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?”
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.