Do ‘Hunger Games’ Fans Care About Climate Change? Why Would They If They Just See The Movie?

Aiming for climate action? Maybe not

I saw The Hunger Games over the weekend. It’s entertaining for sure — so it’s no surprise that it’s already grossed $250 million in 10 days. And that suggests far more people have already seen the movie then will ever read the book.

What’s unfortunate is that as far as I could see, the movie has excised what little the book spoke to post-apocalyptic global warming (see “The Hunger Games: Post-Apocalypse Now For Young Adults“). The one sentence in all three of the books  a youI could find that suggested that the suppressed revolution that led to the creation of the annual slaughter-fest known as “the hunger games”  was preceded by a climate-driven apocalypse is gone:

[The mayor]  tells of the history of Panem. He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained. The result was Panem, a shining Capitol ringed by thirteen districts…”

Indeed, much of the hunger is removed from the hunger games. Yes, people are still hungry outside of the Capitol, but the book was very clear that the winner of the hunger games “receives a life of ease back home, and their district will be showered with prizes, largely consisting of food,” all year round.

I didn’t see that in the movie, which makes the motivation of the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, simply her desire to protect her sister (a motivation that was also present in the book). But without making clear that the winner is fighting to feed the whole district, frankly, some aspects of the movie don’t quite work.

Obviously, that’s what the author, Suzanne Collins wanted, since she co-authored the screenplay. The movie is really not terribly post-apocalyptic at all. Indeed, the Capitol — and the  outlandish costumes and makeup of the pampered citizens — bears the closest relationship to prerevolutionary France. The only thing missing was “let them eat cake,” and,  if you see the movie, then even that line is basically assumed.

No, the movie has nothing to do with global warming, and is far more the 99% vs the 1%, a theme that will certainly become clearer in the subsequent movies as it does in the books.

So anybody out there who wants to assert that popular culture is somehow embracing global warming will have to find  a different blockbuster movie. Good luck — see Apocalypse Not: The Oscars, The Media And The Myth of ‘Constant Repetition of Doomsday Messages’ on Climate.

Ted Alvarez at Grist has a fascinating post, “Katniss Evergreen: Do ‘Hunger Games’ fans care about climate?” in which he talks to fans in the movie line. He notes that “Suzanne Collins’ fleet prose is built for action; she largely skips the details of her futuristic world of Panem so that we can get on with the underage stabbin’.” He wonders if one line in the book is “enough for kids to draw connections between the fantasy world du jour and their own? Can Hunger Games make this generation care more about climate than the last?”

Alvarez writes:

Curiously absent from this conversation are the Voices of the Youth themselves. So I decided to head into the belly of the beast: I would go to a midnight premiere in downtown Seattle to talk to the climate disaster survivors of the future. (It would be like war reporting, but with higher-pitched screams.)

Here’s what he learns:

As I enter the theater, I’m a stranger in a strange land. Even though I’ve burned through the books detailing heroine Katniss Everdeen’s struggle to win a battle royale against other teens for the entertainment of the oppressive Capitol government, I’m unprepared to translate the agitated parrot chatter of the tween crush around me. I think about reverting to hand signals when Laura and Lyla, both 14, take pity on this old wretch to answer a few questions.

“Um, I’ve never read the books before,” says Lyla, “But I’m here because they kill each other — for the action.”

Not exactly a promise to follow Copenhagen 2025, but she doesn’t sound like someone willing to let the Keystone XL slide without a fight. Gonna put Lyla in the “maybe” column.

“I like to read a lot of dystopian fiction,” says Laura. “I think it’s possible to to end up in a world like that, but with climate change? Who knows. Maybe there’s a 6-out-of-10 chance. It’s hard to know how it’ll all turn out.”

A skeptic who’s good at math: Do I detect a future climate scientist?

I get the stink eye from a couple harrumphing dads chaperoning daughters in clownish makeup. But I duck them to chase down a pack of kids in hand-painted Hunger Games T-shirts.

