Gamesmakers Hijack Story: Capitol Wins Hunger Games Again

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.

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) []

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 we’re 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 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!


  1. 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

  2. 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.

  3. Megan Joseph says

    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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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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