Tuesday, March 27, 2012

On Watching Hunger Games: Spoilers

So, Damon and I and our friend R all went to see the movie this week. Damon hasn't read the books; R and I have.

I cannot talk about a movie without giving spoilers, so if you have done neither, go away, do that, and you can come back afterward. It won't take you long. Reading this first book is like jumping out of an airplane - you don't stop till you land with a splat at the end.

Surprisingly, I have no major fault to find. I only had to explain a couple of things to Damon afterward (District 13 is referenced at the beginning, but its fate is not described; that kind of thing). When R and I went to the Harry Potter movies with him, we always tag-teamed filling in the blanks for him as the lights went up. The only big deviation from the original with which I have actual issues, as opposed to thinking I would have made a different creative choice had it been me, was also the only big place where they wimped out. I think they were quite right to reduce the gore as much as they could, but the impact of the chimerae at the end is nerfed by the removal of the ghastly detail that they were created out of the dead tributes. You think, when you're reading and when you're watching, that Rue's death has to be as bad as it gets for Katniss; and then, when you're reading, she has to fight off a Rue-faced dog! This is absolutely the worst thing the gamemasters did in this horrible event, and the movie chickened out of it.

Mind you, I was dreading it; but dread is an important part of the experience.

This is partly made up for by the increase in the discomfort factor that I got from watching the games as opposed to reading about them. There's a meta level of this story, which only increases as we get into the political theater of the later books, that implicates me, as audience, and which raises the level of the whole (for me, anyway) out of the gutter of the exploitative thriller and into the realm of literature. When you boil it down, after all, this is an exploitative thriller about the making of exploitative thrillers; the author, and the moviemaking team, openly and unapologetically use the exact same bag of tricks as the masters of the game to engage us emotionally and turn the agony of others into entertainment.

And we let them, which makes us active participants in the process.

Which made me feel even dirtier in the movie than it did in the book.

This is such a large feature of the experience of the story for me that, when I see Hunger Games merchandise, I feel physically ill and wonder how on earth the person who came up with that idea sleeps at night. Did this particular level of meaning fly right over his head? Did he set out to deliberately evoke it and increase the ick factor? Has he even read the books at all?

Answer C is of course the most likely.


  1. I came here from reading a Huffington Post article about fan reaction to The Hunger Games.

    I thought of you at that moment because the article was specifically about the reaction of "fans" who didn't think Rue should be played by an African American, merely because she was described as having "dark brown skin".

    I instantly compared and contrasted with the incident you told me about in a letter, about an author who wanted to describe a character as having "milk chocolate-colored skin".

    I also thought of that anecdote when I wrote a scene in which an African American teenager of the 1930s took pleasure in picturing the hero of the pulp magazine she was reading as looking like her father, helped along by the fact that the author only specified that the hero had black eyes and "curly black hair".

  2. Um - what do these people think "dark brown" means as a skin color?

    That author with the milk chocolate-colored skin thing would be me! We wound up just saying the character was "black." I've been scolded by second-rate reviewers for "unnecessarily" mentioning the ethnicity of characters; but since what happens if you don't mention it is that a lot of folks (like the ones who cast this movie - did you SEE that sea of white faces in District 13?) see, in their minds eye, only white people.

    I'm a misanthrope for a reason. People are just - gah.