“It’s about rebellion and standing up for what they believe in,” says Joey, 14. “I like how she has to make her own living off the land.”

Self-sufficiency, foraging, the 99% — it’s all there with this one. Maybe Millennials are going to be just fine.

“I’m wondering how far into the future this is — there’s just so much despair,” says Nadine, 13. “I think the way their government fell apart could happen. Also, like, the love triangle.”

I detect concern with a tendency to hedge, but also a sense of hope and even romance. Writing down “Nadine for president.”

A super-excitable pair of teens in matching white tees, brown Uggs, and black tights can’t stop bouncing up and down. Knowing that I’m shaving precious seat-searching time, I ask questions fast. They answer faster.

“I really like the action — I mean, they’re killing each other,” says Abby, 14. “I have no idea [about climate change], but they’re in the forest, and I don’t feel like that’s going to be a big thing.”

This one thinks we’ll screw up our world even worse than Panem. I think we’ve found a glass-half-empty climate pessimist.

I dash after them to nab a seat. The theater darkens, and after an interminable period of commercials (what’d Adrien Brody do to end up in Schick ads?), we’re transported to the world of Hunger Games in a rush of adolescent screaming. For big-budget entertainment, it’s a surprisingly dour (if well-acted) affair, though things pick up for the tyke-on-tyke bloodletting. Climate change or rising seas get even less play in the film, though there is a bit of Occupy Wall Street flavor to the oppressed and restless masses. And how’s this for dystopian: The hovercrafts and forcefields of the future still run on coal.

As I poll the exits, most of the reactions seem first and foremost concerned with whether the violence in The Hunger Games satisfied expectations. Evaluations range from “hella violent” to “Avengers better be more violent.”

So are the children, who are no doubt our future, more or less connected to the climate fight because of Hunger Games? It’s possible that I wasn’t in the auditorium that featured an extended solar vs. wind debate while the Twilight: Breaking Dawn: Part 2 trailer unspooled. But preliminary data is fuzzy, so we may just have to wait until Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire debuts to know for sure. Until then, I’ll echo the film’s catchphrase and hope “the odds are ever in our favor.”

Well, I doubt the hovercrafts run on coal, but it’s true that Katniss’s District 12 is the coal district, which suggests we haven’t advanced very far in the more than 100 years in the future in which this movie is set.

In any case, as I’ve said, this isn’t the movie to raise awareness on global warming. You’ll  probably have to wait for Avatar 2 and Avatar 3 for that.

24 Responses to Do ‘Hunger Games’ Fans Care About Climate Change? Why Would They If They Just See The Movie?

  1. prokaryotes says:

    The scene with genetical modified wasps also suggest that man is able to temper with genetics at will. Same goes for powerful weapons – like fireballs of fire walls – at least in the perimeter of the designated show area. To tip that off you even have the designers have appear -clone at will dogs where they see fit.

    Then at one point you have riots, because of a love scene and later when they change for the very first time the game rules (2 winners) and at the end flip flop about it, nobody seemed to be pissed. That might be not real plot holes but was somewhat lacking.

    For me this movie was a nice saturday evening watch but nothing more.

  2. prokaryotes says:

    In summary the presented technological advancements suggest that they would be able to genetical engineer themself out of their food depression. Because everybody is aware of this and because people are already in riot state – on occasions, we have here a highly unrealistic – fantasy movie.

  3. prokaryotes says:

    Same thing goes for the medicine which cures instantly – have flesh wounds completely disappear, within hours. Magic times!

  4. prokaryotes says:

    Real Games

    Weather records due to climate change: A game with loaded dice

  5. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    The Lorax is out too and that has a very strong environmental massage.

    Although not big on climate change it is a subtext to the Hunger games setting. True, less so in the movie than in the book. But the books are immensely popular and now many more might read them. Kids are not stupid, they can put two and two together.

