Saturday, September 8, 2012

Hunger Games Trilogy, Film and "Good Literature"

So, I've been wanting to post about the Hunger Games for a while now, and I've missed many opportunities to do so...back in February I read the first March I saw the August the DVD came out...and now in September I finished the last of the trilogy, Mockingjay.  So I figured if I'm ever going to post about it, perhaps now would be a good time since I just finished reading the books.  So this post will sort of be a mix of things, both thoughts on the book trilogy, the first film, and also where all this plays into the idea of "good literature"...

Before I jump into my thoughts specifically in the series, I wanted to include this poem I found today, which seems to speak to the story of the Hunger Games, and who knows perhaps the filmmakers or Suzanne Collins may have been inspired by this poem. It was included in the introduction to Anne Sexton's group of poems called "Transformations" (which I'm reading for my fairy tale class), and it's an excerpt from an earlier poem of hers and it really stuck out to me, I've bolded the parts that I felt really connected to the Hunger Games, at least in my mind.  After writing up this post I went back and decided to add these images, they are the closest still I could find from the movie that expressed why I felt this poem shared a connection with this story:

This is the key to it.
This is the key to everything.

I am worse than the gamekeeper's children,
Picking for dust and bread.
Here I am drumming up perfume.

Let me go down on your carpet,
you straw mattress--whatever's at hand
because the child in me is dying, dying.

It is not that I am cattle to be eaten.
It is not that I am some sort of street.
But your hands found me like an architect.

Jugful of milk! It was your years ago
when I lived in the valley of my bones,
bones dumb in the swamp. Little playthings.

~Anne Sexton

What do you think? Do you see any connections?

So, these books took me on a breathless, thrilling, dangerous plunge into the heart of a society not so unlike ours.  I found myself wondering, could this happen? Asking myself questions like: Could we hit a low like this somewhere in the future, where children from the outer rings of society, where considered inhuman and unimportant enough to be tossed out and used for the pleasure of the 1%?  It made so clear the perils of television, of the media, of how this invention of ours, the television, has so infused itself into Western society has the power to control and manipulate is intoxicating, it is addictive and reels viewers in, even when they don't want to be.  I also found myself wondering about the gray area between truth and lies, about what a citizen can and can't know, what is kept from the masses... (this clip from the film elucidates the idea of the divide between ruler and ruled)

And yes at points during the two political conventions that just took place I sometimes couldn't help bringing this veil from reading and watching the Hunger Games and conflating it with what was going on in real life, in my world, on a television screen... Does that image make sense? I literally felt like the world of the Hunger Games was still so visually alive in mind and it was as if I created this double layered viewing of the political conventions.  This was especially so when the camera would span out and you saw the stage and the mass of crowds, and the crowds seemed to me like a mass of blueish colors and on the stage was this elaborate display and people in fancy clothes....and sometimes I wasn't sure if visually it looked like the reaping scene from the film or the interview takes with Caesar Flickerman, but I definitely saw some weird connections.

And now since I've started bringing in the film, I have these ideas or impressions I wrote down months ago in my notebook that I'll share here. So one of the images/moments that stuck and impressed upon me most while watching the film was the following:

When the Hunger Games are about to start, you are faced with this poignant moment between Katniss and Cinna and then she enters this claustrophobic tube, about to be released into the horror of the games.  And as you're watching you realize that it's not just you in the physical theater audience watching, but we are flashed with images the gamemakers watching, the citizens huddled together unwillingly mesmerized in the district, Haymitch and others in the Capitol watching and Katniss' Mother and Prim watching their daughter/sister be released into a horrible situation. And there's a countdown being blasted in the background that's building the tension, adding to the noise and the impending void and all of a sudden in the last 5 seconds before all of the tributes are released, there is utter silence.  And we see Gale, sitting out in the middle of the woods among the natural world, committing a rebellious act by choosing not to watch, this scene just struck me and also gave the character of Gale this feeling of stillness, calmness, and steadiness through the rest of the film and every time we see him and then when I read the last two books I carried that sense with me. (unfortunately I couldn't find the specific clip on youtube, but here's an image and a quick trailer which includes the foreboding countdown):

And one other thought I wanted to talk about from the film was the amount of emotion the film as an art form was able to elicit in comparison to the text.  So I went to watch the movie with a friend of mine and she told me a few days later that one thing that surprised her most was the fact that she felt like the film didn't bring out emotion in her, she wasn't fully moved to tears like she had been in the book.  Now we both agreed it wasn't the acting, because it truly was a wonderfully acted film, from Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss to Liam Hemsworth as Gale and the young actress who played Prim.  So what was it, because I sort of felt it to, although I did get teary eyed at the good bye scenes following the reaping and Katniss singing to Rue, and to be honest all of the pre-Capitol/pre-Games moments were pretty impactful and emotion filled.  So I would love to hear if others felt the same, but this is the theory I came up with:

