[Marxism] Hunger Games

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 9 16:27:26 MST 2015

Have seen the first two without much interest but got into it a bit more 
in the final half-hour of MockingJay, part 1.

This is an interesting write-up:

LRB, Vol. 37 No. 24 · 17 December 2015
At the Movies
Michael Wood

Perhaps because it’s based on a lively trilogy of novels for supposed 
teenagers, more probably because its writers and directors knew how to 
have a good time with stereotypes, The Hunger Games movie series is 
attractive because it is so eclectic, because it raids whatever cultural 
bank or shopping mall is handy. The heroine’s name combines a plant with 
a character from Thomas Hardy: Katniss Everdeen. If you frivolously 
mishear it as Catnip, as I did, you can be reassured: that’s what a 
friend calls her in the novel. The chief bad guy is called Coriolanus, 
and the place where it all happens, to quote the first book, is a 
‘country that rose up out of the ashes of a place that was once called 
North America’, now called Panem. The allusion is to Juvenal’s ‘bread 
and circuses’, but as pronounced in the movies it sounds like the name 
of a defunct airline.

The novels by Suzanne Collins, who also had a hand in writing the 
movies, were published in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and by 2012 their sales 
had broken the record set by the Harry Potter books. The four movies – 
strange how three keeps becoming four in the film world – appeared in 
2012, 2013, 2014, and last month. The Roman themes are everywhere and 
that’s what the games are about, except that the people just get the 
circus, no bread. The circus is an annual fight to the death among 
teenagers chosen by lottery, two from each of the 12 districts that, 
along with the Capitol, make up the country. Actually there are 13 
districts, but we don’t know that until the third movie, Mockingjay Part 
I: a district that has purportedly been destroyed has literally gone 
underground and is now the centre of the resistance movement. The 
dictator’s idea is that if people have to lose their children and watch 
them die on television all notions of rebellion will be perpetually 
dispersed. He’s wrong, of course, but it’s a great theory for an evil 
dictator to have, and it makes you wonder if a similar spirit isn’t 
behind a lot of programme planning in the real world: the unflagging 
coverage of Donald Trump, for example, which humiliates us as we watch 
it. Why do we watch it? Ask the dictator, he knows.

The resistance offered by our heroine Katniss is unintentional at first, 
or at least unpolitical. Showing entirely the wrong spirit, she suggests 
a suicide pact to Peeta, her partner from District 12, instead of 
killing him and becoming the winner. This is where they both should have 
ended, but there were more books and movies in the offing, and 
Coriolanus decides to let them live on as a poster-couple for the 
regime: they can distract the people with their great love story. For a 
while. Coriolanus’s cunning plan is to celebrate Panem’s 75th year by 
staging a game starring only winners of previous games: there are some 
tough people in this set, who will easily take care of Katniss and 
Peeta. He’s wrong again, but not in the way we perhaps expect. Our 
heroes are among the six survivors, but then things go awry. The master 
of the games, Plutarch Heavensbee (even comic eclecticism can go too 
far), is secretly working for the rebels, and snatches Katniss and two 
other survivors to take them to join the resistance in District 13. 
Unfortunately, Coriolanus has managed to capture the other survivors, 
and much of what follows in the story depends on the way Katniss and 
Peeta feel about themselves and each other in their respective 
situations. She becomes a resistance heroine; he becomes a tortured 
government stooge.

There is a great moment near the end of Mockingjay Part I where 
Coriolanus allows Peeta to be rescued so that he can kill Katniss: he’s 
been brainwashed into hating her and programmed as a murder weapon. He 
nearly makes it too, and the attempt provides the best sequence in all 
four films. Katniss, her face bruised and her neck in a brace, gets up 
from her hospital bed and wanders into a place where she hears the 
leader of the rebels making uplifting propaganda out of the triumph of 
Peeta’s rescue. Then she turns away and finds herself peering into 
Peeta’s room: he is strapped to his bed, and thrashing about in a crazed 
fury. The screen goes black, end of movie.

Peeta’s brain gets unwashed, but very slowly, and he’s an unreliable 
ally throughout Mockingjay Part II – at one point he kills a colleague 
by pushing him into a vast sea of oily lava. I won’t spoil – or do I 
mean improve – the suspense of the last movie by telling the story, 
except to say that there is a grand, stylised, violent climax and 
Coriolanus is dealt with, and that the efforts to provide a quietly 
up-beat domestic ending after that – what could be more up-beat than the 
death of a memorable bad guy? – are truly excruciating.

There are some wonderful performances in these films, starting with that 
of Donald Sutherland as the bad guy. White-haired, bearded, as jovial as 
he is sinister, he makes dictatorship look like an intelligent sadist’s 
dream. In Mockingjay Part I, his aides think it is time for him to have 
Katniss killed, because she has been visiting a hospital and stirring up 
revolt. He says no, then pauses. ‘Kill the wounded.’ Not everyone could 
say that line with the discreet relish that Sutherland conveys.

Jennifer Lawrence is remarkable as Katniss. She looks vaguely morose 
even when she is happy, and she has the quality, rare in a movie star, 
of being able to look glamorous at times and a pudgy mess at others 
without changing her character. Julianne Moore is very good too, as Alma 
Coin, president of District 13. She is smooth and eloquent, and no one 
suspects her of being anything other than the idealistic leader of the 
opposition. Perhaps the Mao suit might have given us a clue, and we 
should have known that in this sort of fiction all leaders are bad guys 
in the end, and most of one’s pals, sooner or later, go over to the dark 
side. Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays Plutarch, died during the 
shooting of Mockingjay Part I, but left enough footage for all but a few 
scenes in the last movie. He is genial and scornful at the same time, a 
sort of (possibly) virtuous counterpart to Sutherland.

The eclecticism I mentioned earlier is especially evident in the movies’ 
unlikely tones. Every season of the games is orchestrated as a show, 
with producers and designers, as if killing and dying were just an 
excuse for expensive art and theatricals. Elizabeth Banks, as the 
producer Effie Trinket, wears one improbable wig after another, and 
would win any prize available for the most extravagant false eyelashes. 
Stanley Tucci, as a television presenter, camps up every act of violence 
and political betrayal as if it were just another morsel for the 
Minotaur of showbusiness to eat. Collins has said she got her idea for 
certain aspects of the series from watching footage of the Iraq War 
alternately with game shows. But how the movies manage so successfully 
to do the campy stuff along with troubled teenage romance and the 
desolation of bombed cities, is a question we would have to put to the 
directors, Gary Ross (Hunger Games) and Francis Lawrence (the other 
three films). It certainly works, because the comedy and romance and 
terror are vividly there. We can’t reconcile them, and we would be in 
bad shape if we could.

There is one effect that may link these pieces, even if the joke is on 
us. We keep forgetting, as the characters do, that the world of The 
Hunger Games is one where nothing goes unfilmed. When Katniss visits a 
hospital in District 8, a place that has been savagely bombed by Capitol 
forces, she takes a film crew with her, so that her distress can be part 
of resistance propaganda. This is mildly distasteful, but we see the 
point. Then we glimpse Coriolanus far away in his mansion watching her 
visit live on screen, and distaste and/or sympathy turn to a form of 
fear for her and everyone else. This is not an invasion of privacy 
(Katniss’s trip wasn’t private): it’s a cancellation of the very idea of 
place. There isn’t anywhere to go, you can’t leave your observers 
behind. All this vision needs for it to sneak into the next dimension is 
a mode of film that will show us things not when they happen, but just 

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