Gamesmakers Hijack Story: Capitol Wins Hunger Games Again

by John on March 27, 2012

Welcome to those new readers who are checking out this “bookish” site after reading about it in the LA Times this morning!

Taking a tally of those who love and those who loathe the film adaptation of the first novel in Suzanne Collins’ Panem Trilogy, the folks who are voting in the negative are a decided minority, and, frankly, rather apologetic to the Bolsheviks (Russian for “the majority”) who are as often as not enthusiastic, even evangelical, about their feelings. HogwartsProfessor, of course, is something of a contrarian site and much more about books than film. I know serious readers around the world check in here for the view-in-opposition to the critical mass and memes.

So I will oblige them today with two ideas I’m guessing they won’t read anywhere else, ideas many of you probably won’t like, especially if you’re as enthusiastic about the film as a fictional Capitol stylist discussing the real Hunger Games.

A friend in Houston told me once it’s best to say three nice things before counseling and correcting someone else. He laughed that even saying “Nice shoes, good haircut, love the shirt” in one breath before dressing down his son on a character issue helped them both.

So here are the three nice things I have to say about Hunger Games, the movie:

  1. It wasn’t cloyingful faithful to text like Sorcerer’s Stone was and it wasn’t camp parody of text like Twilight was.
  2. The casting was flawed, not inspired, but all actresses and actors did well, I thought, with what parts they were given to play, especially Jennifer Lawrence.
  3. It was a beautiful film to watch; all the nature and city scenes were well filmed, the sets thoughtfully designed, and the camera angles and lighting done artfully and provocatively. I thought the hand-held camera bit a good choice.

There. Now let’s talk about the disaster.

First thought: Lionsgate director Gary Ross (with a heavy assist from actor Donald Sutherland) hijacked the satirical edge of Hunger Games to write movie makers into the story (1) as heroes martyred to the Capitol-ists they are beholden to in order to have the money they need to make films and (2) as victims of an oligarchic government who punishes them for telling a story ‘against the grain.’ The film means something quite different from the book; it’s ultimately a different story message than the original, and, as you’d expect, it’s one much more sympathetic to Hollywood and the filmmaker’s art.

Second thought: The almost uniform delight of readers, serious and not-so-serious, with this dumbed-down adaptation that is only the narrative shadow of the novel, is evidence that they have been “hijacked,” too, by the altered story Those readers who have read the finale of the Panem Saga know that “hijacking” here doesn’t mean stealing airplanes in transit but having your minds and memories re-shaped and altered via moving screened images. Hunger Games book-fans who believe that the movie is a great adaptation as true to the original as a medium jump like this allows, I’m afraid, are, ahem, Mutt-readers whose memories of their reading experience have been scrambled and re-oriented by the powerful Capitol tracker-jacker serum of film mixed with TinselTown hype.

Watching the movie, in other words, especially watching it repeatedly, all but obliterates many readers’ former understanding, which brain washing effect of movies and television, of course, is a major point or theme of the Katniss Everdeen Saga.

If I’m right on the second point, of course, the hijacked reality of most viewers’ minds at present makes it very unlikely that the readers among them will be receptive to whatever I have to say here. Think of the response of the shackled cave dwellers when they hear that the shadows on Plato’s allegorical cave wall are “Not Real.” I suspect it’s a real possibility that discussion of these two points will be greeted as Katniss was by Peeta on their first meeting in District 13 after his rescue.

But I’ll chance that kind of rejection to point out the “Not Real” quality of the film, the greater irony of it, in the hopes that some of those who entered into the books at some depth will wake up to how we’ve been played.

First Thought: The Star of this Show is Seneca Crane. Katniss who?

The first scene of the film is a Caesar Flickerman interview with Seneca Crane, the last is of President Snow who has just forced Crane to commit suicide. A story is largely about how it is framed — and this story is about the choices and fate of the Gamesmaker, Seneca Crane.

Look for the shiny edge of your memory of the first book and ask yourself: “Real or not real?”

Not real.

Seneca Crane is not a player in the book from which this film is an adaptation. He appears only in name in Catching Fire as the late Seneca Crane and his importance lies in how Katniss uses him in her ‘art attack’ on the Gamesmakers during her Quell mock execution of same. So why did this not present figure become at least as important as the Girl on Fire whose fate he holds in his hands?

Because the Gamesmakers of Hollywood — the establishment of Hollywood directors, writers, and studios — don’t see themselves as the willing agents of the Capitol but the great artists who suffer under the boot of their patrons, the Capitol-ists and government. So the movie meaning shifts to Seneca, the director, and the evil of President Snow, rather than the hijacking power of screened images.

Wasn’t that their only self-respecting and self-important choice? To make it about themselves, the Hollywood Gamesmakers, and their imprisonment as artists to government and big money? Seneca Crane is inserted here as the martyred artist who did the right thing per the Revolutionaries (Haymitch and the Districts) and who pays the ultimate price for his crime, namely, speaking truth to power or letting art become a threat rather than a sop to the people.

And lest you think I’m making this up, please review the comments made by Director Ross and his mentor, Donald Sutherland, about the great improvements they had made to the Hunger Games story by adding the Crane-Snow story line and scenes. We’ve discussed them already here and here.

If you don’t buy that the Gamesmakers of our Capitol have hijacked the movie’s anti-Hollywood theme, there is a test we’ll have in the their Catching Fire adaptation. I think it will be an if-and-only-if type demonstration, too. How do they write up Katniss and the Seneca Crane dummy?

I’m guessing that, if I’m right, they’ll spin Katniss’ assault in Catching Fire‘s training evaluation so it says almost exactly the opposite of what it does in the book. We read that scene as her attack on the Gamesmakers and her telling them all but point blank how she intends to work the Quell so that they all die (as they do, except Plutarch who is on the Rebels’ side and escapes). “You’re next!” in other words. My guess is Lionsgate will film that scene as a parallel iconography of shame in sync with Peeta’s painting of Rue, i.e., “Remember Seneca Crane!” here doesn’t mean “See your future, fellow pigs!” but “Stand by while we avenge the Rebellion martyr’s death!” I bet Katniss draws Crane’s Mephistopheles beard on the dummy, too, in a fairly sympathetic fashion.

Sutherland has recently opened up about his remarkable ambitions for the films here:

This script came and it seemed to me that it was a game changer. That it had the possibility, if it were properly done, to catalyze, motivate, mobilize a generation of young people who were, in my opinion, by and large dormant in the political process. You have Occupy Wall Street and all that, but it has a limited base or it seems to have a limited base. And I hoped and I felt that this could maybe spread out across the country. I don’t care what they do, just so long as they stand up and do something so that they identify the political situation that we’re in. I was thrilled at that possibility.

Plutarch Heavensbee, anyone? More on him in a minute.

You’ll note, if you read the rest of the interview that he had this epiphany after reading the first script, the one by Collins, in which President Snow’s “was at that time a very peripheral part.” You’ll see, too, that, though he is “loathe to use the word genius,” he breaks his own rule to use it for Ross and Lawrence, whose acting genius he likens to Laurence Olivier. Oh, and he hasn’t read the books, only the script, and Ross contacted him to play Snow. So much for Ross’ comments here that Sutherland read the books or book and contacted him about the part.

They are both eager to add that they haven’t altered the story as originally told in any significant way, that Ross wrote in these changes “and Suzanne Collins loved them” (Sutherland), and that “obviously the fact that Suzanne loved it instilled in me that I had been properly calibrated and my tonal sense of the material was coming through” (Ross). I don’t know Suzanne Collins, but allowing for the possibility that she did love and embrace all these changes to her material as “genius,” I think she was snookered. Played. (Or, Queen of Irony that she is, perhaps she just played along.)

It makes sense that there would be scenes from behind the scenes we didn’t get in The Hunger Games, the book, once the screenwriters decided they couldn’t work with the first person narration of the trilogy. But we lose something more than reader identification consequent to exclusive focus on the heroine; we lose the ‘wow’ of a slowly revealed consciousness of being a pawn in the game, just another person caught in the power holder’s metanarrative. We lose, in brief, the brutal ending of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.

If you haven’t read The Lottery, you should, especially if you want the backdrop of the Reaping in Panem and why nobody raises their hand to take down such a murderous and pointless “reminder” of the Capitol’s worthiness and the Districts’ otherness or unworthiness. We know that Collins is a big Jackson fan. In this very short horror piece, Jackson’s best known work, villagers submit themselves willingly to an age-old superstition masquerading as tradition, in which each family head pulls a slip of paper from a Black Box. The family whose leader pulls the slip with a black dot them has every family member pull a slip. The one from that group that pulls the dotted slip is stoned to death.

Jackson doesn’t reveal this murderous madness and collective imprisonment to unthinking and unjust convention until the last paragraph.

By making the film be about Seneca and Snow, here not the President who is a serpentine symbol of Satan and everything evil (Collins repeatedly refers to him as a snake) but a Machiavellian “bureaucrat” (Sutherland’s word; “I don’t find him scary or terrible”), there is no gradual realization of how profoundly we are in the grip of our culture’s thinking, be it left, right, or off the chart. Without that gradual reveal or sudden reveal at the end — recall Katniss’ shock at Johanna’s openly defiant speech in the Quell — there is no experience of this cathartic difficulty.

What is Donald Sutherland’s metanarrative? That the capitalists are the “scary and terrible” folks and the hippies of the 60′s and 70′s had it right.

Q: Your character is the only one who seems to really understand that there is a world possible outside of the Hunger Games.

Sutherland: Yeah, sure there is. You know, you think when General Electric doesn’t pay tax on four billion dollars they don’t know that there is another world possible where they did pay the bloody tax? Sure they do.

Q: It’s interesting that you could really connect it to the Occupy moment. The underdog speech is something you might hear on conservative radio.

Sutherland: Exactly, yeah. Yeah. Except for Rush [Limbaugh] [laughs]. I bet Lionsgate doesn’t want us to dwell too much on Occupy Wall Street. But you’re right. I went there. I went to Occupy Vancouver. It felt so good. Somewhere around ’74, whatever we were doing was co-opted. It was commercialized. It became a brand and everybody lost heart. I have here [reaches for his briefcase], I have it here I don’t want to take it out, “The Port Huron Statement,” that the SDS made in 1962… Oh god, read it. Read it! Read it! It’s so — it’s just brilliant. It’s really brilliant. It’s brilliant today and I can’t read it because I can’t see properly, but it ends with something to the effect of, “You might think that what we are proposing is unattainable. But we’re proposing that because otherwise what is going to happen is unimaginable.” And that’s what happened.

Ah, the lost Paradise described by the Huronite visionairies! If you’ve read Hoffer’s The True Believer, you recognize in this the secular millenialism of 20th Century Communists and Socialists that they lifted in turn from 19th Century Pie In the Sky and Social Gospel Christians — and you see in in Sutherland just the sort of thinker that becomes the ideological firebrand forever married to the lost cause.

So what?

