descript dystopian nation consisting of 12 starving Districts, forced to toil to keep the Capitol in pampered splendour. Each year, as punishment for a past rebellion against the Capitol, one boy and one girl from each district are chosen as “tributes” to participate in The Hunger Games, a televised death match where the winner is the last one alive.MJP2_KatnissPayoff_GENERIC

The story centres on two young people, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) of District 12, who are selected to play the Games.

Having survived the 74th Hunger Games by working together and gaining support from the public who observe their burgeoning romance, Katniss and Peeta’s survival is seen as a threat to the peace and stability of Panem by the Capitol’s leader. Cracks of revolution against the repressive Capitol begin to show.

The following year, in an attempt to rid Panem of Katniss, Peeta and their revolutionary antics, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) calls upon all living winners of the Games to once again enter the arena.

Katniss brings the 75th Games to an abrupt end by shooting an arrow into the force field surrounding the arena, and the revolutionaries whisk her away to District 13, the home of a budding revolution in an area thought to be long abandoned. Unbeknownst to her, and thanks to her defiant spirit, Katniss has become the symbol of the revolution. They call her the Mockingjay, and she is urged to lead the Districts in acts of defiance by becoming the public face of the revolution.

There are plenty of things for Christians to love in these films: the triumph of good over evil, the power of a revolutionary spirit tackling corruption, the love story, the way it mirrors the fear that fills our hearts and heads, the moral ambiguity of war; but the real attraction of these films is that it picks up on that age-old quest for adventure. Katniss is passionate and unafraid in her pursuit of justice – a pursuit that causes her to risk her life, more than once, for the freedom of the masses.

There is a special kind of power in the idea of girl as revolutionary. Katniss’ decisions aren’t based on what a boy will think of her, unlike so many other female characters. The director has carefully portrayed her as stoic, yet not immune to the weight of taking a life. Though convinced the Capitol must fall and that revolution is the only way to achieve the desired outcome, every time she kills someone she feels the weight of it, and so do you.

The war waged against the Capitol is, in many ways, well deserved. For 76 years the ruler of the Capitol, President Snow, has ruled Panem with an iron fist. Each District has been forced to labour to provide electricity, food, and infrastructure for the Capitol while the Districts themselves have languished in poverty. President Snow controls the citizens of Panem with a careful balance of fear and hope. He does not hesitate to eliminate people when they get in his way, nor does he forgive even the smallest misunderstanding. He must go.

But The Hunger Games also shows us that waging war is morally ambiguous, at best.

Early on, we are led to believe that the leader of the revolution, President Coin, sought to defeat the Capitol and end the Hunger Games once and for all. However, after defeating the Capitol, she claims power and seeks to hold one last Hunger Games, with the aim of appeasing the District citizens. President Coin is fighting for freedom, but ends up seeking revenge.

Neither the revolutionaries nor the Capitol has clean hands. War always results in the murder of innocent people along with the deaths of the guilty.

In the fourth instalment of The Hunger Games, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), now a senior officer in the rebel army, says to Katniss, “It’s war. Sometimes killing isn’t personal.”

Dejected, Katniss responds, “I guess there isn’t a rule book for what might be unacceptable to do to another human being.”

She’s right. There is no universal rulebook for what we can and cannot do to other human beings. Or maybe there is, but people aren’t listening to it.

Listen to movie buffs Ben McEachen and Mark Hadley talk about The Hunger Games here, on this weeks Big Picture podcast