The film, Hunger Games, starring Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence, opens in theaters and IMAX on March 23, 2012. This is Jocelyn Lucas Rosenberg’s review of the book which ran in June.
Anyone familiar with Shirley Jackson’s seminal short story, The Lottery, will feel a sense of familiarity at the start of the Young Adult novel The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Both set in an unspecified time and place, they tell the story of a post apocalyptic society that has twisted into itself to create death games that rival those of the ancient Romans.
While Jackson’s Lottery conveys this horror in terse quick prose, The Hunger Games carries the theme to new heights. Panem, which is the United States now reassembled from an undefined crisis, is comprised of The Capital, where residents live in luxury and 12 Districts where poverty and brutality are the norm. Winning the Hunger Games is the single opportunity for the inhabitants of Panem’s less fortunate districts to live a full life of ease and privilege, but at a terrible price. To win, they must be the last tribute alive.
Each year The Capital demands two tributes from each district to play this game of survival that is televised live to all of Panem. Viewing the games is mandatory and families are forced to watch the deaths of their loved ones and to celebrate the victory of their assassins. With overtones of The Truman Show, viewers watch the desperate attempts of the tributes to elude the stronger Careers who have been trained and bred for competition, or simply to avoid death by starvation and thirst.
The broadcast of the Games rivals the best and worst of current reality television. It raises the show to the level of fetish, employing stylists who compete to outdo each other with outlandish costumes for the tributes and an opening ceremony that mimics an Oscar worthy red carpet affair. The Games themselves are held in a specially created environment from which no one can escape and virtually every inch is covered by cameras that capture each desperate moment.
When the little sister of Katniss Everdeen has her name drawn in a ritual lottery, Katniss volunteers to take her place and enters the games. Despite her seemingly selfless act, Katniss is a deeply selfish and conflicted character, which makes her all the more compelling to follow. Her male counterpart, Peeta, a baker’s son, reveals his long standing love for her at the opening of the games, locking them together as a team of star crossed lovers who will try to save each other at all costs.
The Hunger Games has a wealth of archetypical characters that meet our expectation for this genre—a controlling and sadistic president, the gruff yet loving coach, the cruel and brutal anti-hero and more. Despite their expected roles and relative two-dimensionality these characters do what we need them to do—drive the story forward relentlessly and allow us to vicariously live in this familiar parable as it plays out. Will love triumph, can the underdog ever win, and is there hope that the rebellion of the repressed can ever lead to freedom?
The Hunger Games has reached well beyond it’s intended YA crowd to the adult demographic for all these reasons. The coming film version has caused a frenzy of speculation and chatter on film sites and social media. The Hunger Games is an undisputed pager turner and takes its rightful place in the cannon of cautionary tales about our possible future as a society.
Jocelyn Lucas Rosenberg is a writer, strategist and cook currently working on her first novel. She lives in Brooklyn NY in a 105 year-old Victorian house with her daughter, her husband, over a 1000 books and more cats than she cares to count.