The Hunger Games (2012)
In a dystopian future, a resourceful young woman attempts to survive a national ritual that involves a fight to the death with 23 of her teenaged peers.
Writer(s): Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray
Director: Gary Ross
Production Co.(s): Lionsgate; Color Force
Adapted from: The Hunger Games (Novel) by Suzanne Collins (© 2008)
The Story on the Screen
In the film The Hunger Games, the main character, Katniss Everdeen, is a skilled and resourceful 16-year-old girl who inhabits a poor, coal-mining region (District 12) in a dystopian future nation called Panem, which appears to have risen from the ashes of an apocalyptic event. The history of Panem includes a bloody, quashed rebellion nearly a century before the story opens that is commemorated annually by means of the "Hunger Games"—a vicious, ritualistic, battle-to-the-death between teenaged combatants (called "Tributes") from each of the 12 districts that make up the nation.
Every year, two Tributes—one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18—are selected by lottery from each district (in a ritualistic ceremony called "the Reaping") and transported to Capitol City, the glistening seat of power in Panem. There, they are groomed, coiffed and paraded in front of its decadent throngs before being thrust into a vast outdoor arena, where they must battle each other and the pseudo-natural elements of the highly controlled environment until only one remains alive and is crowned the victor. The spectacle and competition are broadcast nationally in the manner of a hyper-amped reality television show and couched officially in terms of ongoing patriotic healing of the nation—thereby constituting a voyeuristic bloodbath with political overtones. And each victor is lauded as bringing glory to his or her district.
When her younger sister is threatened with selection for a bloody national ritual, the main character, Katniss, volunteers to take her place.
When Katniss's sister, Primrose, is selected as a Tribute during the Reaping in her very first year of eligibility, Katniss rushes to her rescue—volunteering to take her place, knowing that Primrose could not possibly survive in the arena. By doing so, she becomes the first person to ever volunteer from District 12. The lottery choice for her male counterpart falls to Peeta, a boy her own age whom she has known since she was young and whose family owns the bakery in her village.
Soon after Katniss is granted brief goodbyes with her mother, sister, and best male friend, Gale, she and Peeta are whisked away by high-speed train to Capitol City to begin their preparations for the Hunger Games. They are shepherded in their journey by Effie Trinket, a trivial representative of the powers that be in Panem, and accompanied by their designated mentor, Haymitch Abernathy, a self-loathing drunkard and the only person from their district to have ever won the competition—more than two decades before.
Thanks to help from an ally, Katniss attracts support that can help her survive the ordeal of The Hunger Games.
Thanks to help from an ally named Cinna—and to a public profession of affection for Katniss by Peeta—Katniss and Peeta are able to make a positive impression in Capitol City and to attract the interest of "sponsors" whose aid can be vital to their survival in the competition. And thanks to Haymitch, Katniss enters the arena as prepared as she can be when the starting horn sounds to begin the event.
Thus begins Katniss's struggle for survival—a multi-day journey that involves resourcefulness, physical talent (as an archer), bravery, the formation and dissolving of alliances, compassion, and unselfish commitment to personal integrity.
When an unprecedented (and politically motivated) rule change allows for the crowning of two victors from the same district, she seeks out Peeta and nurses wounds he has suffered, so that they can form an alliance and arrive at victory together. When he is endangered later by Cato, a well-trained Tribute from one of the wealthier districts, she comes to his aid with her bow and arrow. And when the rule change is arbitrarily revoked, she turns down Peeta's offer to serve as a sacrifice so that she can return home as the victor, and presents an alternative that will result in there being no victor at all.
Behind the Scenes
As with most survival stories, The Hunger Games focuses on keeping as the primary goal of its main character—specifically, keeping the treasure of being alive. Although the nature of the competition lends itself to other possible types of intent—for example, gaining glory (as represented in the person of Cato) or returning to (regaining) one's place in the comfortable surroundings of one's home—it is the intent to keep that drives Katniss's journey in the story.
As with most survival stories, this story focuses on keeping as the primary goal of its main character.
If she were seeking to gain the glory of victory, then she would actively hunt down and kill the other Tributes, which she does not. And if her intent were merely to return to (regain) her place among her loved ones, she would look for opportunities to do so at every turn, even before the competition started.
Katniss's actions and decisions in The Hunger Games define her clearly as keep character, and the treasure that she attempts to keep is no less than her own life. The circumstances under which she must make the attempt, however, expand the scope of her attempt and extend its meaning well beyond the bounds of her person. Specifically, her struggle to survive is defined by the nature of the threat.
Katniss is engaged in a special type of survival effort.
If Katniss were lost in an uncontrolled wilderness, the threat to her life would come from Nature itself. And if circumstances had somehow thrust her behind "enemy lines," her struggle would be against agents of a people or sensibility opposed to her own. Instead, however, her predicament is forced upon her by an authority (the ruling powers of Panem) that seeks to control all of its citizens, including her. Consequently, she is engaged in a special type of survival endeavor—that which involves the threat from an outside force that seeks to control her freedom, including her freedom to live.
And because her very appearance in the competition involves a selection process to which her peers are also subject, her struggle may be extended philosophically to them, as well. And so she becomes an Everyman figure fighting against the forces that control them all—even though her moment-by-moment attempt is simply to survive.
The issue of the story involves surviving against forces that seek to extinguish one's freedom.
The issue of the story, then, may be aptly stated as "surviving against forces that seek to control and extinguish your freedom." And the storytellers appear to present the attempt to do so as an advisable endeavor. Therefore, the proposition may be stated as:
- One should attempt to survive (keep alive) against forces that seek to control and extinguish her freedom, because success in the attempt will preserve that freedom—for herself and others whom she cares about.
Through her integrity, ingenuity, and physical prowess, Katniss succeeds in surviving the Hunger Games and is crowned co-victor with Peeta. And because we-the-audience admire the integrity with which she conducted her attempt, we are pleased in her success. Consequently, The Hunger Games clocks in as a clear example of a keep main character involved in a succeed/pleased story.
In this case, however, the ultimate threat to her possession of the treasure is vanquished only for the moment. She survives, but the Hunger Games remain as a Panem institution that may gobble future victims into its maw. Consequently, the ending cannot be said to be happy—and the final moments of the film suggest that more conflicts are to come.
For More Information
For details regarding the concepts and terms used in this analysis, refer to the Discovering the Soul of Your Story overview video and the glossary. For more story analyses like this, visit the Story Analyses page (or use the search tools in the sidebar).