I typed this up a while ago and kept forgetting to post it. Now that I’ve read the book and this stuff mostly holds up, I might as well post it.
I saw the movie without having first read the book, and I am quite happy that I approached the series in that order. I have heard from a number of people that the movie is but a pale imitation, so this way I suspect that I will be able to thoroughly enjoy both.
Because…the movie was absolutely amazing. Many movies feel…oh, say, abridged. I’m not just talking about ones which are adapted from books and which are quite literally abridged. Perhaps this is because I am so used to getting my stories in book form, but whatever the structural necessities of a two-hour movie happen to be, the story always feels abbreviated, like an appetizer for a richer, larger meal.
The Hunger Games may have felt slightly rushed, but it nailed the highs and lows and complexities of a much longer work. I was sucked into the story in a way I thought only happened with books. I felt anxious for the characters. I gasped and smiled and cried, and at the end after Mom and I passed around tissues to dry our tears with I turned to my brother and asked him how the movie was.
He said, “It was eh.”
If proof is ever needed that my brother is secretly a robot, here it is. Also, if you ever needed a reason to watch the movie in the theater, here it is: in the dark, no one can see you cry.
At first, I thought that I was going to type up what I thought about the movie, the impressions I got and the conclusions I came to and the questions I had etc etc. And then I thought, well, no I shouldn’t, because what if they’re wrong, and I read the book and find that out? And then I thought again, well, yes I should, because it will be interesting to see whether I’m right, and it wouldn’t be any use talking about this after I’ve read the book because of confirmation bias.
So. There be spoilers.
I’ll say it once more for improved clarity; THERE BE SPOILERS.
So, one of my big beefs with YA is its approach to romance. A lot of the time a boy meets a girl or vice versa and their relationship is factious and then the main obstacle is overcome and they like each other because they’ve gotten over their differences or egos or whatever and then they live happily ever after, or whatever, which seems like a rather shortsighted ending for a book about a couple of teenagers.
THG either subverts or avoids all of those issues.
- Katniss and Peeta don’t hate each other. I thought Katniss hated him at first, but it turns out I was wrong. I’ll talk about this later.
- They get together before the main obstacle is overcome, but that doesn’t mean their personal differences are gone or forgotten.
- They don’t live happily ever after however much Peeta might wish so, because Katniss has an old flame which the movie (and Katniss) hasn’t conveniently forgotten about.
At first, I thought Katniss hated Peeta because we kept getting flashbacks of him throwing bread to pigs while Katniss (who obviously needed some food) watched, so I thought he was callus and wasteful. Then I saw the rest of the flashback, and I realized that she had trying to push him away not because she hated him, but because she was afraid of liking him. Suddenly, I was able to translate what she meant during her bout of rage after Peeta said he liked her on national TV. Not, “You’ll make me look weak”, but “You’ll make me weak.”
This also put their vicious one-upmanship argument over dinner into context. At first, I was confused—why was Katniss so pissed at Peeta for talking about how good she was at archery? Why did Katniss turn around and start extolling Peeta’s strength as a form of revenge? Were they supposed to keep quiet about their talents so that no one would know what they were capable of?
This was reasoned on the basis that Katniss dislikes Peeta and that Peeta is willing to do whatever it takes to win (because at this point I still wasn’t sure how honest he had been about liking Katniss—might that declaration have just been a PR thing?). But by changing the assumptions to Katniss guardedly caring about Peeta and Peeta worshipping the ground that Katniss walks on, the exchange made so much more sense. Peeta was making sure that the rest of the team knew that Katniss had mad skillz, and Katniss was pissed that Peeta was selling himself short.
And this is why I wasn’t annoyed when they ended up together. Katniss didn’t want to let herself care about him while he might die at any moment, but when they were given the chance to be a team she flew to his side because she is stronger or…more confident when she has someone to protect. She’s not that good at acting to safeguard her own wellbeing, but she is very good at doing it to protect someone else’s.
This is never more evident than in the dichotomy between her interviews before and after the game. Before, she was paralyzed, her face blank. She wanted to participate enough to keep the government from punishing her family, but she also wanted to be true to herself. She couldn’t say the things she was thinking for fear of saying something wrong. She couldn’t make up something charming and inconsequential to say, because that would be fake and also she’s not very good with ingratiating herself with people (and that in itself was refreshing, to have a protagonist without a silver tongue). Her anxiety was made palpable by the crazy, fuzzed camera angles and the buzzing audio. The conversation felt disjointed, and her answers seemed to take too long to come.
Contrast this to the after-game interview. She had a script to follow and an image to project. Failure could cost Peeta or her family their lives. She smiled and put on her best act (which, granted, still seemed constrained, but it probably wasn’t any worse than before). The camera was fixed and distant. Katniss was less worried about projecting a false impression, and more focused on disseminating the right false one.