Roger Ebert in his review of the Hunger Games adaptation notes:

In interviews, Sutherland has equated the younger generation with leftists and Occupiers. The old folks in the Capitol are no doubt a right-wing oligarchy. My conservative friends, however, equate the young with the Tea Party and the old with decadent Elitists. “The Hunger Games,” like many parables, will show you exactly what you seek in it.
If anything, Ebert feels, the story was cowardly in its exploration of the socio-political or “moral issues:”
“The Hunger Games” is an effective entertainment, and Jennifer Lawrence is strong and convincing in the central role. But the film leapfrogs obvious questions in its path, and avoids the opportunities sci-fi provides for social criticism; compare its world with the dystopias in “Gattaca” or “The Truman Show.”  Director Gary Ross and his writers (including the series’ author, Suzanne Collins) obviously think their audience wants to see lots of hunting-and-survival scenes, and has no interest in people talking about how a cruel class system is using them. Well, maybe they’re right. But I found the movie too long and deliberate as it negotiated the outskirts of its moral issues.

He thinks the story is insufficiently political. Forgive me for wondering how they could have made the subjection of the Districts by the Capitol more the point of the film. But Ebert is right on about left and right claiming the story as their own. Another viewer-non-reader like Ebert and Sutherland wrote at National Review Online, the bastion of internet conservatism, that the Hunger Games is required viewing for Reaganauts looking for inspiration:

Returning home after the movie, I was surprised to read that some liberals were claiming the movie as their own on at least three grounds:

1) Class warfare. The rich 1 percent is living off the impoverished people, sort of an Occupy Wall Street argument. Ha! The rich 1 percent in this movie is in the nation’s capital, apparently with nothing to do except watch reality TV shows and live off the backs of the people. Doesn’t the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area have the highest median income in the country?

2) Eco-alarmism. The tyrannical state (the former U.S.?) arose from cataclysmic environmental abuses. Maybe that is in the book. It is not in the movie. There are some hints that all may not be right in the environment, but this film is no futuristic Inconvenient Truth. When hunting, Katniss sees her first deer in over a year — and promptly takes aim — but the forest nevertheless appears to provide sufficient game to keep Katniss’s family alive. (Evidently, it is the state’s rationing of food that causes widespread hunger outside the capital.) The forest in which the Hunger Game is fought is lush, almost primeval; though one cannot be sure to what extent it is manipulated by the state. What’s more, the heroine is from a coal-mining family, hardly the green movement’s favorite industry.

3) Feminism. The heroine is a feminist archetype, matching wits and strength with the best of them. Well, I am a feminist, too, and I like women who defend their families, fight for their freedom, maintain their compassion, oppose big government, can shoot an apple from a pig’s mouth yards away, and still look great. I am thinking more Sarah Palin than Nancy Pelosi. . . .

Too funny. Everything in literature and film has to be run through the competing narratives of our statist and individualist partisan filters. The difference between this NRO writer and Sutherland, though, is not their shared millenialism, but that he had a big part with Ross in re-shaping the story to be about his narrative. He tells us as much himself. Seneca Crane is a transparency for life in the film industry.

[Snow] thinks that Wes Bentley’s character would probably take over his position. He is 76 years old, He was two years old when the Hunger Games started. And he’s looking for a successor. And he tests Wes’ character. “You’ve allowed this girl. This underdog. Do you like underdogs? You’ve allowed her to take some kind of position of power.” …When you fail, you die. You’re not really of any use. You have your chances. It’s kind of the same in this business these days, you know? You have that one chance and you either succeed or fail.

It’s not just Sutherland that sees the film about an exposition of the oh-so-relevant plight of the artist under the capitalist thumb. Long-suffering Lenny Kravitz, born sucking on the proverbial silver spoon of access and privilege, also sees this as the “broccoli” being smuggled in with the food the kid likes:

[T]he cool thing about this project, The Hunger Games, is that it’s like sneaking in the broccoli to the kid.

LK: “Yeah, most definitely. I think so, and I think that’s why it’s going to be so appealing to not just kids, but I’m here in LA and I’m seeing friends who are like in their 40s, 50s, 60s—they’re like ‘we can’t wait for this movie!’ And I’m like ‘really? You can’t wait? You know about this?’ But everyone knows about it. And whether it started with kids and then the parents started reading the books, I don’t know how it worked, but adults find those messages, like you said, they find the broccoli within.”

Could you relate to this character in the sense that he’s an artist and you’re an artists who communicates through your medium? Because Cinna is a fascinating character in that he’s really telling a story with the costumes he creates.

LK: “Yeah. Of course, of course. And also people trying to control your artistry too. Because he’s an artist, and he’s a great designer, but he’s working under the government. Almost kind of like how musicians worked under the kings, whether you were Mozart or whoever, there were court composers and people that wrote for the king, and the king said ‘you know, you can’t put that note in because that’s an evil note or whatever.’ So yeah, although I have creative control in my music and always have. That was the first thing when I signed, I have to have creative control, and I got that. A lot of musicians don’t have that. But I know what it’s like for people to want to control it, it happens all the time, because for them, you’re all about money.”

You’re a commodity.

LK: “Yeah. It’s like you had that big hit, so they want you to do that again. Well, it’s too late, it’s already been done and now we have to move on to the next thing. Or, the fad right now is—you know—electronic gadgets. Well, I’m not into electronic gadgets. So, you know, people are always trying to control.”

MTV, the ultimate industry lap dog perhaps, loves the film; believe it or not, their reviewer, a self-described “fan of the book,” says the movie is a better telling of the story than the book. Now, I’m guessing that is so over the top even for MTV that it was written to generate traffic, which I’m guessing it did (as we’ll discuss, there is a limit to hijacking among readers). What reasons does he give, though, for the improved version the film is? Well, for one thing, the movie is “to the letter” faithful to the original:

The Capitol. The Cornucopia. Rue’s song. The cave scene. Heck, even the muttations, weird as they are. All of these things, written about vividly in the books, come to startling life in Ross’ hands. You get all the familiar beats and scenes and interactions from Collins’ fantastic tale, faithfully rendered to the letter. But the subtlety in the director’s adaptation, helped along greatly by the cool score from James Newton Howard and T-Bone Burnett, elevates what was great about the source material to brand-new heights. That’s what you want from an adaptation — elevation, enhancement — and to that end, “Hunger Games” succeeds fantastically, in ways “Twilight” and even “Harry Potter” never fully achieved.

Amazing. I don’t doubt Josh Wigler’s honesty in saying he’s read the book, but he hasn’t read it more than once. For reasons of economy with time, I’m guessing, and desire to slow the Peeta-Katniss relationship to “an evolving one of trust with Peeta” (Ross) almost every scene with Katniss and Peeta is turned upside-down and is anything but “rendered to the letter.” Not the scene on the rooftop. Not Rue’s death. Not the Bakery Save flashbacks or the Cave.  Not the train rides. What is he thinking? I won’t bore you with the changes made to the Cornucopia finale, Rue’s song, or the muttations; I’m pretty sure I don’t need to. [Everything That Was Left Out of Hunger Games]

But this supposed fidelity is Mr. Wigler’s afterthought, and so off the mark that I have to wonder if it isn’t intentional hyperbole to raise controversy and fan ire about his “better than the book” idea (I prefer thinking of people as acting intentionally rather than from stupidity, alas, even when the former almost always involve some degree of the latter). The big improvements in the movie, he says, are its liberating us from the confining perspective of the narrator and, bigger, the inclusion of Seneca Crane.

Katniss aside, the real human star here just might be Seneca Crane. Wes Bentley delivers a great turn as the gamemaker, who has a smaller role in the “Hunger Games” novel, but a crucial, movie-opening part to play in Ross’ film. Without Katniss’ perspective, we’re allowed to spend time with Seneca not just in the control room — which is completely awesome and another point in the movie’s favor, by the by — but also opposite President Snow. Bentley and Donald Sutherland share several scenes that do not exist in Collins’ novel. Including these moments in the movie helps pave the way for what’s to come in subsequent “Hunger Games” movies like “Catching Fire” and the rumored two-part “Mockingjay.” In other words, Seneca’s increased screen time is a huge boost for the overall “Hunger Games” mythology. It also doesn’t hurt that he has the greatest beard in the history of the universe.

As I said above, I understand the inflated use of Crane and Snow (and Flickerman and Templesmith…) to compensate for the absence of the narrative voice in the books and the need for a much collapsed exposition. But Crane’s character is invented whole cloth and becomes a sympathetic, even admirable and enviable figure. He’s the guy in charge of the “completely awesome” tech control center where white frocked antiseptic technocrats coldly arrange children’s deaths inventively. He’s the one that buys into Haymitch’s star crossed lovers” idea that leads to the first rule change. And, in his death consequent to Katniss blowing the Games up in his face, we’re actually asked to sympathize with a Gamesmaker, the victim of Government “control” of artists, as Kravitz has it.

This is a great improvement, we’re told, because it will set us up for future movies. I think I see where this is going. The real hero of the not real future is… Plutarch Heavensbee, the artist that works so he gets to be the government official directing the art. How do we get there unless we see Crane as a martyr or victim to be avenged?

Let me play the incendiary part of the blogger fond of hyperbole here to sum up this first idea. Y’know, to build traffic to the site.

Sutherland and Ross don’t see themselves as part of the Capitol machinery Collins is savaging in her Everdeem Trilogy. The director and once-peripheal-now-near-lead actor believe they are the long-suffering rebel artists needing liberation from the Freak Show and Groveling of Hollywood to its capitalist masters. Hence Peeta’s diminution as artist speaking truth to power (sacrificial love, anyone?) and the invented story line of Seneca Crane and President Snow. JLawr is perfect for Katniss in the story retold from this Gamesmaker as hero point of view because the real focus needs to be diminished into just eye candy and a tease story to put viewers in the seats — to watch the real story of our heroic film makers!

Really, saying the movie is better than the book is to confess you are a complete vidiot unable to experience imaginative text. Not to mention a little hostility to the novels’ subtext and quite a bit of identification with the Hollywood elite who despise the proles in the Capitol their films are for (not to mention the Capitol-ists they are beholden to). This elite and their media/fandom hangers on imagine themselves as the real voice of the disenfranchised “underdog” proletariat Snow/Sutherland tells Crane he needs to hate as “other.”

The film has hijacked the story, so Peeta and Katniss are witless story elements and the heroes are Haymitch and Seneca, fighting against the real power holders. How about that “bitter cup” chalice that Crane had to drink from in the end? Nice little Garden. Not especially subtle.

The first point of disappointment in the film, then, why it and the over-the-top enthusiasm of Rotten Tomato and MTV reviewers, is the Sutherland-Ross insertion of the Capitol is OK message and themselves into The Hunger Games. They’ve worked themselves into the story, not as the exploitative Capitol-ites that they are, but as the heroes of the piece — hence all those film mavens married to the Cave Shadow Show industry have greeted it with hosannahs. It confirms all their beliefs but betrays Collins’ larger message, a message of Real/Not Real they’re going to miss entirely, being the vessel of ‘Not Real’ all the way.

Enough over the top dismissal. On to the second point.

