I went with my daughters to see The Hunger Games this week. Although I knew the basics of the plotline as the girls are avid readers of the series – I was unprepared to actually witness the violence perpetrated by children against one another which is central to the film. The fact that the central character (Katniss Everdeen) is, like my daughters, a teenage girl, who has two attractive but dangerous young men vying for her attention (like Bella in the equally popular Twilight series) is obviously one important draw for fans of the books, but so too is the relative power she wield. In a society of beaten down sheep, Katniss is tough, resourceful, non-sentimental (except where her younger sister is concerned) and unbeatable with a bow and arrow. And although we watch her offer succour to a younger rival, Katniss is nevertheless willing to kill other rivals when necessary with little sign of remorse. I winced repeatedly at the forms of power this teenage fantasy is making palatable to my daughters – though as my older daughter said – “the killing doesn’t seem as bad in the books as it looks in the film, mommy”. Another instance of the difference between how our minds process verbal and visual information differently, I guess, but I know what she means.
I appreciate science fiction fantasy, and the ways in which it comments on contemporary social concerns and debates – in fact the film most reminded me of the fantastic and equally brutal short story by Shirley Jackson called “The Lottery” first published in 1948 in the New Yorker
The story, set in an unnamed suburban town moves from small town intimacy to fully-fledged horror in the space of fewer than 4,000 words. The suggestion of violence among women and children and within families evoked a perfect storm of controversy and this story received more negative responses than any other in the New Yorker’s history – a sure sign it struck a nerve. Like the novel The Hunger Games, Jackson’s story hints at the violence rather than relishing the gory details. Moviemakers take the gory road – and indeed a film version of “The Lottery” shown in my school caused me any number of nightmares throughout my childhood (why couldn’t they just get us to read the story?). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIm93Xuij7k
Is Katniss a heroine or a victim in her violent society? And what does it mean when we root for her to win and the other children to die in her place? Am I overreacting?