That is what I called the Hunger Games when I saw the movie. It is not that I did not like the movie. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was thrilling, exciting full of intense action, drama and emotion. Everything that makes a great blockbuster. However, the storyline appeared too trite and repetitive. Such a theme has been done before in Battle Royale. In fact the Japanese thriller Battle Royale was a lot more gruesome and gut wrenching. In comparison, the Hunger Games seems mild, childish and innocent. But that could not be far from the truth. The Hunger games is just setting the stage for later events in Catching Fire and Mockingjay. And the events that unfold are far from being mild, childish or innocent. Prepare for the real battle to begin.
Firstly, I do owe an apology to Suzanne Collins for assuming the Hunger Games is merely a Battle Royale for white people. There are certain similarities, yes. Both are government programs to control the populations and prevent uprisings. Both are brutal, sadistic and pit children against children killing each other in an arena. That is where the similarity ends. While Battle Royale is treated as a military experiment, administered and observed solely by the military and government the Hunger Games is a spectacle with a cruel and publicized history. Panem is a country where the rich and wealthy in the Capitol led by President Snow rule over twelve districts. The Hunger Games are a punishment for a rebellion decades ago. Two children (tributes) from each district will be reaped for the games. The games are to symbolize the strength and sustainability of Panem. The tributes are paraded in the capitol and garner a fan following. The games, a huge event for the capitol is broadcast all over the nation. The victor goes on a lavish victory tour, ensuring that the pain and humiliation of the games is imprinted year round. Despite its lack of blood and gore, what makes the Hunger games even more sadistic than Battle Royale is that the Hunger Games are like American Idol for Panem. People cheering, laughing, screeching and clapping their hands gleefully over children killing each other. It is not portrayed as fiction, but real innocent live taking is normal and entertaining.
The series gets darker and bleaker as it progresses. As you read on you realize that this is no longer a children's book but a much darker tale of apocalyptic times and dystopian futures. The themes and motifs in Hunger Games are far darker than what you might find in Harry Potter. It is not the classic battle of good vs. evil. Things are a lot more gray in Hunger games. It is not clear who is good or evil, as we can see in Katniss difficulty in trying to figure out who her real enemies are. Is it the tributes in the Hunger Games who want to kill her? Is it the capitol who makes them play these games? Or is she in something much more sinister than she could ever imagine?
She has a hard time figuring her allies as well. Firstly there is her complex love triangle between Peeta and Gale. Katniss' choices are far more difficult than the whimpering haplessness of Bella Swann. Unlike Bella, Katniss is strong willed, determined, stubbornly independent, with several walls guarding her heart. She cannot decide if she loves her hunting companion and best friend Gale who knows her heart and mind unlike any other, or does she love Peeta whose gentle soul has carried her through the trauma of the games. She also struggles figuring out which one of her allies can she really rely on. Can she trust the ever drunk Haymitch? Are rebel allies really on her side.
Harry Potter may have dealt with death, teenage angst and social issues like racism, discrimination and class warfare. Hunger Games touches upon all that and more. In Hunger games we come across corruption and political manipulation. We see games leaders play to sustain their power. There is also slavery, torture and abuse. Not just physical torture, but psychological torture that breaks down a human being at their very core. There is also prostitution. Not just any prostitution, but child prostitution of bare teenagers. There is also substance abuse. Not just Haymitch's alcoholism, but entire populations hooked on morphine like medication to escape reality. It may not be gory in detail, but the emotional weight of the books is not intended for little kids, this is far more mature content. I would not call it an adult novel, it is still very much young teen, but teenage literature has matured many shades.
Finally we have the question of District 13. Who are they really and what are their motives? They caused the last rebellion and then disappeared striking a deal with the capitol, leaving the other districts to fend for themselves. They claim their low profile and obscurity was due to lack of resources. Now that Katniss has lit a fire, they are ready to organize and lead the rebellion. But is freedom for the citizens of Panem what they really want? District 13 and President Coin give us pause to reflect the stark choices we face as humans. Do we really choose between good and evil, or are we wedged between two painful outcomes and choose what hurts the least.