Second thought: Watching Movies is a a Near Sure Means to Being Hijacked by Movie Makers

We all know how hard it is to keep a mental picture of a book character after watching film adaptation of that work. Does even the most fervent Gone with the Wind re-reader see Rhett Butler as anyone but Clark Gable? Ms. Rowling says she has a different person in her head for Harry Potter than Daniel Radcliffe, which gives her another entry in the Category “Only Person on Earth Who…”

This obliteration of even dearly held mental pictures by movies isn’t an accident; it’s a function on how the mind views screened images projected in sequence. As Jerry Mander, real mame, another television professional in recovery, explains in his important though inevitably neglected book, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television that screened images are hypnotic because they bypass conscious filtering in their speed. After detailing the several studies linking television viewing’s mental activity (or lack of it) and posture with hypnosis subjects, Mander writes:

I do not think of myself as hypnotized while watching television.

I prefer another frequently used phrase. “When I put on the television, after a while there’s the feeling that images are just pouring into me and there’s nothing I’m able to do about them.”

This liquid quality of television imagery derives from the simple fact that television sets its own visual pace. One image is always evolving into the next, arriving in a stream of light and proceeding inward to the brain at its own electronic speed. The viewer has no way to slow the flow, except to turn off the set altogether. If you decide to watch television, then there’s no choice but to accept the stream of electronic images as it comes.

The first effect of this is to create a passive mental attitude. Since there is no way to stop the images, one merely gives over to them. More than this, one has to clear all channels of reception to allow them in more cleanly. Thinking only gets in the way.

There is a second difficulty. Television information seems to be received more in the unconscious than the conscious regions of the mind where it would be possible to think about it. I first felt this was true based on my own television viewing. I noticed how difficult it was to keep mentally alert while watching television. Even so the images kept flowing into me. I have since received many similar descriptions from correspondents.

One friend, Jack Edelson, described his feeling that “the images seem to pass right through me, they go way inside, past my consciousness into a deeper level of my mind, as if they were dreams.”

As we study how the TV images are formed, it is possible to understand how Edelson’s description might be keenly accurate.

I have described the way the retina collects impressions emanating from dots. The picture is formed only after it is well inside our brain. The image doesn’t exist in the world, and so cannot be observed as you would observe another person, or a car, or a fight. The images pass through your eyes in a dematerialized form, invisible. They are reconstituted only after they are already inside your head.

Perhaps this quality of nonexistence, at least in concrete worldly form, disqualifies this image information from being subject to conscious processes: thinking, discernment, analysis. You may think about the sound but not the images.

Television viewing may then qualify as a kind of wakeful dreaming, except that it’s a stranger’s dream, from a faraway place, though it plays against the screen of your mind.

The stillness required of the eyes while watching the small television screen is surely an important contributor to this feeling of being bypassed by the images as they proceed merrily into our unconscious minds. There are hundreds of studies to show that eye movement and thinking are directly connected. The act of seeking information with the eyes requires and also causes the seeker/viewer to be alert, active, not passively accepting whatever comes. There are corollary studies which show that when the eyes are not moving, but instead are staring zombie-like, thinking is diminished.

Television images are not sought, they just arrive in a direct channel, all on their own, from cathode to brain. If indeed this means that television imagery does bypass thinking and discernment, then it would certainly be more difficult to make use of whatever information was delivered into your head that way. If you see a person standing in your living room, you can say, “There is a person; how do I feel about this?” If, however, the person is not perceived until she is constructed inside your unconscious mind, you’d have to bring the image up and out again, as it were, in order to think about it. The process is similar to the way we struggle to keep our dream images after waking.

If television images have any similarity to dream imagery then this would surely help explain a growing confusion between the concrete and the imaginary. Television is becoming real to many people while their lives take on the quality of a dream. It would also help explain recent studies, quoted by Marie Winn and many others, that children are showing a decline in recallable memory and in the ability to learn in such a way that articulation and the written word are usable forms of expression. We may have entered an era when information is fed directly into the mass subconscious. If so, then television is every bit Huxley’s hypnopaedic machine and Tausk’s influencing machine. (Arguments, pp 200-201) [TurnOffYourTV.com]

The validity of each of Mander’s arguments, I have to think, is visible all around us except to those hijacked by the glowing screen. This one, though, is most important for understanding not only why movies wash out our imagination produced ideas of what a story looks like, but also why book lovers may whine a little (or a lot) about what was “done to their song” while they still go to the movie-plex to see the next book they love distorted and turned inside out. (Hat tip to the HogPro All-Pros Arabella and RevGeorge who opted out of this movie. Talk about non-conformists!)

But, you’re saying, “Movies and television are really different technologies and experiences, John, You’re using an ‘apples’ argument to slam ‘oranges’.” Movies and television are really different, but as Mander explains in his findings about hypnosis, watching films in theaters is more likely to bring you into a stupor-like state and prone to suggestion. The darkness, the feeling of expectation, the crowd confirmation with laughter and tears of your feelings, the size of the screen, etc.

And the technology? The relevant difference between teevee and cinema is neglible; frame rate or the number of frames turned over per second is 24-30 frames or images per second for both media. Those rates are both twice, almost triple the speed necessaryto dupe the mind into believing there is continuous action (the mind cannot process images with conscious distinction faster than 10 per second). Al the images are received, however, and enter the mind, making impressions on the subconscious.

This is what Collins, the self-described television writer in recovery, is describing in her depiction of the Capitol’s hijacking methods. Beetee talked to Katniss after Peeta attacked her to explain what had happened to her:

“I’m sure you remember how frightening it was [being stung by tracker-jackers]. Did you also suffer mental confusion in the aftermath?” asks Beetee.

“A sense of being unable to judge what was true and what was false? Most people who have been stung and lived to tell about it report something of the kind.”

Yes. That encounter with Peeta. Even after I was clearheaded, I wasn’t sure if he had saved my life by taking on Cato or if I’d imagined it.

“Recall is made more difficult because memories can be changed.” Beetee taps his forehead. “Brought to the forefront of your mind, altered, and saved again in the revised form. Now imagine that I ask you to remember something – either with a verbal suggestion or by making you watch a tape of the event – and while that experience is refreshed, I give you a dose of tracker jacker venom. Not enough to induce a three-day blackout. Just enough to infuse the memory with fear and doubt. And that’s what your brain puts in long-term storage.”

Now read this ‘Games Deserves a Second Viewing’ from a big Hunger Games fan, a giantess in the fandom, who was very disappointed in her first experience of the adaptation but loved it on her second trip:

There was no goodbye visit from Mr. Mellark with cookies. No lamb stew. No Cinna twirling his finger at Katniss in silent support or tapping of his chin to tell her to hold her head high. The Capitol electrical current hair dryer didn’t make it. The District 11 bread gift was eaten by the editors along with Haymitch’s goodie basket. The mutts were merely dogs. Katniss doesn’t run into Haymitch’s arms after recovery and receive a “Nice job, sweetheart.”. She never bangs on the glass in a desperate attempt to get to Peeta and she never accepts a handful of flowers from him before breaking his heart.

As Kimmy turned to me and said, “Wasn’t that amazing?!” I could only muster a nod because I was so conflicted and mad at myself and shocked that it was already over. How could I have let that happen to myself? Why did I go in with so many specific scenes cemented into my head? I guess I just couldn’t help myself.

I went to the midnight showing at my local theater here in Hawaii and found that with all the expectations, tension, and anticipation gone, I was finally able to just relax and watch the movie. It no longer felt like I was watching it on fast forward. After the Games is still a bit too rushed for me, but in general, my second viewing was so superior to the first that I’m pretty sure a lot of people are going to see ‘The Hunger Games’ twice. Plus, I picked up on quite a few things I’d missed the first time. I cried way more than I did the first time as well.

Yet I knew in my heart that the movie had still managed to stay astonishingly true to the book, the story of Katniss, and the larger message of the books so there was no denying that the movie was fantastic. It was just a different experience, something I thought I knew going in, but didn’t realize fully until Thursday night. All those changes were understandable and in the two weeks I had to think about it, almost all of them were in the grand scheme of things, necessary.

If you’re not planning on seeing it again because you’re just mad about everything that was different about it, believe me when I say that there’s a good chance you’ll change your mind if you go again. If you’re anything like me, you’ll need that first time just to “loosen up your corset” and the second time to experience it for real.

No, seeing it again doesn’t make it more “real.” I’ve seen the movie twice and I’m pretty sure my understanding of the books held up to the brain-wash, despite my tight corset. Because were doing Haymitch talk, “Repeated viewing, sweetheart, is a second dose,” or “stiffer drink” as the well sauced mentor might say, I’m guessing a stronger hypnotic hijacking of your recall about the story you love. A second sip of the Kool-Aid.

I wish this were unique to this Mockingjay.net reviewer. It isn’t. There are film ‘true believers’ all over the net who, if they don’t have the mind-as-mush or calculating motivation of an MTV “better than the movie!” reviewer, still suggest this story is a turning point for Hollywood and the first day of a Brave New World. I’ve just missed the subtlety and the anti-television scene as aside (that every movie viewer took as a “You’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy” moment).

Every one is entitled to their opinion and to some respect. Please overlook Mr. Crankypant’s disregard for others here. My opinion is this, in something of a palindrome-ish nutshell, though it promises to make my name radioactive in the Hunger Games fandom:

The Hunger Games story was hijacked by the Hijackers vilified in that story as Hijackers — and the Hijacker’s big screen story version has hijacked even the minds of those readers who understood the anti-hijacking message of the stories.

Which ironic and almost universal event of the last weekend only makes Suzanne Collins’ point about the power and danger of the Gamesmakers, doesn’t it?

Don’t loosen the strings keeping your mind together. Tighten that cranial corset, skip the second movie viewing or the first if you’ve put it off, shoot your television, and revisit Collins’ wonderful Panem novels. They’re “genius,” right?

Jonathan Haight, author of several books on how our minds work, most recently of The Righteous Mind, has written about the relationship of our conscious and deliberate thinking with our a-rational, instinctive self in terms of an elephant and its rider:

The mind is divided in many ways, but the division that really matters is between conscious/reasoned processes and automatic/implicit processes. These two parts are like a rider on the back of an elephant. The rider’s inability to control the elephant by force explains many puzzles about our mental life, particularly why we have such trouble with weakness of will. Learning how to train the elephant is the secret of self-improvement.

As often as not, as Jim Geraughty puts it, the rider isn’t directing or even in charge of the elephant but left rationalizing and justifying the actions it doesn’t control.

One key conclusion from Haidt’s research is that most people think backward. In other words, they come to a conclusion based on a gut or “irrational” assessment, and then work backward to look for supporting evidence and reasoning.

If your loosened corset is in a twist right now because I’ve explained too baldly how this film adaptation is a re-telling of Hunger Games to make us love those the books tell us to hate and that the reason you were highjacked is because that’s what teevee and movie technology does to human minds (especially those who watch all the time), before you blast me for my arrogance, answer these questions with your self=reflection cap on.

