Words written c27000
Stories completed 2
…but not in a good way.
With the bairns being nine and 11 I’ve managed to avoid all the fuss about the Hunger Games, other than regular sermons at the Church of Wittertainment. But with the Boy having started on the books we sat down to watch the first film as a family, which my newspaper film guide informed me was probably the most important science-fiction story of modern times.
I have to confess that I watched in slack-jawed disbelief at the travesty being committed to celluloid (metaphorically speaking; I know it’s all ones and noughts now) and only continued to watch so that I could be aware of what the Boy was greedily absorbing. My wife left after twenty minutes or so, as did the Girl.
Please don’t think this is some spineless reaction to the violence in general or children killing themselves in particular. Battle Royale gave us all that and I didn’t have an issue. Haven’t watched that for years, but remember it as a satirical classic.
It’s that the story was so… awful. So awful that I felt physically uncomfortable watching. Like I needed to wash.
The whole story, unsurprisingly, revolves around the Hunger Games. Hell, society revolves around the Hunger Games. It therefore came as a surprise that so little thought seems to have gone into what the Games mean to everybody in the Hunger Games storyverse.
We’re told that Catniss is the first person in 74 years to volunteer for the Games. Statistically, somebody must be put in her position of seeing a younger sibling picked once every two or three years – do your own guesstimate, but you’ll agree that it’ll have happened at least a dozen times before. But she’s the first in the best part of a century to want to save little ‘sis. Really?
And what about the prospect of fame and fortune, even if it comes at the expense of possible death? Is the writer saying that nobody sees – or has ever seen - the Hunger Games as a way out of their dead-end life? Not even with that big parade and TV interviews? Even given two per cent of us are meant to be psychopaths? Even given the post-apocalyptic decor of District 12?
So, the Hunger Games are so awful that people’ll do anything to get away, that it’s a fate worse than death, that not even the deranged can find any upside in the prospect? Not if you go by the mother’s reaction. It’s all a bit ho-hum to her, having her youngest progeny chosen for certain death, having her eldest take her place. I’ve seen village raffles with more riding on it.
So, ten minutes or so in and I’m getting confused: are these people alien to us? Am I meant to conclude that the fact that they look like us is a red herring, and that emotionally they’re a different species? There are plenty of stories out there that fit that model, but what they have, what makes them work is a bridging character through whom we see their world. Somebody to shout ‘you’re all wrong’ at them, somebody to try to change the world on our behalf because we’re not there. I’m waiting for them to show up, or for Catniss to be that character…
But, instead, we’re presented with a bunch of ciphers. Where’s the character who fights the system, not just other characters (should have been Catniss)? Where the character who falls apart because he doesn’t want to be there? Where’s the character who thinks he wants to kill, but does so and learns how horrible it really is? Where’s the character who doesn’t want to kill but is made to (which is sort of Catniss, although not enough is made of it)?
As a writer one of my mantras is that a story has to be about a character who wants something (anything!) but needs to overcome hurdles to get there. Put that in and you automatically create empathy; we all know what it’s like to want something. Hell, even The Very Hungry Caterpillar fits that mould.
Yes, Catniss has an aim in trying to save her sister, but she achieves that by volunteering. I’m amazed that this wasn’t changed to her needing to win the Games to save her sister in the second draft of the outline. Or amended on the napkin. And, yes, trying to stay alive is a big aim, but in the grand guignol of the movie I need something, anything, riding on it. I’m quite happy with stories that are emotionally shallow, but this one was beached. And without a sense of purpose your character arc flatlines - the Catniss at the end is no different from the girl at the beginning. And after all that she's been through?! That's almost an achievement.
Not having read the books I really don’t know how faithful the film is (the Boy says it is), so these comments apply wholly to the movie. And there’s still a lot to admire: Jennifer Lawrence herself, the cinematography of the forest, the effects. But if the story doesn’t engage then you find yourself disconnected and nothing can ever draw you back in. It ends up looking like something silly that should be on a cable channel at 3am. Or something that looks like a satire but isn't sure what it's satirising.
And, if they can make big cats rise from the forest floor, holograms brought to life, why haven’t they invented the autocue for Stanley Tucci?