When we read the book, we are getting the story through Katniss' eyes, in first person.  In the film, once we enter the Capitol it's almost as if there is no longer room for emotion, either for us as the audience or for any of the characters.  For the Capitol citizens all there is is entertainment, for the tributes there is survival, and for the districts there is fear and dread.  The film moved us as an audience around to different perspectives, we aren't just with Katniss, at one moment we're with the citizens of district 12, next we become like one of the tributes, at times we become a citizen of the capital, and lastly at times we even become the gamemakers themselves, making decisions that cost lives.

What I'm trying to say is that we no longer have the ability to just feel like a victim when we watch the film because we're not just with Katniss, we are, in a sense, almost no better than those in the Capitol who are watching the Hunger Games, just as we are on screen, essentially for entertainment because what is a movie if not that?  Moreover, emotions that may have been evoked in the reading process may not have been in the film because we are now privy to so many more perspectives and as people being flashed with so much violence just in this one film and for many just the fact that we are 21st century beings and are constantly surrounded by violence perhaps this viewing of the film shows how jaded we have become to it and we too have been drawn into the Games and been made culpable.

Lastly, reading these books made me think of the idea of what is "good literature" which I think of alot, especially ever since I read this piece years ago from Yale professor Harold Bloom on the "Dumbing down of American Readers" (and I do agree with him, especially in the specifics of his argument in that piece, but for myself personally and in the rest of this paragraph I would like to try and think about the possibility of broadening the pool of "good literature", not sure if it will work, but here it goes).  Now I am obviously not a critic or an expert at literary analysis, and I've only been an English major for a semester technically, so I'm actually still trying to figure out how the literary world deems what is good literature in terms of it's language, it's imagery, etc.  When I read these books it was a sweeping process, I was drawn in completely into the world, so I would have to go back and reread it to see the mechanics of what the writing is really like.

However, although I'm definitely not opposed to the idea of "good literature" and believe that some literature has more literary value then others; I do believe that some merit must be given to texts that have the ability to sweep you away so fully by means of words as Suzanne Collins does with these books.  This book had the ability to transport readers, and I think part of that feeling is the fact that the process of reading these books felt so swift and rapid, it was definitely a page turner, and at least I think, that this style or method of writing has merit.  Some other day I would love to research the idea of the page turner, when did it start?  What is the historical precursor to this term which seems to define so much of children's and young adult fiction today?  But I'll leave that for another day.

All in all, I truly enjoyed reading these books, and the last one kept me thinking and clouded in it's world for days after, thinking about details, about characters, about moments.

If you've read the books I recommend you check out this discussion that occurred on Roger Sutton's blog, Read Roger, back in 2010.  Just go through and read the posts (it is full of spoilers so only do this if you've read Mockingjay) but there are so many intriguing ideas and readings of aspects of the book.  The fact that so much discussion and thoughts can come of these books, in my mind also points to it's merit.

Here's the link for the discussion from Read Roger

Also as a parting note to this post, I'm including a youtube video I found.  So in Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins included the detail of this song that Katniss and her dad used to sing called The Hanging Tree, and it was a thread throughout the last novel.  I loved that she gave us the lyrics to the song in full, and the song is incredibly sad and ominous and perfect for the story.  So, a fan of the book wrote music and set the lyrics to it and created this video.  I just hope that the filmmakers will make sure to have the song be a part of the last film, and it would be awesome if the band, The Civil Wars, (who were on the soundtrack for the first film), could sing this song, they would be perfect, the lyrics sound like songs they write:

Also, here's a link to my Pinterest board for The Hunger Games:

Also, I forgot to add this, here are some great pieces from others:

A couple from Monica Edinger over at Educating Alice:

From Maria Tatar on the film and the darkness of children's books today:

Oh, also if you haven't listened to the soundtrack for the Hunger Games film (Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond), you really should.  They actually chose not to put any of the music on the soundtrack in the actual movie, which was the first time I've seen that happen, but it's soooo worth a listen.  The lyrics and music of almost all the songs go so amazingly with this story, especially:

Taylor Swift featuring The Civil Wars, "Safe & Sound"

The Civil Wars, "Kingdom Come"

Miranda Lambert featuring Pistol Annies, "Run Daddy Run" (Click for link to youtube)

Birdy, "Just A Game"

Maroon 5 featuring Rozzi Crane, "Come Away To The Water"

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