  1. Have you ever spent a conscious week, month, or year without television, movie, or YouTube video? Has it been a long time since you’ve taken even a day off from moving screened images?
  2. Accepting Haight’s elephant analogy, do you think this viewing strengthens the thinking rider in his mastery of the behemoth beneath or trains the beast to want and do what the Gamesmaker wants it to want and to do?

I understand that my view is a reflection of my personal narrative, even snobbery, about the virtues of books and the dissipating, demeaning effects of watching screened images that move. Don’t blame me, though, for noting here at post’s end that the love of this hijacked adaptation by even serious readers is a function of their elephant having been very well trained by the Gamesmakers in Hollywood and Television land. I won’t be surprised if I’m stampeded by elephants without reins, hypnotized by Gamesmakers, whose riders are shouting out justifications for my demise.

As always, though, I do covet your comments and corrections to my contrarian posture. Fire away, defenders of hijacking! Stay tuned, everyone, for five more days of Hunger Games month here at HogwartsProfessor.com!

{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

Peter March 27, 2012 at 1:19 am

John, you need to take a deep breath. I thought that your first review of the movie fell into the “OK, but not as good as the book” category, and now you are blasting it as a total transformation of the book. Just a few thoughts, because it’s late and I’m tired.

My own opinion of the Seneca Crane in the movie is that he’s an amoral entertainment creator who is willing and happy to do the bidding of evil, and is then snookered by Haymitch into changing his game to the benefit of Katniss and Peeta. He’s not a brave artist standing up to the powerful, but a dupe.

Donald Sutherland is tiresome off screen and I was worried about what he would do with President Snow. I thought he did a good job.

You are perceptive that the individualists and the statists will see what they want to see in the film. To me this just shows that the film makers did a good job, and it will provide for lively discussions. (However, where every name in the book has a meaningful association I have to point out the The Capitol is so named for a reason. I’m sure that even the most dim product of our education system knows what is the capital of the country.) I was worried that what I saw in the books as a very clear indictment of totalitarian government and how entertainment can be used to desensitize and dehumanize the populace would be lost in the movie. I don’t think that happened.

As to your heartfelt diatribe against the insidiousness of moving images, I’m afraid that ship sailed a long time ago. The genie will not go back in the bottle. I enjoyed the movie the first time around with a few reservations, and I’ll see it again this weekend, hoping that I’ll see even more that I like. I believe that there are some 25 million copies of The Hunger Games in readers’ hands, and the movie is sure to add more. It can’t be all bad. I’m planning to reread the trilogy from start to finish. And see the movies.

Steve L March 27, 2012 at 5:11 am

Wow. Must-read. Big Picture vs. Big Word.

Sarah March 27, 2012 at 6:00 am

“He’s not a brave artist standing up to the powerful.” I agree; I didn’t get that message from the movie at all. Of course, I see what you mean about how the moviemakers might have intended that, especially with the shortening of the discussion at the final Cornucopia scene. But I think the loss is acceptable for a movie version’s inevitable losses, considering that two major messages did come across: Katniss’s courage to love Prim, Rue, and Peeta in the face of death, and the sense of Capitol self-justification and obliviousness. You seem to be suggesting that the movie invites us to sympathize with Seneca Crane and see his actions as a rebellion against the Capitol; the only message I perceived concerning his death is the idea that he too is a victim of his culture’s brainwashing– which doesn’t excuse his crimes in the least. For me, it doesn’t reduce his villainy or make him a rebel to see his motivations a bit more.

I actually found that the Capitol’s rewriting of the Games was a helpful addition to Katniss’s justifiably limited perspective in the books; one of my first reactions to the books was, “wait, so WHY would the Capitol think that killing 24 children a year would make the districts LESS likely to rebel?” The movie’s doublespeak glorification of the games as meaning “so much more” than punishment, as if they are some transcendent representation of the patriotism, unity, and spirit of Panem instead of the exact opposite, was very insightful, I thought. Similarly helpful additions were the announcers’ interpretation of District 12′s handholding as triumphant and Haymitch’s observation of the Capitol children playing Hunger Games. While I think it would have been similarly illuminating to see Capitol reactions to Rue, the Cave scene, and the final Nightlock moment, I think they delayed the Capitol’s reaction to Fake Romance because it is going to be a focus of Catching Fire, and I think the choice to show District anger at Rue’s death emphasizes the difference between the Capitol and others. I do wish, however, that a bit more reaction to Katniss’s suicide moment had been shown: it would have given viewers more insight into Katniss’s intuitive brilliance at that moment, and shown the way she has learned to “manipulate” the audience as well, despite her fears: “maybe they don’t care if we die.” Obviously, they do, and that fact is the one piece of hope that the Capitol has going for them, even if they’ve twisted it into a voyeuristic appetite for teen love. So if your complaint is that Katniss’s moment is too brief and not emphasized enough by the movie, then I guess I agree with you.

But if your problem is that the movie explores the villain’s motivations a bit more, then I say that I prefer my anagogical readings to be supported by strong political and allegorical meanings as well, which in this abridged version of the books requires insight into the villains that Katniss didn’t give us until Mockingjay. I think the fact that the movie strengthened the latter two by presenting the Capitol’s attempts at thinking good things about itself is not as horrible as you’re making it out to be, and in fact fits with the naturalistic subtlety of the rest of the acting. But of course, I will gladly admit that much of this subtlety is no doubt missed without the books as guide to the film.

pete preston March 27, 2012 at 6:12 am

Wow!! @ John’s WMD! I agree with a lot of what John said. But Peter above is right too.

I have read the books and i hated the movie but will go see it again and TRY to enjoy it this time.

Gary Ross did a crap job and It is quite clear he went into this with an agenda. And like John suggested, Suzanne Collins was definitely snookered. Absolutely no way the film had her approval unless she was pressured into saying so.

John March 27, 2012 at 8:21 am

Peter wrote: My own opinion of the Seneca Crane in the movie is that he’s an amoral entertainment creator who is willing and happy to do the bidding of evil, and is then snookered by Haymitch into changing his game to the benefit of Katniss and Peeta. He’s not a brave artist standing up to the powerful, but a dupe.

Thank you, Peter. This is just the sort of conversation I hoped to have when I threw the grenade into the common room and shouted “the film isn’t about what you think.” I’m not quite ready to yield to your point about Crane, but this is what we should be discussing. How we see Crane — dupe or martyr — is how we understand Hollywood and how it comes to life in this movie. As Sutherland says, this character’s fate is the way things go in Hollywood today and is meant as a Gamesmaker transparency for a director or producer’s relationship with the real power holders.

You say he is a “dupe.” I agree. Our difference is how we understand the point that his artistry, naive as it is, is useful and admired as long as it serves the evil of the regime but the artist is destroyed when it even accidentally undermines the power of the regime. Crane dies because he dared to make a “star crossed lover” Hunger Games because he agreed it was great art and because he was manipulated by the counter-culture to make an anti-regime message. We’re together this far, I think, but not in how we understand it.

Crane is a sympathetic figure, sadist tool that he is and indifferent as he is to the Districts and their suffering (“No, I’ve never been to the far Districts”). We like sympathetic figures. We hate the bad guys who churn and burn the characters we like. Crane “white hat,” Rose “black hat.”

I’m willing to back off the hyperbole of my post which is as rhetorically heavy and cold as it is to act as a counter-balance to the blast furnace of adulation and fluff that has welcomed this adaptation. Crane is not lovable or heroic, per se. The filmmakers aren’t the saviors of Panem who are crucified by the Rose regime as much as they are witless widgits in a full toolbox. Granted.

But I hope you can acknowledge, too, that the Gamesmakers embodied by Crane have a role much larger in this story than is in the books, more than even narrative change and time collapse required, and that the net impression is one of sympathy for the guy’s cluelessness and fate at the hands of a boss who used him. The movie is as much the Crane story as the Everdeen story — and that is a hijacking and different meaning and a great loss.

About the “genie being let out of the bottle,” forgive me, but that dismissal of my “heartfelt diatribe” against screened images is a fairly pathetic shadow of the “you can’t turn back the clock” canard that has us embrace every aspect of modernity and technology. There is nothing about the evidence of mind-melt, but a casual acceptance of this poison as a fact of our times we might as well dig in and enjoy. I’m just a backward dinosaur longing for an ideal past (yawn). Peter, you’re a better thinker than that, obviously. Run the empirical experiment and go into detox. All you have to do is stop watching for any period of time and you will become more human in rapid order. And until you do, your opinion on the subject confirms my point.

Thank you for taking the conversation in a relatively healthy direction, Peter, even with the patronizing “deep breath” opening. I hope we can continue it.

Kat March 27, 2012 at 8:24 am

Wow. That was a post of epic epicness, John. A lot to think about. I had promised myself that I wasn’t going to read any reviews before seeing the movie, and though I failed in my promise with this post of yours I’m kind of glad I did. Though I’m not sure I share all of your views regarding film, I certainly want to go in armed and prepared against the Gamemakers and this post has definitely helped me with that. Thanks for the in-depth and thoughtful commentary, and I’ll be back once I have something to say about the movie itself.

Steve L March 27, 2012 at 10:03 am

John, did you see Hugo? There is a pretty heavy-handed “movies are dreams, dreams are movies, and we (the movie-makers) make dreams”. I think part of the issue is that “traditional” media, as in non-electronic books, physical distribution of music, and standard delivery of movies are having a rough time of it and are feeling threatened. Why else would they preach to us the virtues of making movies? Why else would they write themselves into the play as the victims?

To me, it destroys the appreciation of the art form as art. It becomes an advertisement, self-serving and self-congratulatory. Most of all, as good as any story can be, this sort of trope is ultimately unconvincing. You reacted against the trope. 99% of the people who watch and enjoy Hugo or Hunger Games will not even notice the sleight of hand, but neither will they be seduced into saying, “Yes, Hollywood should give me my movies in this certain format to make sure these certain people get paid until the end of time.”

In a certain sense, the cat *is* out of the bag because the internet is throwing everything for a loop, and consumers will consume without a preference for the self-interest of movie-makers. You’ve already won the argument, even as bold and persuasive as movie-makers try to be. They come across as arguing for movies. What they’re *really* arguing for is “we must be movie-middlemen, forever.”

John March 27, 2012 at 10:22 am

Fascinating ideas, Steve. I’ve lost my morning with, actually, make that “the morning has been well spent” chewing on what challenging thoughts you and Sarah have served up in this conversation.

Stray thought: is it really a surprise that Gamesmakers have turned a book unsympathetic to Gamesmakers into a film that shows Gamesmakers in a very flattering light?

To answer the rhetorical question, no, of course it isn’t a surprise. It’s what we’ve been dreading and expecting since the film project was announced. What makes the revelation so striking and so painfully ironic is the self-congratulation of the principal Gamesmakers, Ross and Sutherland, for their fidelity to text — and how the JabberJays of fandom have taken up this cry.

Nice movie, perhaps the best that could be had from Gamesmakers adapting a book revealing the mind-control work of Gamesmakers. But still a very different story, moral, and experience.

