The Hunger Games

By Fred Garber

I wish I could write a review that would tell you, at the end, whether or not to see the Hunger Games, the dystopian fantasy from Suzanne Collins and Gary Ross.  However, there are several thousand reviews out there in the Interwebs with paragraphs about how well the book was adapted, or how Lenny Cravatz’s Cinna didn’t look like he was pursuing an alternative fashion aesthetic as much as he looked like he forgot to show up at wardrobe before filming.  Or how Woody Harrelson has come full arc in his acting journey by playing, basically, ‘Sam Malone’ (a reference that most of the audience of the Hunger Games are too young to understand).  I could talk about how District 12 is so poor that since they can’t buy food, they certainly can’t buy a camera tripod, so the more poor, the more shakycam.
Instead, I’ll talk about the female Heroic Journey.
The Heroic Journey?  I hear your boredom, dear reader.  Listen, if we wanted to read someone on the Internet ramble on about that, we’d pop in our time machines and go back and read about Harry Potter or go back farther and read about Star Wars, and so on.  But those are the Male Heroic Journey.  We’re going to talk about something different. Special thanks to Victoria Lynn Schmidt for first alerting me to the difference.
In the Male Heroic Journey, we are Introduced to the scrappy youth who doesn’t fit in.  He is chosen for some adventure, given a Magic Phallic Object, and over the course of the second Act he Acquires and then Applies the talents of a Hero. At the end of Act II, he is at his lowest point, when he remembers the talent/skill/quirk that made him not fit in in the first place.  By applying his oddity to the problem, he rises out of the dark and streaks into the Finale and saves the day.  Maybe Getting the Girl in the process, maybe not.
But in the Female Heroic Journey, we are introduced to a scrappy girl who doesn’t fit in.  Instead of being Chosen, she is usually cast out.  And while she may have a Magic Phallic object and be trained in various skills, her skills, talents, and objects all fail her by the end of the second Act.  By risking her very self, it’s her core personality that helps her overcome her obstacles, and she saves the day at the end by being the right kind of person, not by what she does or doesn’t do.  Maybe she survives, maybe not.
So it’s important to note that the Hunger Games gets this right.  It’s not her Archery skils that save her. It’s not her ability to charm people and win sponsors.  It’s not even her resourcefulness and woodland skills that allow her to win.  It’s her personality traits of determination and insistance on treating other people with dignity and respect.  The odds are never in her favor, but she doesn’t beat the odds so much as sidestep them.
On a side note, I wonder how the merchandise sales are doing now, after the film’s release. The Marketing campaign seemed to be based around portraying the consumer as a fan of the Hunger Games. (Do you want to be pretty like Katniss was on stage?  Hey, let’s root for our favorite Tribute!). I wonder how many tween girls are going to notice that it’s not archery lessons or the right pair of boots and leggings that will turn them into Katniss, but the right behavior and attitudes.
Heather and I are looking forward to the rest of the Hunger Games – not because we want to see how the Peeta/Gale/Katniss triangle works out, but we want to see how the revolution plays out. The odds are not in Katniss’s favor, but I don’t think that really matters, in the movies or in real life. Determination and treating others with respect will get you a lot farther than luck alone.