An Evil Dude glares at Katniss and OHD.
I’m sure this will be explained eventually, but basically some Districts game the whole selection thing by picking certain kids and training them from birth in combat with the understanding that they’ll volunteer for the Games when they’re eighteen. These “career” Tributes work together initially to eliminate everyone else and then fight among each other to decide the ultimate winner. By the time their turn for the Games comes around they’re so thoroughly brainwashed that they go along with it willingly in order to bring glory to their District, either through victory or a badass death.
I actually like this for two reasons: I can totally see people reacting that way in real life, with all sorts of complex social dynamics going into which kids get chosen, and it drives home the fact that the Districts aren’t just passive victims. The poisonous culture that allows the Hunger Games to exist has spread to them as well, and they actively take part in it.
The most insidious form of oppression is the one perpetuated by the oppressed themselves due to the system being rigged so that the only way they can ease their suffering is to play by its rules. This maintains the status quo without requiring those in power to lift a finger or get their hands dirty directly. Many, many oppressive regimes and cultures have made use of this, and continue to do so in modern times.
My only regret is that (as far as I can remember) the Careers are cast mostly as scary villains, with little recognition that their whole existence is an incredibly bleak tragedy and that they’re just as much victims of the system as those who went into the Games unwillingly.
The Tributes get to live in hideously tacky but luxurious accommodation. The visual style of the Capital veers wildly between “ancient Rome, but the future” and “I have no fucking idea”.
Look, I’m just saying: I kind of want that big flower thing Effie has in her hair.
Then it’s training time! The capital generously gives the Tributes four days to learn how to fight and survive in the wilderness. It really seems like a longer training time would make for a better show.
It also looks remarkably similar to Dauntless academy from Divergent. I can’t imagine why that would be.
During dinner OHD has a mild breakdown and starts shouting about how there’s no way he’ll win the Games (I’d expect this to be happening more or less constantly) and also reveals that his mom hates him so much she hopes Katniss wins. So that’s a useless mom and a cruel mom, how about that.
During the next training session OHD is getting discouraged so Katniss tries to build his confidence up a little. I suppose this technically counts as pre-romance chemistry- at least they don’t just fall in love at first sight.
Oh yeah OHD can also do really good camouflage makeup as a result of decorating cakes at his family’s bakery. This skill makes no sense and exists solely to set up a plot point later. And if District 12 is as poor as it looks, would anyone even be selling fancy cakes?
Katniss is being followed around by a younger girl named Rue, who will become important later. You may remember that this is the character who a depressing number of book fans didn’t realise was black, triggering a wave of racist bullshit when they saw the movie.
The Tributes are going to be brought to a place one by one to have their skills evaluated. Their ranking at the end of this is important since it will help determine how much sponsorship they get, and Woody Harrelson says to do something memorable. In Katniss’s case this translates to “almost murder one of the judges”.
What appears to be the entire committee of people running the games have been watching the Tribute’s training sessions- which involve real, bladed weapons, including bows and throwing knives- from a nearby balcony with no protective glass or armed guards. I find it absolutely impossible to believe that Tributes haven’t snapped and gone on a murder rampage before. They’re almost certainly going to die anyway, what would they have to lose?
Katniss notices that none of the judges are paying attention during her evaluation so she shoots an apple out of the mouth of a roast pig they’re all feasting on. Instead of getting her executed this results in a really high score. This is also where Katniss’ stupid nickname (“the girl on fire”) comes into play. In the books they repeat this phrase about eleven thousand times.
President Snow talks to the dude running the Games (hereafter known as The Gamebro) and brings up several good points, among them the fact that rewarding Katniss for almost murdering him was kind of stupid.
He explains that they came up with a system that allows one of the selected Tributes to survive because it gives the Districts hope, just enough to keep them placid and believing that they can beat the system, but not enough to spark rebellion. In principle I actually agree that this is a good strategy if you’re trying to be a dystopian overlord- if people think the situation is completely hopeless they might throw their lives away in rebellion, because what do they have to lose?- but I contend that the Hunger Game’s very existence would cause annual chaos and rioting.