Carol Eshleman March 27, 2012 at 10:28 am

I think the Hunger Games as a film is an interesting paradox because in a sense, if the film does get through to you and Suzanne Collins’ point is made, then you wouldn’t want to watch it, and although you say that Hollywood is making themselves the martyrs in this film… I think there is a bit of the opposite in Gale’s comment “What if we didn’t watch?” I think that’s a big paradoxical statement for a film to make.

There was an article on CNN.com recently called “The Hunger Games asks us not to watch” or something along those lines. You should look it up, I think you’d find it interesting. She also mentions in that article about how Holy Week is coming up and the observance of Good Friday calls us to rewitness the violence of Christ’s death. Here’s the link to “Hunger Games Asks Us Not To Watch.”

John March 27, 2012 at 10:33 am

Friend of this blog the Rev. Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio, author of God and Harry Potter at Yale, wrote at CNN today (hat tip Carol above!):

As in Christianity, violence in “The Hunger Games” also serves a purpose: It is not gratuitous. It is not voyeuristic. But there’s a difference as well: We the viewers are not witnessing a past event. We feel like we are seeing the Games in real time, that we are part of Panem and, by virtue of sitting in the audience, part of its dysfunction.

That powerful revelation encourages us to contemplate the ways that we are complicit in violence in our own world and the ways in which we do not object.

So perhaps the great irony revealed by the film is that we are not meant to see it. We’re not intended to watch its violence, because this story, as Gale says, is meant to be protested. Which means that, ironically, “The Hunger Games’ ” greatest triumph would be an empty theater and streets full of people demanding the kinds of changes needed in Katniss’ world and in our own.

What if we did this? What if we didn’t watch?

I like to imagine that only then would the odds be truly be in Katniss’ favor. And in ours.

Read the whole thing.

About Carol’s point that the film asks us not to watch via Gale’s comments:

It then shows him watching. We get the message in this that there’s no way out of the Gamesmakers’ world except for an attack from within their world, the Games, which are a pipeline into everyone’s head. Because we have to watch.. Katniss will play a part in the attack from within, mostly as a pawn, but the Gamesmakers and stylists will lead the art insurrection.

Plutarch Heavensbee is the Gary Ross of the movie versions. Watch for it. “Avenge Martyr Crane!”

Prof. Baird-Hardy has noted that Cinna, not Seneca or Plutarch, is the author’s persona in text. And we see what happens to him. He’s not rescued with the stylists. Plutarch, like Ross and Sutherland, are the real heroes. It’s not “don’t watch” but “watch only our superficially anti-regime messages confirming our part of the regime.” Katniss and Peeta? Bit players, kids caught in the tide of revolution for use and discard by the real players.

And if the message were “don’t watch this film,” it was a failed delivery and dead on impact. They spent $45 million dollars over more than a year, half of what the total costs for filming were (!), to get people into seats — and many of them came back for repeated exposure to the “Don’t watch the movie” message. Pretty funny.

Sarah March 27, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Regarding the self-congratulatory interest movies take in their own ability to tell truth, what about early modern metatheatricality, such as the much-mocked mechanicals putting on a play in Midsummer Night’s Dream, or Hamlet’s anxiety over whether an actor’s fake emotions are more real than his own at the death of his father, or Alonso’s transformational response to Prospero’s productions in The Tempest? Some see these metatheatrical moves as a historical effect of the explosion of the theatre industry in 17th-century England and thus as no more than “preaching the virtues of making plays” or “writing actors/writers into the play as the victims” of audience skepticism, to paraphrase Steve a bit. Basically, they see these moments as drawing audiences out of the fiction and pointing rather to the creators of it. However, others have read these moments as profound reflection on the human tension between individual will and a societal role, on the human propensity for fiction-making as a means of shaping and understanding our world, and more. So Steve’s comment about the message of Hugo (which I have not seen) just seems odd to me, considering the long history of metafiction being used not just for artistic navel-gazing and self-advertisement but also for deepening the possible meanings of art as art…

Steve L March 27, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Sarah,

The political circumstances drive my interpretation. Usually I would agree with you. I definitely agree with you on Shakespeare.

John March 27, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Another great contribution, Sarah. Thank you!

I don’t have an answer for you, certainly, but some questions, because I hadn’t considered the possibility that the movie’s Games within the Film-as=Production could be meta-theater/fiction.

What do you make of the differences between the film and the Shakespeare plays you mention, most obviously that they are all fictions performed as transparencies or transformormative displays of earthly and greater realities and the ‘play within the Hunger Games play’ is no edifying fiction but simply punitive public spectacle and distraction?

Each of the producers of the stage-set-on-stage, too, comments about his second role as actor-cum-playwright. Do we see any of that sort of signalling from the Crane character that Ross is talking about his ironic position as Gamesmaker?

This is a fascinating take on the film but I’m having a hard time grasping it. I hope you’ll talk some more about meta-fiction, early and post modern, and how you see this film as an example of it.

Carol Eshleman March 27, 2012 at 2:47 pm

I think the fact that this discussion can go on, as in that we can debate our own impetus whether or not to watch this film is a mark of Suzanne Collins’ success- whether that success be in penning novels that bring these issues of “Hollywood-izing” to light or whether that success be in giving birth to a financially successful film franchise that can be held up to its birth-novel either as mirror or foil (depending on viewpoint). The fact that movie spawns the very debate that the novel seeks to step out against makes me wonder if these additions were made partially to spark this sort of discussion! I believe Sarah’s above Shakespeare references had that exact purpose. If that would be the case, then the novel and film form the perfect companions for us to formulate our comparisons… and also, I would then place Suzanne Collins’ artistic mastery in the realm of our own Queen Rowling. That whole concept makes me massively geek out… not to mention the fact that John replied to my comment. :-)

John March 27, 2012 at 3:43 pm

You’re too funny, Carol.

I’d note that this conversation, as engaged as we are, is taking place well off the radar of any significant fan group of readership. We get thousands of readers a day, which startles and humbles me, but the fandom magnet goliaths get hundreds of thousands (I cannot even imagine the traffic at Mockingjay.net during this media frenzy).

If Collins’ intent was to generate this kind of discussion, then, she has failed, because this conversation between online friends has the relative collective weight of we three meeting at a coffee shop for a chat.

Which has its value to us reading and those chatting. Sarah?

Sarah March 27, 2012 at 4:54 pm

I don’t know how much more I can contribute to this conversation, to be honest– my comment about Shakespeare was basically just to point out another period of history that involved both media changes and metafiction reflecting on those media changes. But let me just try to clear up a few points:

- just as a historical note, the question of whether Shakespeare and his fellows were in fact producing edifying fictions was very much a topic of debate during his time. There was major cultural fluster over the fact that plays drew prostitutes, apprentices who should have been at work or church, young men spending their inheritances on London summer fun, etc. So while we might be inclined to see inherent value in Shakespearean metatheatricality, the most practical motivations (of defending the moral and aesthetic value of the new art form for financial viability) are also possible. The point is just that financial and artistic motivations can and do mix, and that’s not necessarily destructive of art in my opinion.

- It seems like John is arguing that the “‘play within the Hunger Games play’” is not a valuable defense of movie fictions because within the movie world, the Hunger Games pageant is NOT transformative or edifying. Granted… but my examples of edifying fictions (and the Midsummer play is not that, actually- it’s more about training spectators to appreciate good plays properly by comically bad example!) were more of a general response to Steve’s comment that many movies nowadays, such as Hugo, seem to be invested in defending their own value/existence. I wasn’t meaning to apply it to Hunger Games specifically.

- But now that you mention it, I agree that the analogy to HG doesn’t work well for Tempest or Hamlet’s response to Hecuba. But what about a) Claudius’s attack of conscience on seeing his crime onstage in Hamlet’s ‘mousetrap,’ or b) the anecdote from Heywood’s Apology for Actors, about the woman who, seeing a murder in a play, cried out and confessed to her own murder of her husband? (This was touted at the time as an example of how plays could awaken moral conscience– again, something that was very much in doubt at the time because of anxiety about fiction as lies or actors wearing clothes above their class or pretending to be women…) In both these cases, it’s a representation of evil that awakens the conscience.

-Now I’m worried that will come across as a devil’s advocate argument for the “value” of the Games themselves to Panem. Just to be absolutely clear, I am NOT trying to read Seneca Crane as a rebel author who is trying to ignite Panem’s conscience via horror (though that concept actually does mirror some of John’s Pearl Plot ideas, in a rather twisted way… but no, not going to go there.) I don’t think the movie makers intend that reading, either, though I guess I’ll find out in movie 2. I just think that there was plenty of metafiction in the book itself about the danger of glorifying violence and cheap romance in children’s fiction, and the metafictional aspects of the movie simply come from trying to replicate that. My experience is that trashy books can be as bad for the brain and heart as trashy cinema; any painful misreadings of the movie in this sense are also possible of the book as well. Like I said before about Shakespeare, people have always criticized new media… i just find the parallels fascinating.

Steve L March 27, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Sarah,

In what way do you consider HG “new media?” Or, do you consider HG book/movie to be new media at all? Or is it the metafictional aspect that makes it new media? I understand the historical argument you’re trying to make, I may just be misunderstanding you on the last point.

Sarah March 27, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Just movies as new media. I was really just trying to respond to your idea about Hugo– didn’t intend to produce a whole ‘argument’!

Steve L March 27, 2012 at 5:15 pm

John,

“Watching Movies is a a Near Sure Means to Being Hijacked by Movie Makers” … this seems to be true of any medium. It makes me think of Fahrenheit 451 and the character that commits suicide after her books are taken away. Bradbury seems to be saying that books are better than tv/movies, and that books are worth dying for.

I think it is our capacity for imagination as humans that make it possible for anyone or anything to hijack the medium of communication. Even with everyday resentments, we can replay past events, hurts, joys in our head without the help of an outside source. I can pour the images into myself and I can only assume that’s why we have icons in the Church and the Jesus Prayer, to get us away from that.

Autumn March 27, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Unfortunately, I cannot read the entire original post nor all of its resulting comments due to time constraints, but I did want to say congratulations many times over to Professor Granger on being quoted in the LA Times!!!!! You certainly deserve it; you have done more than you’ll ever know to inform, instruct, edify, challenge, encourage, and better our understanding and appreciation of literature. Thank you so much for your tireless and priceless contribution to our reading and thus our lives, both personal and professional; I speak especially for university students like myself who wish to truly cherish and share Truth, Goodness, and Beauty as fully as we can. THANK YOU!!! :-)

Peter March 27, 2012 at 6:52 pm

John, I hear, “take a deep breath, dad” from my kids often enough that I’ve forgotten that the phrase can seem patronizing, and I apologize for that.

Rev. Tumminio’s post on CNN, which you linked to, was interesting. I also found one of the comments to her article (by LaLa) to be quite perceptive and to the point: “The attraction of The Hunger Games is not the violence. It’s the victory over oppression and tyranny. It’s the idea that a seemingly inconsequential act in one person can light a spark in others that leads to better lives for all. That one person trying to protect those she loves can make a difference in the world.”

