10 October 2012
A Matter of Perspective
I read all three volumes of The Hunger Games this summer, then just watched the first film recently. I'd like to share my interpretation of the moral message of the books vs. that of the film, and I think this message turns on the matter of perspective.
First, my thoughts on the books. I'll leave aside discussion of the writing style; others have done that (see, for example, here, here, and this GREAT one.
As I read through the series, I was appalled. Of course, I was appalled for all the right reasons--that is, I was sickened by things that were supposed to sicken me: the horrors of the [gladiatorial] arena, the de-valuing of life, the culture's voyeurism of violence, and so forth.
But I was also horrifed by aspects that I did not expect. In particular, I was not persuaded that The Hunger Games is a morality tale. I was not persuaded that the books actually condemned the acts they pretended to condemn. In short, I felt as if Collins herself was reveling in the violence, relishing the bloody bits, and wallowing in the brutality. In the back of my mind, I had the kind of feeling I get when a middle-school boy (or a middle-aged man, for that matter) yells "All right!" when beheadings and other gory deaths occur onscreen.
In addition, Katniss's descent into moral degradation throughout the series did not (I thought) serve as a moral warning. It should have done: the message who that those who make war, however justified, become like the very oppressors they seek to overthrow. That was the message, but I didn't think it struck home.
And then I watched the movie.
This is one of those rare occasions when I have loved a film adaptation of a book. I thought it was splendid. I also thought that the moral message was loud and clear (as it should be! – I don't think this is one of those messages that needs to “steal past watchful dragons” and be expressed in subtle hints). You know why?
I think it's because Katniss was not the narrator, so the reader/viewer did not inhabit Katniss's cauterized conscience and stunted worldview. The audience was—OK, I'll speak for myself: I was—able to maintain a moral distance from the events and thus condemn them clearly, in good conscience.
Living inside Katniss's conscience was not a comfortable experience.
And now that I've written that, I realize that such discomfort is itself carries the potential for a moral awakening, and perhaps a more subtle one than the obvious message about not killing kids. This is the moral message that even an admirable person such as Katniss will inevitably corrupted by her context. A strong-willed, courageous, right-minded child brought up in a twisted society will become twisted.
So the perspective makes all the difference, but not exactly the difference I thought it did at first.
I love how writing writes me into new ideas!