Wednesday, November 27, 2013

My Love/Hate Relationship With the Hunger Games

First: This contains spoilers regarding the entire Hunger Games series. You have been warned.

I just got back from watching Catching Fire, the second Hunger Games movie. I'd read the books a few years ago and loved the first two. I hated the third one. It was disturbing - Prim's death, Katniss's helplessness, Gail's willingness to sacrifice any sort of morality to win, the decision to keep the Hunger Games going with people from the capital - the whole thing really. Overall I was just left feeling very dissatisfied.

It wasn't until watching Catching Fire today that I realized why - the series as a whole has no real message. Its shallow, empty. The first two books are great - they have good story arcs and bring up interesting moral dilemmas, but then the third book fails to bring it together in any sort of meaningful way. I understand the point Collins was trying to make: War is pointless and violent - it destroys people. But the problem is everything was pointless and violent without the revolution too. Its a "damned if you do, damned if you don't kind of thing." Maybe she's right, but its a horribly hopeless message, and it makes you wonder about the audience this book is intended for. Clearly the story is written at a young teenage reading level, which leads to the obvious question: Is this the sort of message we want to be leaving young people with?

I feel like fiction should have a point. Entertainment is great, but there has to be something more - there has to be meaning. And that meaning needs to be something positive, something that makes us better as people. Its not that I don't like dark or dystopian fiction. I think it can teach good lessons - I love Ender's Game, and Animal Farm, and 1984. But The Hunger Games as a whole doesn't do it for me. I think the most interesting one in that list is 1984. 1984 is profoundly disturbing and hopeless. It takes place in a world similar to ours, so why do I like that book on whole, and not The Hunger Games?

I'm not entirely sure, but I think the problem might be on my end because here is the thing: I like 1984 as a story, but I didn't enjoy it. The Hunger Games on the other hand (the third book aside) I enjoyed. They were entertaining. Then, in the third book, the series pulled a bait and switch on me. I expected 1984 to be dark and depressing, but despite its themes The Hunger Games really wasn't a dystopian story until the last book. I liked Gail. I liked Katniss. I liked Peeta. And then suddenly, jarringly, I didn't. I watched them get destroyed - and for nothing, nothing at all. The Hunger Games was set up like a book where the protagonists would overcome the challenges they faced, so when those expectations weren't met it was jarring and unpleasant. There wasn't a point. Or at least not a point to the first two books. It almost seems like there are two totally different stories - that in the first two books and that in the last one. And the last one made the first two completely pointless.

Now for the clincher - although the first two books were made pointless by the third book they were still entertaining. So essentially they become nothing more than an entertaining tale of kids killing each other. Sound familiar? Oh great! Now I'm the Capital!

This, when it comes down to it, is why the series was so dissatisfying as a whole. I feel tricked. I expected the first books to have some sort of meaning - I thought the games would be training for the protagonists to overcome the challenges they faced in the third. But they didn't overcome those challenges - not really. The people that emerged from the revolution weren't Katniss and Peeta and Gail. They were different. They were monsters.

That said, the first two books (and movies) are very entertaining I don't regret reading them. Now excuse me while I go get a fancy hairdo and go watch kids killing each other on TV.
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