I went to see “The Hunger Games” this afternoon with the hubs and my (soon to be–this week) 13 year old niece Lizzie. I’d been looking forward to seeing it for a while now, especially since I’ve been so excited about this amazing soundtrack put together by independent, folk-y genius T-Bone Burnett (pretty much all of which they chose not to use for some reason COMPLETELY unknown to me. I’ve resisted these books for a while now both because of the disturbing nature of the stories and because they were endorsed by Stephanie Meyer (always a red flag for me).
*Note: I have not read these books yet, so I will base this analysis on the film version.
The basic plot of the story centers around a 16 year old woman named Katniss Everdeen whose skills in hunting and survival are well known to all. Katniss, her sister Primrose, and her mother live in a post-apocalyptic version of the Appalachian mountain area in North America. They live in a nation called Panem (a name that comes from the latin phrase meaning ‘bread and circuses’), specifically in a poverty stricken area known as District 12. Each year, in punishment for an uprising against their “Captiol,” each district is required to send 2 youths–ages 12-18–one boy and one girl (24 all together) as “tribute” to compete in a completely manufactured and unfair competition in which one of the tributes emerges victorious from the games after killing or witnessing the deaths of the 23 other tributes. Katniss volunteers to be tribute from her district after her 12 year old sister is chosen at her first “reaping” (the ceremony that chooses the tributes, of course).
Also chosen from her district is Peeta Mallark, a boy that Katniss knows from school and one to whom Katniss owes a small kindness of bread that he once gave while her family was starving. The story follows Katniss and Peeta as they are transported to the Capitol for prepartion for the Games (which are meant to look like they are outside, but are clearly in a hollographic “stadium”). Short version of the story–22 of the tributes die during the struggle, but Katniss and Peeta survive due to a rule change, not to mention the threat of mutual suicide, that allows the two of them as “star-crossed lovers” to be crowned the winners of the games.
My IMMEDIATE thought while watching the film was…whoa…this is so very Theseus and the Labyrinth of them. Immediately upon returning home I did some digging and discovered that, indeed, Suzanne Collins attributes inspiration for her book to the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. According to the myth, every three years the king of Crete requires Athens to provide a tribute of 7 youths and maidens to be consumed by both the labyrinth and the monster that lives in the center of it. Some say that Theseus volunteers as tribute and some say he is taken by force (although he IS a prince of Athens), but either way he finds his way to Crete and while preparing to be forced into the labyrinth he meets the king of Crete’s daughter, Ariadne. The princess is immediately smitten with Theseus. She goes to Daedalus–Crete’s master craftsman best known for the wax wings he and his son Icarus used to fly off the island. Daedalus gives Ariadne a thread or “clue” that helps Theseus (after he slays the minotaur) find his way out of the impossible labyrinth.
The motifs are impossible to mistake. Self-reliant, tough hero(ine) meets impossible odds (which are, of course, ever in her favor) and wins for the good of all. Game. Set. Match. Right?!
If Katniss is meant, as Collins suggests, to embody the archetypal image of the hero as once understood by the ancient Greeks, then amplification of her character serves as a way to understand the particulars of OUR version of the archetypal hero.
A couple of things come to mind.
1). Unlike Theseus, who is motivated mainly by the pursuit of his own glory, Katniss is motivated by devotion–devotion to her sister, to fellow tributes, such as Rue and Peeta and by devotion to hope.
2). Her extreme self-LESS-ness is what causes her to become both a hero and a pariah (to the political powers that be). It is her empathy that makes her different than the other tributes, and her WILLINGNESS to sacrific that sets her apart.
The attributes of a culture’s hero often indicate the values that are central to that culture. The ancient Athenians prized intellect, resourcefulness and bravery above all. To me, it seems that it is this ability to empathize that lacking in our culture. In a culture such as ours–one that is built on the consumptive reality television that “The Hunger Games” critiques, the ability to empathize and sacrifice are values we intuit have value but cannot indicate directly. Much like Mary Shelley’s subtle original subtitle for Frankenstein, (The Modern Prometheus) Collins has presented us with a subtle, yet powerful re-interpretation of an ancient archetypal image.
And, in the process, she has made a fascinating statement about the commodification of life, the dangers of fame, class conflict and fascism. Not to mention the wild card use of adolescents as controversial subjects of these stories…but that is another blog.
Go see it. Two Thumbs up. FINE HOLIDAY FUN!