The Hunger Games: From the Dystopian to the Great Depression

The Hunger Games has a somewhat  integrated cast that includes African Americans: Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist of the Hunger Games, sure loves black people. And we love her too. I’m often critical of the relationships between African American and whites, along with stereotypes of African Americans in film, television, and literature. But The Hunger Games got it right. Cinna, an African American man and Katniss’ stylist, becomes the father she lost in the District 12 mines. Rue, the little African American wood elf, initiates an alliance with Katniss in the games-to-the-death. They find a sister in one another. Katniss in particular, embraces Rue much like the little sister Katniss left behind in District 12. There’s no patriarchy here where whites save African Americans. And the African Americans are not stereotyped as mammy’s or thugs. True relationships are established on film and experienced by the audience.

Without the relationships, the Orwellian dystopian themes typical of science fiction would not matter. The foundation of The Hunger Games is George Orwell’s 1984 (1949). He is the great granddaddy of dystopian science fiction in the form of the novel. 1984 is where we get the term Big Brother, the roving eye of technology that is always tracking us in the 21st century. We see much the same in The Hunger Games where even the trees have electronic eyes. And the world in The Hunger Games has gone to hell in a hand-basket, a post-war hand-basket in which the survivors live in a police state. If that isn’t Orwellian, I don’t know what is.

Oh, the first scenes in The Hunger Games are moving pictures that mirror the gritty still photos of rural people taken during the Great Depression. The pain, the seams in the faces of even the young remind me of Dorothea Lang’s “Migrant Mother.” In the film, the camera stops at a worn laced high-top shoe. It lingers on the wind in the trees. The people in District 12, Katniss’ little town, are a worn people, worn by mining. Those scenes, mirroring a Hunger Games Appalachia, are the most memorable in the film.

Katniss leaves home to fight as tribute in The Hunger Games. The trope of youth battling in games is not new going back to ancient Greece. There’s also a modern take which I believe is a nod to “The Most Dangerous Game,”  a short story by Richard Connell. In the story, one man hunts another. Ultimately, the hunted creates intricate traps to capture the hunter. Both the human-hunt and traps are echoed in the Hunger Games. Katniss did something similar turning the game on the elite, her captors and humiliating them.

Taken together, what does the Hunger Games say about contemporary American society?  The Great Recession of the 21st Century first comes to mind. Much like the children living in poverty in the 12 Districts and battling in the games, we are frightened at every turn by unemployment, high gas prices, and a depressed real estate market. The film reflects our national malaise. In addition, our children are consumed by technology and even in a virtual forest, the children in the games are moved around like puppets on strings among the trees and along the creek. As Americans, have we lost our rugged individualism, unquestioning puppets in the day-to-day drudgery of survival?

Hopefully, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, the next novels in the trilogy will translate well, meeting the high expectations already met by The Hunger Games, the first in the trilogy.

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Predators: Survival of the Fittest in a Busted Paradise?

SPOILER ALERT

To know your enemy, you must become your enemy.    ~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War

If you’ve been on this planet long enough you’ve seen Predator, Predator 2, and Aliens vs. Predators (AVPR). The latest installment is Predators.

 

Beyond the earlier films, Predators is a product of many influences and reflects history. It is  an homage to Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” a short story of humans hunting humans. I think of slaveholders hunting the enslaved in the forests and swamps of the American South up to the mid-19th century. Ultimately, the film is about “survival of the fittest,” a term used to describe one of Charles Darwin’s scientific theories.

The story or plot. A multicultural group is dropped by parachute into what looks like the Amazon. Paradise? I think not. Battle-ready mercenary types–all except for a doctor who is the odd one out–do not know their where-a-bouts.

Soon they learn two things: that this aint planet earth and they are being hunted. How do they know it isn’t planet earth? First, a leaf dropped in water spins as if the gravitational pull is out of wack. Second, the sun doesn’t move. Perhaps in both these instances the rock they are on is no longer spinning on its axis? And third,  they walk to edge of a ravine looking up to see three planets above them with one so close it looks like it could be touched. Perhaps the ravine is the point where the planet broke apart. Are they on a moon? An asteroid? A planet? A chunk of a shattered planet? No matter. They are trapped.

The hunted realize they are being hunted in a jungle of a game preserve. They are the animals. One by one, they get picked off. The first to go are a Latino and African American–both men. The screenwriters and director stuck to the old horror/science fiction trope of killing off the men of color first. A second African American man (Lawrence Fishburne is hilarious) isn’t far behind when he is blasted to pieces by the predators, the hunters.

Throughout the film, one character attempts the philosophical concluding that hunting has alway been primal to humans, what it means to be human. So are those hunted in the movies just as soul-less as the alien predators? Is this a morality tale concerning predation by people of other creatures and the planet earth in 2010? Maybe the filmmakers aren’t that smart. The predators are getting to know the humans.

Homo sapiens throughout time have been aggressive.  Much of the first activity of humans in pre-history was hunting and gathering as means of survival. Farms, villages, towns, and cities came much later. A sly visual reference to this pre-history are the stegasaurus-hunting dogs encountered by the game/humans. Since pre-historic times, in modern times, humans have become the mightiest hunters on the planet.

Sadly, for the people in the movie the tables have been cruelly turned, and they are hunted. Royce, the central character, played by ripped Adrien Brody is the chorus of this Greek tragedy, the narrator of the human/alien murder and mayhem. As the plot progresses, he muses out loud, “We’re being hunted,” “we are the game,” “we are being flushed out and tested.” Duh.

Mud was a critical plot device in the the first Predator, and water and dirt sources of life, show up again in Predators. It will save the humans. If you saw the first movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, then you know what I’m talking about. Mud once again become emblematic or symbolic of life, as one hunter is triumphant over another. Go see the movie to learn the meaning of the mud, and how Royce figures out the Predators’ game.

 

In the end, two survive, a man and a woman. We are left with the image of Adam (Brody) and Eve (Alice Braga), two busted people left to muck it out in  busted jungle paradise. Or have they already been kicked out of paradise, and this alien rock are the wages of sin? Looks like hell to me.

At this point Adam and Eve need to be on a first name basis because all they have are each other:

 

Adam says, “I’m Royce.”

Eve responds: “Nice to meet to meet you, Royce. I’m Isabella.”

He closes with: “Let’s find a way off this *&^*^%* planet.”

Ah, courtship and romance.

With that said, I see a Predators 2 in the works with more stegosaurus-hunter dogs–agains shades of runaway slaves trapped in a tree by a hound–bounding through the jungle, along with a star-studded array of aliens skulking about.  Nimrod Antal–one can only hopes he directs again–bring it.