Its hard to believe that it has already been almost four years since the last movie of The Hunger Games franchise was released, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. The series has thankfully not yet fallen victim to franchise fatigue, with no plans to produce anymore in-world material. But what can we say now a few years on from the completion of the trilogy’s four-part adaptation to the big screen? We argue that this Young Adult franchise covers some pretty weighty sociopolitical themes, so could this series’ messages be considered more important and resonate more with young audiences now than it did at the time of release?
For those unaware The Hunger Games series follows the story of a teenage Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) who volunteers in her younger sister’s place in the brutal Hunger Games, a televised fight-to-the-death between 24 teenagers who are randomly selected, who must then murder one another until a lone victor remains. Katniss survives her games, however the circumstances of her victory highlight how fragile the social system maintaining the games really is. A crucial act of defiance and the forthcoming events as a result lead to an out and out national rebellion. We see the first movie focus primarily on the set up of the games and its consequent performance, and whilst brutal and unsettling it pales in comparison to the undeniable war film that is the series’ final installment.
The Hunger Games, while not the first Young Adult series to delve deep into serious social and political issues and provide commentary, stands out for using a sense of realism. Whilst the likes of Harry Potter and Divergent demonstrate either fantastical wizardry or sci-fi dystopian combat, The Hunger Games doesn’t shy away from visualizing real war techniques or hold back when claiming its victims. Narratively, writer Suzanne Collins is not afraid to kill off some of the series’ major characters in sudden and gruesome ways, no matter if some of them are children. This powerfully conveys the tragedy of war and handles such an issue that it implies its young target audience has the emotional maturity to process such events.
Some of the core themes of the series that may resonate strongly in our own society is that of social class. The fictional country of Panem, where the entirety of the series is located, is a society which is heavily and distinctly class divided. With the country being sliced up into twelve districts each one provides an industry which serves the elitist capital, where the minority population of the wealthy and powerful comfortably reside. One may see this as an analogy on the economic pitfalls of contemporary capitalism where we see rising poverty and a growing wealth divide.
Another theme which is also prominent is that of spectacle. The concept of which is that the ruling class may hide its transgressions from the wider population by distracting them with forms of entertainment. Of course it is obvious that stories involving celebrities, for instance, that are promoted by media often distract us from pressing political and social issues such as corruption and climate change. It also speaks on how violence can often be portrayed in a desensitized manner and packaged in engaging formats by mainstream news channels. This is represented in the first two movies by Capitol TV personality Cesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) providing humorous commentary throughout the airing of the games. Collins admits that her idea for the series was originally conceptualized when flicking through TV channels seeing violent depictions of war on a news channel, and glamorized reality TV stars on another.
The Hunger Games makes some undeniably bold statements about Western societies’ obsession with consumerism, depictions of violence and oppression, and critiques of capitalism. Whilst the Hollywood adaptations of this series may undermine some of its core themes, those that are able to see past its high production values and star cast will be able to recognize and take on board its powerful messages. After all, in our current sociopolitical climate it isn’t that unbelievable for an emboldened teenage girl to spark a social revolution.
This article was first publish March 2, 2019