About the insidiousness of moving images and constant electronic input: Every day I read two newspapers and spend at least an hour on various news and political opinion websites. I enjoy movies and watch several hours of TV each week. Every year I take a long motorcycle trip during which time I don’t watch TV, read newspapers, or have Internet access. Returning to my old habits is strange at first, but I don’t feel that I’m a better or different person for not having all the media input. I do admit that I feel refreshed and clear-headed, however, I attribute that to a month of doing something that I enjoy, namely riding my motorcycle long distances. But, maybe you are on to something…

About the self-referential role of the artist, and how the Gamesmakers were visible in the movie rather than being invisible as they were in the book: In the movie “Shakespeare in Love” one of the minor characters explains the plot of “Romeo and Juliet”: “It’s a play about a nurse,” he says. And so Donald Sutherland believes (perhaps) that “The Hunger Games” is a movie about President Snow. Film makers have a history of creating odes to themselves (“Cinema Paradiso”, “Day for Night” and many more), and artists often have an inflated sense of self-importance. In fact I’d say that everyone tends to overstate the influence and importance of their work in the world. Computer programmers (that’s me) think that society would collapse without us, and the same is probably true for many other occupations. I haven’t seen the movie, but judging from the reviews “Hugo” is an indulgent exercise in self-congratulation however charming it may be. I don’t see that in “The Hunger Games.” However, this weekend when I see the movie again with my wife (despite your admonition to not do so) I will be mindful of your comments about Seneca Crane, and whether the audience is supposed to feel a little sympathy for him. On first viewing I didn’t feel sympathy for Crane when he was alone in the room with the bowl of Nightlock berries. I thought he got what he deserved.

The Gamesmakers have a very important role in the books and the movie – literally the power of life and death. They are invisible in the books, but we see them in the movie. Sarah does a good job of explaining the historical precedent of how the play-within-a-play examines the role of the artist. By actually seeing the Gamesmakers in the movie is the narrative diminished? I still don’t think so, but I’ll be on the lookout for it.

Anthony Burgess’ dystopian novel “A Clockwork Orange” was made into an excellent movie by Stanley Kubrick. The novel is good and so is the movie, although they are quite different. The three books of The Hunger Games trilogy haven’t changed, they are still there. My one worry about the movie was that the film makers would change or diminish what I thought was the political and social message of the novel, and I don’t think they did, so I am happy.

Martha Cecilia March 27, 2012 at 9:53 pm

I was just wondering if you had given this Hunger Games and the Gospel a look.

great post btw.

John March 27, 2012 at 10:07 pm

Alice, you’re too funny. Great review over at RabbitHole, if the other end of the spectrum from my take!

I found this link there, too; Everything The Hunger Games Movie Left Out.

The book is listed in our Guide Compendium that went up last week. Look for it and others there by scrolling down. No, I haven’t read it.

Martha Cecilia March 27, 2012 at 10:28 pm

How funny. We discussed this I09 article in my comments section. The biggest thing we have discussed in regards to movie fails (aside from the recent scandals with Rue and racism–which have broken my heart) was how the viewers (non-reading movie viewers) had no idea that Peeta was not pretending to be in love with Katniss and how big a narrative fail this was. His sacrificial nature is entirely missed. The script makes it seem like they are on a team strategizing the entire time. This could be dealt with in Catching Fire (establishing their confusing relationship) but it should have been established in THG. Peeta’s and Katniss contrasting natures are incredibly important to the building of The Hunger Games trilogy IMO. This was a much more frustrating omission than lack of violence (which I think would have just fed our viewer violence appetite that Collins is critiquing), and the lack of screen time Rue receive. Again, always good to hear from you!!

At this point I equate it to somehow messing up The Princes Tale in The Deathly Hallows–you would be changing the story tremendously for viewers–and this girl would be devastated for Snape.

Donna Witek March 27, 2012 at 10:57 pm

Holy smokes, Sarah’s comments about Shakespeare and metafiction/theatre as parallel/analogous to the way metafiction may be working in THG books/films are simply *awesome*.

They make me wanna go see the movie again (Sorry, John), “reading” the film with that in mind.

FWIW, as one of those voracious reading-good-books-in-a-day types, I am wary of having my book-imaginings co-opted/replaced by a vivid film retelling. That being said, at this point in time I know I could go back and reread THG right now and be propelled into a totally different experience of the story–my original experience of it–due to the simple fact that the book gives me all of Katniss’s psychological and emotional processes…the movie only offers a fair few of these, mostly through Jennifer Lawrence’s superb acting. I love the books because “being” Katniss through them helps me heal from things (to put it simply). I thoroughly enjoyed the movie (and look very forward to the later installments) because they zoom out and get all “meta” on what is already a really awesome story/plot as told in the books through the deeply personal 1st-person narrative.

Hmm I was just planning to chime in briefly to thank Sarah for her super awesome metafiction observations :) Somehow I wound up justifying my future watchings of the film. All this being said, John this was a very thought-provoking post which generated really interesting and worthwhile critical conversation about ourselves as viewers/readers and the movie/books–can’t say I agree with everything in your original post, but I can appreciate that this is your authentic (and well-supported) reading of the film. Thanks for that authenticity. :)

John March 27, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Thank you, DonnaRose! Great to hear from you again.

Jumping back up to the point one above (currently pen-bottom-a?), this Katniss-Peeta story gaffe is interesting on two levels, at least.

First, Martha Cecilia’s point from over at Rabbit Hole Reviews that, hey, we had a major disconnect here; non-readers got the impression that Peeta was just putting on an act of loving the Girl on Fire so everything turns out okay in the end, right? Everybody lives, nobody emotionally tangled, just a little sentimentality from Peeta on the train, all cool.

Whoops.

That’s a pretty big ball to have dropped, no? Folks new to the story totally miss the central relationship’s problem?

Second, and as important, why didn’t those not new to the story see this breakdown in the narrative line? I mean, it’s not a gopher hole, it’s the Grand Canyon for a viewer that doesn’t get Katniss-Peeta. How did we miss it?

The answer is pretty simple. We supplied all the backfill as readers from our experience of the story in the book. The line didn’t need to have everything and could leave out crucial things and alter essential things. As readers, it didn’t really matter.

My father took his horde of grandchildren to see Sorcerer’s Stone when that movie came out and the kids loved it. He laughed later and admitted he had no idea who this Harry kid was and what was going on all through the film. He’s a lot smarter than your average bear, believe me, but pop hadn’t read the book. That movie assumed in large part that you had the book in memory for all the little details that made Rowling’s world congeal imaginatively.

Here, pretty much the same thing, except instead of cutting out details, the screenwriters and director took liberties in collapsing time, altering dialogue, and omitting scenes (which Stone comically didn’t do — talk about page to page fidelity but no chapter transitions….).

Again, whoops. Maybe this is why Donald Sutherland, non-reader, thought it okay that they blow-up Seneca Crane’s part and his own to give this survivor story some more heft. He missed the love-metanarrative lost because they cut out Peeta’s loss of lef and Katniss’ hysteria on the hovercraft. Nobody walks away from that screaming mania reading without getting that she loves Peeta and he had tried to kill himself to save her.

Sharon Slade Jackson March 28, 2012 at 12:47 am

It also seems from a quick browse of comments on various reviews that a lot of non-reading viewers have come out thinking Katniss actually was in love with Peeta. That’s not canonical either! Have we missed noticing that because, knowing how the last book turns out, it is okay to have Katniss’s eventual love for Peeta read back into the first story? I haven’t seen the movie … decided not to see it when it premiered as a deliberate act saying “yes, I understand what the books are about and I’ve learnt the lesson”… and now I’m thinking I may join Elizabeth and not see it at all. I’ve been struggling for months with the lead up promotional materials. Can you truly say you are unsurprised by how the movie has turned out, John? How could an anti-voyeurism movie actually be made? Of course, it works as a book because a book is words not the pictures of violence it condemns. But a movie – it cannot condemn what it is, so the essence of the message has to be altered to fit the paradigm with which it is delivered.

On a side note, does anyone have any idea what king might possibly have said, “You know, you can’t put that note in because that’s an evil note or whatever.”? Lenny Kravitz, you are such a putz. An F-grade for playing Cinna, the ‘artist’ who actually knows his artistry is valuable only for its ability to change what people think – not for his “creative control” and resultant ability to produce art that faithfully represents whatever the artist thinks.

John March 28, 2012 at 8:42 am

Sharon wrote:
Can you truly say you are unsurprised by how the movie has turned out, John? How could an anti-voyeurism movie actually be made? Of course, it works as a book because a book is words not the pictures of violence it condemns. But a movie – it cannot condemn what it is, so the essence of the message has to be altered to fit the paradigm with which it is delivered.

Surprised? No. Disappointed? Yes, because I forgot what you remembered and related here so very well. I’ll be quoting that succinct point, this bullet about “a movie not being able to condemn what it is,” tonight and forever, Sharon. Thank you for putting what I tried to say in thousands of words in a phrase to wear like a Mockingjay pin.

And I’m satisfied if my seeing it twice to gather the ugly details played any part in your being able to stay away, resistant to the current (undertow?) of hype. Thank you again for your good example in that and for this morning’s opening note of brilliance!

lancelot March 28, 2012 at 1:25 pm

Man, Brother John, it’s so funny how this site blows up every time there’s a major movie or book release, haha. In any case, still faithfully reading and supporting (though not always agreeing).

Some very very fascinating thoughts here. I’ll be FBing & tweeting them on.

Did you like the scene where the dad gave the kid the sword? I felt like that was the most telling of all…

After reading your thoughts, though, I’d have to agree. Twas a hijackin we saw.

lancelot March 28, 2012 at 1:30 pm

(Also here’s my small contribution, though I think I missed the hunger for the games after reading this).

lancelot March 28, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Dang, Sharon:

“How could an anti-voyeurism movie actually be made? Of course, it works as a book because a book is words not the pictures of violence it condemns. But a movie – it cannot condemn what it is.”

Good word.

Jessica March 28, 2012 at 2:57 pm

John, I have not seen the movie (nor had I intended to) for a wide variety of reasons. The first and foremost, Lancelot sums up nicely; how could Hollywood objectively make a faithful movie out of a book that basically condemns our blind addiction to soul-numbing, brain-washing “entertainment?” I just doesn’t compute. And frankly, although I have been “criticized” as unrealistic, idealistic and anti-capitalist (to which I wittily replied that I was actually anti-Capitolist), I can’t imagine how Collins could offer up her own baby in this Hunger Games of sorts. Your suggestion that she truly enjoys irony offers some comfort and absolution, but it looks to me as if she sold out and identifies with her new baby, Seneca. Pardon my vitriol, but every message I championed in the books seems negated or cheapened now. They certainly won’t get my money.

Nick March 28, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Jessica

I feel the only way that the message of the books would be negated or cheapened is that if every person who read the books forgot what they were about and if every person who is about to read the books or who will ever read the books doesn’t. The message is still there; people just need to find it. The books aren’t going anywhere. (You’ll get my books when you pry them out of my cold dead hands!) There are still ways for the message to spread, even though the movies tell the story differently.