    Politics by evil people and good people caught in an evil system is very much part of the books. Politics in times of stress is a scary subject, politics in a time stress made to look worse is something we are going to have to consider in the near future.

    Who is your real enemy is a huge part of the books.

  6. Gail Zawacki says:

    Far better then to watch the film version of Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” which in addition to being quite a doomer thriller, is factually connected to history:

  7. From Peru says:

    It would be great to see a film where the anti-science, anti-people crowd wins, and all suffer the terrible consecuences.The action would take some decades, so there will be time jumps.


    – starting in the present showing the so-called skeptics insisting this is a left-wing lie,

    – 20 years later, “London 2030: the city is evacuated because an hurricane is coming”

    – “India 2040: The monsoon fails. Now 1 billion people are without water. In the resulting famine, the Maoist guerrillas take power and all the industrial activities are shut down in a futile intent to stop the disaster. In the West, instead of being alarmed by the hundred of millions of starving people,this is shown as proof that environmentalists are communists, and a wave of McCartysm is triggered”.

    -At the end of the century, the few survivors would have established themselves in the deglaciated Greenland and Antartica (the only part of the planet still habitable) and the polluters and deniers are tried and condemned for Crimes Against Humanity.

    I would avoid any violent scenes and bad language, so that the audience can be the as general as it can while the story still being explicit in the references to current situations and behaviours.

  8. From Peru says:

    Personally I found the fact that people (specially young adolescents, but the thought holds for any people)became so delighted with extreme violence worrying. I found disturbing that violence is sold as a commercial product to entertain the masses.

    This in particular, can be hazardous to the mental health of vulnerable people (like the 20% that suffer from anxiety disorders), specially if they are young. Is OK to sell a book or a movie as a “teen product” whith this content? Maybe is OK for the 80% of normal people. But for vulnerable people this ambiguity can trigger an anxiety episode.

    Writers of stories for young audiences should have more attention for non-average people, and if they doesn’t want to do it, then publish them as adult literature/cinema not as kid/teen commercial products.


  9. Risa Bear says:

    Well, then, here ya go, Guest Blogger. This one (also featuring a girl archer [I didn’t know about Hunger Games]) is about the aftermath of global warming — and the neglect of spent fuel pools. (delete me if I’ve violated anything, but thought it would interest).

  10. T.J. says:

    These people live in cities, what do they know about climate change? They live in manufactured artificial environments, they don’t see the effects. And they don’t care. They’ve got to tweet on their consumer electronics about fashionable trends, like this movie.

    By the way, 2 degree C target now lost cause.
    Which means that runaway positive feedbacks will take warming out of our control, and all that that implies.

  11. Lara says:

    The reason that the theme of this popular movie did not include Climate change is because AGW is off the radar these days in the MSM and popular culture.
    Movie makers aren’t stupid; they won’t make a movie about a climate catastrophe, or anything else, if it’s not in the public eye. Maybe a science documentary but not a blockbuster.

  12. Joe Romm says:

    Wait and see!

  13. OK, I realize that “Lara” is a known troll. But why is she suggesting that when moviemakers keep the audience stupid, it’s somehow a good thing?


    As I poll the exits, most of the reactions seem first and foremost concerned with whether the violence in The Hunger Games satisfied expectations. Evaluations range from “hella violent” to “Avengers better be more violent.”

    Great. Just great. At the end of the movie, people weren’t thinking about inequality or starvation or stuff, but whether the violence in the movie satisfied expectations. And so the stupidification of America continues apace. Let’s cheer it on, shall we?

    — frank

  14. T.J. says:

    I would totally watch that movie.

  15. prokaryotes says:

    There is a wast untapped potential for blockbuster movies here.

    Plot A: slowly deteriorating situation, with domino chain like collapse of nations and war erupting everywhere with sporadic nuclear incidents.

    Plot B: Sudden large impact situations, like sea level rise of several metres, within a few years – unevenly distributed.