Hanna March 28, 2012 at 10:07 pm

Listen, I know the elegance of the literary structure is great and it is wonderful that the ancient/still Real iconography still/will always speak to us, but it is also important that literature and film speak about things we face today. What Collins writes about is actually happening here and now. It’s not theory, it’s beyond symbolism. It’s kids dying and being destroyed every day.

This is an article about a young ‘Career Tribute’ hockey player who literally lost his mind in the Arena: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/06/sports/hockey/derek-boogaard-a-brain-going-bad.html?pagewanted=all

Here is what a sports writer who covers hockey and football for the Boston Herald takes away from his view (sans book) of the Hunger Games movie as it reflects on the professional sports that he covers, titled “The Hunger Games’ mirrors our ever-increasing appetite for sports violence”:

“Montages of “aggressive highlights,” produced and shown by the NHL home team to get the bloodthirsty crowd riled up? YouTube compilations of “knockout hits” on defenseless NFL receivers? Katniss would be impressed.

“And all this lip service being paid to eliminating concussions from our contact sports? Not even the players seem to want that.Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has admitted he probably would lie if team trainers asked how he felt after a helmet shot. LeBron James, felled for several minutes, brushed aside an obvious blow to the head late in Tuesday’s win. After joking about his football past, LeBron practiced the next day. And Panthers enforcer Krys Barch — Cato on skates — ripped into anyone who would try to legislate concussion-causing hits out of big-time hockey.

“I don’t know why you try to correct what’s working,” Barch said recently. “The hits are always part of the game. . . . We get paid huge money to do it, and most of the time you get paid big money, it comes with a lot of risks involved.”Bare-fisted bloodbaths in the Octagon, a fancy name like “mixed martial arts” lending elegance to an activity that is as gruesome as it is wildly popular?”

http://www.bostonherald.com/sports/columnists/view.bg?articleid=1061119914&format=&page=2&listingType=sco#articleFull

Full disclosure: I have not owned a television for 20 years. Once a week for 25 hours on the Sabbath, I and my family do not use internet, phones or other Gamesmaker-type devices/channels. I see perhaps 1 film per year or two, generally only on DVD. We really try not to drink the KoolAid. I saw Hunger Games and really appreciated it.

What I see with the Hunger Games books, and very much with the movie, and with the dialog that has f0llowed, is a hopeful sign that our nation is able and willing to engage in thoughtful dialog about our past and future, and that our ‘Gamesmakers’ and ‘Tributes’ are starting to look hard at what is at stake on many levels.

I worry that thoughtful reviewers like you might focus too hard on negative aspect of detailed symbolism that might not ‘make the cut’ in a film, while missing the opportunity that the movies create to reach millions of people with a thoughtful message reasonably well conveyed by the producers.

Hanna March 28, 2012 at 10:40 pm

PSS:

Q: “How could an anti-voyeurism movie actually be made?”

A: “The play’s the thing, wherein I’ll catch the conscience of a King!”

Dr. Mellark March 28, 2012 at 10:41 pm

John-

I have now seen the movie twice, and have your post at least as many times (such an impassioned argument warrented at least one extra look). It makes sense that on a website of thoughtful people who have developed a kinship with a book (or a series), and feel protective of what we feel is written art, it hurts for someone to not only give an abridged version, but an actually altered version. Whether you want to call it hijacking (attempting to pull a Jedi Mind trick – those were NOT the scenes we were looking for) or “artistic lisence” it still will rub people the wrong way, and I am happy there is a forum where all opinions are welcome.

On second viewing, I was more impressed with the movie cinematically – the hand held camera effects, the art-deco detailing on the train, the earlier hunting scenes, the scene in her room where she was lured by the NOT REAL landscape, but then shakes her head, realizing she is still a lamb for the slaughter in the Capitol. Jennifer Lawrence was strong, having the hefty task of conveying Katniss’s inner monologue in expression, often in what felt like 10 second snippets. In the same vein, I was even more impressed with Josh Hutcherson, who seemed able to convey Peeta’s humor, his deep respect and even his “love” (not the sacrificial love we saw in the book, admittedly) for Katniss. They ALMOST got to the sacrifcial part of it – could have been explored more more if they had given the cave a little more screen time and allowed him to injured at the end. They certainly could have found the time if they had spent less time in the Game-maker control room.

To that point, I agree that there is a bias towards telling Seneca’s (?Gary Ross’s?) story. I agree that this was incongruous with the book, but I did not feel as offended by it as some have. I still took away a NONE OF THIS IS REAL sentiment from the movie – all produced for our viewing pleasure. I did not get the message that Seneca was a martyr – in fact I even wondered if his meeting with Haymitch was starting to lay out a conspiracy ala Pearl Plot – but in the end, he was just a dupe. Perhaps I have been “hijacked” too, but I tried to see the movie for what it is – an interpretation of a beloved book that could NEVER live up to it, and that took liberty with the book I did not embrace. It did, however, draw attention to moments (from the book) that never stood out for me, which I plan to re-read. For instance, how Katniss was in the launch room – her nearly incapacitating fear, her panic when she thought Peeta took the nightlock. (Anyone notice at the start of movie she says “Damn you” to Gale whom she is bonded with, and says the same to Peeta in that scene?) I tried to distill these moments (and the others I mentioned above)from the movie and leave the rest –nothing could alter my bond with the book, not even Hollywood venom.

PS – In terms of what Donald Sutherland has to say about the role of Snow, I couldn’t care less. Somehow we give press to the words of actors, when I find that most of them have the unfortunate situation of having everyone around them tell them they are brilliant when they are blathering on ridiculously.

David DePerro March 28, 2012 at 11:23 pm

If the following seems off-topic to Hunger Games, no, I don’t think it is off-topic to the current post, which is about film and books and how our minds work.

After reading John’s does-it-again tour-de-force post, the irony for me is that John is such a persuasive and powerful writer, that his writing has the effect on me at a certain level that he describes movies having. Most obviously, the entire way that I view Harry Potter and speak of it to others depends critically on John’s writings. I can trace a complete transformation of my thinking, marked by the first time I read “Bookshelf.” Yes, I *visualize* Harry as Dan Radcliffe entirely because of the filmmaker’s domineering moving images. But I *contextualize* Harry as the Philosopher’s-Stone-in-the-making entirely because of John Granger’s writing. After a movie, I ask myself if I will ever recover my own images of the story. After a powerful piece of literary criticism such as John’s, I ask myself if I will ever have another original thought about HP, HG, or any other book. (I’m actually glad John doesn’t write much about Tolkien, as I couldn’t deal with that intensity on top of Peter Jackson’s films and the harm they caused to my own reading of the book, from which I still recover 10 years later as if from tracker-jacker venom.)

The difference: with movies we only ever get one film (setting aside remakes), one director, one interpretation–but with books, we get as many interpretations as are written, plus the one inside our heads. And so it can be important to get a variety of readings and opinions on a great book, no matter how terrible those readings may be. I read Michael D. O’Brien’s “Harry Potter and the Paganization of Culture,” and it sent me into a kind of depression. An evil Harry (posing as good) is a sad, sad thing. O’Brien violently opposes John and the entire literary approach to HP, and I wondered if I had been snookered by a naive cheerleader John, and that witless tool of the devil, J. K. Rowling.

But after a few days I started to create my own answers to O’Brien, and while they are probably informed or even inspired by John’s reading, I think they are a bit original, and I feel I have started thinking for myself. Instead of letting John, Chris Columbus, Dan Radcliffe, or Ross and Sutherland do it for me. And that’s what happens when I READ. That’s what this site is for. It’s for READING and writing about what we read. The HG movie was very powerful, to me stunning. And yet John’s commentary is as strongly expressed as it needs to be, to be the powerful corrective that the film demands.

I really value what John wrote–but equally the alternate readings and responses. We must all resist the venom and find a way to hold onto “Real.” In this case, what is happening inside our heads is the MOST real.

(Postscript: I have found some wizard rock and much fan art are vital correctives to the Harry Potter movies and their domination of our imagination, especially those like me who cam to the books only after a couple movies. So are things like imagining alternate castings.)

Anthony March 29, 2012 at 7:06 am

The implication that Collins was “snookered” by the “Hollywood Gamesmakers” rings false to me. After all she was on the writing team, an executive producer, and has spent time within that media world, which makes her well aware of its discourse and its matrix of power. She is as much a gamesmaker as Ross et. al., in fact it can be argued that she is a gamesmaker that operates across media. Hence, she is well aware of how these discourses act and react to each other.

Dr. Mellark March 30, 2012 at 4:57 pm

From Gary Ross’s mouth, NYT article from today: I thought it particularly interesting his comments on the expanded role of Seneca Crane … and I am not totally sure I buy it …

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/30/gary-ross-answers-reader-questions-about-the-hunger-games/

Martha Cecilia March 30, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Just letting you know you were our top blog post of the week in our Mad Friday Tea Party over at the Rabbit Hole Review (it was a Hunger Games Week). Thanks for all the great discussion!!!

http://rabbitholereview.com/2012/03/30/the-mad-friday-tea-party-hunger-games-special/trackback/

http://rabbitholereview.com/2012/03/30/the-mad-friday-tea-party-hunger-games-special/

Evan W. April 1, 2012 at 6:47 pm

The above criticisms/praises of the film seem to be holding to the assumption that the primary point of criticism in the books is of violent entertainment itself. Given the plot of the latter books, the theme is ultimately political rather than aimed at the entertainment industry. Panem et Circensis, power through food and entertainment, is the main point of the series. Thus it is not the entertainment itself that is being attacked, but its use to bring people under the power of the government. The gamemakers are not good primarily because they attempt to wield unlimited power over the tributes in the arena. The capitol is not good primarily because it attempts to wield unlimited power over the districts. The thing being satirized is not violent entertainment, it is the use of such entertainment for the purpose of increasing governmental power. The lack of food in some districts is not for the purpose of highlighting class differences, but to show the power that may be wielded with food. It is the temptations of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, limiting human free will through governmental power, food, and religious authority/entertainment (Eliade’s thesis yet again).
So, then the question becomes, if the primary purpose is to criticise the rise of governmental power through food and entertainment, why is is violent entertainment? My answer is more speculative than my above points. In the act of killing the body is separated from the soul, it is the supreme act in which the body is considered ultimately meaningless, it is a fundamentally Gnostic act, expressing an exclusively Platonic metaphysics: form/soul is the important thing, the matter/the body is evil. Throughout the series, it is the good characters that value the body, even after death (the honoring of Rue’s dead body etc.), while the evil characters disregard the body (the creation of the mutations from the bodies of the dead tributes, the sexual exploitation of the former champions of the Hunger Games, the Hunger Games themselves, etc). It is this disregard for the body that leads to the Capitol’s epicurianism. If the body is considered unimportant, if the form/ soul is the only thing of importance, then it is those among the “enlightened” who ought to be given absolute power. It is the “enlightned” capitol or the tyrranically scheduled people of district thirteen who should be given control, supposedly focused on ideas rather than the passions. I.e. if Plato’s metaphysics is adopted, so is his political system. The books then argue for a more Aristotelian system, limited governmental power and a view that both matter and the form are good.
Thus, if the purpose of the novels is an attack on totalitarianism enacted through Panem et Circensis, and the purpose of the violent entertainment is to produce Platonic metaphysics and thereby Platonic government, and the books attempts to replace the Platonic with the Aristotelian, then the movie industry itself, even the more violent aspects, is being upheld, but their use in wielding absolute power is being attacked. From all this the Seneca Crane plotline does not really conflict with the theme of the book itself, but illustrates a main theme of the book, that of the evil use of entertainment by those seeking totalitarian power.

lancelot April 2, 2012 at 9:00 am

@Evan –

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can speak for myself when I say I assume that she critiques violent entertainment AS A MEANS of political oppression. Violent entertainment today is as much propaganda today as the war films were in WWII. I do not dichotomize the critique. She offers a third way, a way of nonviolent interruption through which we topple empires. She starts by critiquing their propaganda, moves through their policies and ends with their power.

lancelot April 2, 2012 at 9:00 am

(sorry for the “today” repeat)

Karen Hall May 1, 2012 at 3:32 pm

I’ve spent the last 30+ years as a Hollywood writer (while remaining a book lover) and you have nailed it. Once they hire the actors and the director, the book is the last thing anyone is thinking about. Thank God for books, so they can’t steal it all from us.