    Plot C: Insert extreme weather catastrophe here.

    Emmerich’s The day after tomorrow and 2012 are somewhat cool movies, but in the essence fantasy movies, naive – just world believes – wishful stuff. And the worst both movies totally disregard the science, instead hype fringe visions.

    Possibly the best movie to use as a reference would be “Human Condition” Japan movie from the 50’s which was used by Kubrick to film his Full Metal Jacket film (He basically just made the US version).

  16. From Peru says:

    The Day after Tomorrow was actually counter-producent, because contributed to the “global cooling” mith. I remember in that my school classmates asking “when will we freeze”?

    A new ice age from global warming is totally unphysical. A minimum of common sense and basic physics tells that a brutal freeze in the Northern Hemisphere like in that movie will cause a brutal heatwave in the Southern Hemisphere. The absurd “greenhouse glaciation” shown is more a fantasy than a science-fiction scenario.

    For non-american audiences, there was one remarkable moment in the movie: the final scene, when the president of the United States made a speech where he announced that now the future of the American People depend of the so-called “third world” countries (an implicit anti-imperialist ending), that was received with applauses in the cinema here at Lima, Peru.

    A more realistic movie is this german movie about a deadly heatwave that hits germany:

    Die Hitzewelle (Heat Wave, 2008)

    Of course that movie is too local to compete with The Day after Tomorrow. A decent Climate Change movie should show a combination of heatwaves and cold snaps, floods and droughts, and likely should jump from one decade to another until the end of century.

    Sadly, a slow motion catastrophe is harder to sell than an abrupt one. Unfortunately, slow catastrophes could be worse (google Permian-Triassic extinction, aka Great Dying)

  17. climatehawk1 says:

    Thanks, Gail! Only watched a few minutes, but it looks very interesting. I started reading Collapse not long ago, but it’s a struggle, because the short-sightedness of what we are doing is just depressing.

  18. climatehawk1 says:

    How about Waterworld? I never saw it, because the reviews were so bad. Anyone else? The premise is that the polar ice caps have melted …

  19. prokaryotes says:

    One could easily produce a 3 part epic story or even without ending, like the James Bond theme.

  20. Dick Smith says:

    It’s a documentary, not pop culture, but “The Island President”–about the incredible (now former) president of the Maldives is all about the global warming from a political perspective. I’ve only seen the trailer for the film, but it looks like a terrific human interest story–not just a science slog.

  21. Dick Smith says:

    Link to “The Island President”

  22. Mike Roddy says:

    I wrote a script similar to what you described a few years ago (like every dreamer in Los Angeles). It went nowhere, and probably wasn’t good enough, but a screenwriter friend told me why it was born dead:

    There are eight movie companies, themselves owned by media conglomerates or big corporations. They self censor anything that really questions the status quo, which is why we only get allegory, and criticism of today’s elites is muted or absent.

    When Stone made JFK, corporate critics jumped on it hard. They questioned its veracity, but the real reason they went after it was that Stone attacked the military industrial complex. That’s a no no these days. There will be no more Networks or even China Syndromes from the big studios. A global warming movie will have to be independently financed.

  23. Peter says:

    There has not been a realistic film made about climate change for the big screen- ever. The silly ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ was effective in warning us of the problem- but the films premise was unscientific and was made more for special effects.

    Since climate change is like a slow moving bloated monster, its effects will be accumulative over time, like water torture, eating away at the fabric of society, while producing increasingly bizarre weather that over time has a deadly impact on the planet.

    There was actually one TV Miniseries from 1993 called. ‘The Fire Next Time’ Starring Craig T Nelson. It begins in New Orleans- which as the film proceeds is devastated by a CAT 5 hurricane. The film touches on many realistic topics such as never ending heat waves, droughts, insect infestations, disease- as well as Carbon emissions that have been left unchecked- causing the climate to go hay wire- the film takes place in 2017- its available at Amazon for 5 or 6 bucks and it is worth a watch.