Sara May 4, 2012 at 9:01 pm

You say: “The Hunger Games story was hijacked by the Hijackers vilified in that story as Hijackers — and the Hijacker’s big screen story version has hijacked even the minds of those readers who understood the anti-hijacking message of the stories.”

I couldn’t agree more. I do agree with another person commenting here that the film-version of Seneca Crane seemed a bit more amoral than you believe, but it really bothered me, as well, that he was the focus of both the start and end of the film. Total disappointment.

I had already read the books twice before seeing the movie, but will now have to read them again to make sure the film doesn’t alter my view of Collins’ wonderful story.

Jeff June 25, 2012 at 1:01 pm

John,

Thanks for this article. I have not seen the movie, and might well skip it after reading your review, but in any sense, that puts me outside the conversation regarding this particular movie. Yet on the TV vs. Movies distinction, I think you really do gloss over some rather important differences. Film images do really exist. They are real images, as opposed to TV images.

And while the 24 fps is too fast for us to consciously process any one frame, the vast majority of the frames are contiguous with each other, meaning that we CAN process the imagery on the screen. While it’s possible for a director to slip in discontinuous, subliminal images or shots, or to embed peripheral figures and such, that’s a very rare event.

What this means is that films are very much open to study, and as a lover of John Ford western’s, Hitchcock thrillers, Frank Capra movies, and the like, I can say from personal experience that not only are these films open to study, but that they repay study. The first time you watch a film, like the first time you read a great story, you are sucked into the story itself, and therefore unaware of how the author (or auteur) is working his magic. That stuff comes out on the second and third readings or viewings. That’s when you become conscious of how the movie was constructed, why this shot was chosen over another, how the symbolism was built into the picture, and so forth.

Moreover, I find that modern technology makes such study quite a bit easier, as rather than placing the viewer at the mercy of a uninterrupted stream of imagery, TIVOs and internet-streamed movies, place the viewer in full control, able to pause the movie, specifically for the purposes of examining this or that shot, this sequence of cuts, or even to compare imagery and scenes normally separated in an ordinary viewing.

I guess what I’m saying is that the practice of film appreciation, for me, doesn’t seem to blunt artistic awareness or diminish my appreciation of liturgy, but rather strengthens and builds upon it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Warmest Regards,
- Jeff

Tracy September 12, 2012 at 2:57 pm

I may be late to the table, but given the somewhat recent release of the DVD and the start of filming for Catching Fire, I felt the need to at least voice my thoughts even if no one responds.
Indeed, our beloved story has been hijacked! Starting with the portrayal of the primary characters and their relationships. Where was angry, hostile, sullen, only-concerned-with staying alive Katniss? This is her story. Hers. She tells it, this is about her journey through this terrifying world. And absolutely, the story is about how you frame it. It should start and end with KATNISS! And, the way she was portrayed as being already heroic diminishes the effect of Rue’s death on her as well as the development of her relationship with Peeta and the effect it has on her. She was too good from the get-go. Give me more grit! It felt like she learned none of the lessons our beloved heroine has to learn in the novels. She already knew them.
Where was sweet, self-sacrificing Peeta? He SAVES HER LIFE. Again and again and again. Did not get that from the movie. Not with the bread scene, not with the tracker jackers, not in the cave, not at the Cornucopia. Oh, they let him shake his head at her before the blood bath. Whoop-dee-doo. Minor concension given everything else they altered or left out. He was supposed to be on death’s door, twice, in the Games. I did not fear for Peeta’s life at all in the movie portrayal. I should not have to fill in the blanks of major plot and character points on my own. This Peeta felt like he was a total cream puff and just along for the ride instead of a major player, instead of her rock, her moral compass, the catalyst for her recognition of the lessons to be learned and the growth that must be undergone for her to eventually become the Mockingjay and bring down the Capitol. And where was the line “She has no idea the effect she can have”?!?!? HELLO! Massively important single sentence that is uttered NOWHERE in the movie. At least they left in the roof scene, but where was her anger at the feelings of inferiority he evokes in her? No mention of his skills with a knife or in hand-to-hand combat or his way with words or his involvement in the bloodbath to ally with the Careers, no explanation that it was all to protect her.
To be fair, I did not feel that the failure lay in the abilities of Jennifer Lawrence or even Josh Hutcherson. Have you paid attention to his facial expressions? The moments when he was silent and spoke only with his face were the moments when I thought, “THERE’S Peeta. Can I have some more of THAT, please.” Even the tone of his voice was spot on, if only they had given him the lines to work with. And Jennifer Lawrence, her cold attitude towards Peeta on the train and the scene where she attacks him after the interview showed that she had the potential to play that part…I felt the failure was in the screenplay, in the dialogue and the choice of what to omit. Please, Suzanne, tell me you were playing an ironic joke on us and not being duped into assassinating your fabulous characters! Because otherwise, I agree with John. The Gamemakers hijacked the story.
And where was bitter, angry Gale who rants in the woods and takes nasty digs at “quiet, kind, and brave” Madge? Liam’s portrayal is not a character I can see going full tilt play by the enemy’s rulebook to win a war. Who called him a high school quarterback? Because you nailed it. He’s supposed to be a REBEL people. Where was the fire of rebellion? Nowhere. At least he got to tell Katniss that killing people would be no different than killing animals but the delivery of that line was…flat. Plus, we got no back story on Gale whatsoever, no indication that these are two people thrown together after the deaths of their fathers who work together for their mutual survival. He’s been demoted from hunting partner and best friend to just a friend.
Ugh. Seriously, my issues with this film could have been solved with a few sentences here and there and the inclusion of a few more flashbacks. Another half hour could have made it perfection, but no. Instead we get bumbling, clueless Seneca Crane. The entire first scene between him and Caesar… TOTALLY UNNECCESSARY. Show me instead the start of Katniss and Gale’s friendship. Same goes for closing the movie with Snow. We got the point when he puts the crown on her head that he recognizes her as a threat, that she knows it as well. No need to end the movie with an additional scene that shows THE SAME THING. The story ends with Peeta broken-hearted and Katniss terrified of losing him. I will give kudos to Donald Sutherland for his portrayal of Snow – gave me the creeps. And the addition of the rose garden scenes does help explain more about their world that we lose since they (Thankfully) opted not to go with cheesy voice-over narration.
But honestly, Katniss has dozens of flashbacks throughout the books and we get one…and they botched it? Where was the desperation and starvation? She wanted to die under that apple tree! She had given up! And Peeta took a beating to deliver the life saving bread. And the worst part…the omission of the dandelion. Anyone else bothered by that? Just me?
I don’t think I want to see the next movie because where are they going to take that one and have it make any sense or have any continuity with the story? I understand that movie renditions are rarely better than the book, but they can at least be good or decent adaptations. I read and loved the books but left the theater wondering if I’d seen the Hollywood-hijacked version. Obviously, I did. Someone get me some of Rue’s leaves pronto!!
But since my Mother taught me to find something nice in everything…Effie was fabulous! Best line added that was not in the book, “That is mahogany!” Thank you, Elizabeth Banks for such a spectacular portrayal. My only complaint about Effie (again, no fault of Ms. Banks)…no mention whatsoever of pearls from coal. Well, there goes one of the most important symbols of the trilogy. And Rue. Beautiful, haunting. PERFECT. This is an actress to watch, people.

Megan Joseph May 21, 2013 at 11:11 am

From everything I have read on here it sounds obvious that all symbolism that John teaches about was taken out of the movie and I think that really irks those who understood, embraced and loved those symbols, their meaning, and the story that was told through them in parable fashion. Some (many, I think) are moved by the symbolism even if they don’t know why when they read the books. Those who never understood the symbolism, why it was important, or rejected its existence don’t seem to have a problem with the story being told without the symbols present (Peeta/Christ, bread and beating/sacrificial love, Soul’s struggle to overcome body, doubt, fear and natural man tendencies, Peeta coming from a place of purpose, strength and with a mission to save the Soul…all of this and much more). The point of an allegory is to use symbols to tell a greater story while telling a surface story people will listen to; unfortunately Collins’ allegory pleases the Capitol enough as just a surface story (milk before meat I suppose), which, yes, teaches some lessons of a sort, (if not extremely obvious ones) but it feels as though the allegorical significance and depth was stripped. Some don’t value this and are happy with the “story” on screen. Those who value the allegorical meaning intensely will be intensely bothered by it.

Pierre February 12, 2014 at 7:28 pm

If there is one thing I can safely say that I love about the movie, is that there is enough in it to intregue some peoples into reading the book. (myself included) I was doing some school work for my bachelor and I wanted to put a movie in the background on my computer while a was working late to keep me awake and to put some noise in the quiet and boring room. After watching the preparation for the game, I couldn’t do my work anymore because I was facinated of the depiction of some aspect of the hunger games compared to our real life. That’s why at the end of the movie I wanted to know more about the way the Hunger Games were set up, the tributes, the sponsors and the way it is all depicted in the book. All I can say it that I wasn’t disapointed at all.

In conclusion, the movie is like a faint light in the dark that I walked toward too by curiousity and it leaded me to the sun. I hope that this happened to others peoples also and that not to many only sticked to the movies.

Dendi May 15, 2014 at 7:49 am

The reason for the pksiuh taste is the acidity in the orange, it can curdle the lowfat milk. If you get one that fairly mild, it won’t curdle, but that will be hit or miss. I saw one who did this with mandarin oranges, orange liquor, and just cream, no lowfat milk, and I think that may be less likely to curdle.What I don’t understand is why everyone who attempts this makes it on rice. It’s made on a pearly grain Katniss has never seen before. Clearly she’s seen rice, as she identifies the wild rice served with the lamb stew. I imagine this being either couscous or barley.*not that I’m over-invested in this series at all*

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