Anyway he says that The Gamebro is in danger of turning Katniss into an inspirational figure so he should work to contain the situation. Obviously, he fails to do so.
See the woman with the white makeup standing behind Effie? If I remember from reading about the plot of the book, there’s some sort of forced servant class made up of (I think) dissenting District people who had their tongues cut out or something.
Everything about the culture of the Capital seems completely incongruous and discordant to me. The story, in either format, makes no real attempt to create a setting where these oppressive acts arise; they’re just layered onto the world ex nihilo. They watch children murdering each other in TV! They cut out people’s tongues! They wear wacky pastel-coloured candy-floss clothes for some reason!
Later at dinner OHD starts pulling away from Katniss, which Woody Harrelson says is due to the fact that there’s only one day left before the Games and it’s starting to sink in that only one of them is going to make it out alive.
GOSH DO YOU THINK THEY’LL FIND A WAY TO BOTH SURVIVE
TWO STAR-CROSSED TEENAGERS ENTER, BOTH OF THEM LEAVE
Then it’s TV Time again, as this dude interviews the Tributes. Wheee. There’s more popularity contest stuff, where it’s super important that Katniss makes people like her and oh jesus we’re back in High School City aren’t we
Somehow none of the Tributes have a nervous breakedown, burst into tears or attempt to strangle Mr. Blue Hair up there, which is what would actually happen. Not even Rue or the other kid who can’t be older than twelve have any trouble. This is why trying to port the tropes and trappings of reality TV unchanged onto a competition about kids killing each other doesn’t really work.
And this is the part that kills me: Katniss starts stuttering nervously and giving inane answers which for some reason drives the crowd wild, then she twirls around and flames shoot out of her dress and she actually gets into it and starts liking the attention.
KATNISS THEY’RE GOING TO APPLAUD WHILE YOU GET MURDERED IN LESS THAN 72 HOURS WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING
Then the dude starts asking incredibly personal questions about what she said to her sister during their final goodbye and she answers sincerely instead of… well, having a nervous breakdown, bursting into tears or trying to strangle him.
I feel like the story is putting way too much stock in how desperate the Tributes are to win sponsors. Think about it, the entire Capital- the people who are condemning the Tributes to a violent, awful death while their families watch helplessly- are tuning in to this. This is your one chance to speak directly to them. Hell, you might actually get away with an act of rebellion here since they need to keep you alive long enough to die in the Games. Are you going to go along with this meekly, or are you going to tell them all to go fuck themselves? If I was in this situation I’d make my appearance the most epic, table-flipping, double-bird-giving, drop-your-pants-and-wave-your-ass spectacle in the history of recorded media, except no one would be all that impressed impressed because the exact same thing would happen at least once every year.
And look, I get it. This is building up the fantasy (which I think it’s fair to say is packaged more often for female consumption) of stardom, of appearing in front of the world and being loved and adored. It’s wish fulfilment, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But holy shit, it does not make sense in this story.
I will say this for these scenes, they absolutely evoke the feel of a reality TV show or a glitzy late-night talk show. From the set design to the way the host and the Tributes banter, the movie nails absolutely everything about that sort of media.
Then it’s OHD’s turn, where he confesses his love for Katniss or whatever. Blargh. The scene would be effective if I actually cared more about these characters.
Thankfully Katniss reacts to this in a believable manner.
Woody Harrelson suggests that she should go along with the whole doomed lovers thing to play up to the sponsors, which means we’re starting to officially enter bullshit realm.
That night Katniss and OHD have a heart to heart about their deepest fears: how they don’t want the Capital to change who they are and turn them into something they’re not… you know, instead of the fact that THEY’RE GOING TO DIE SOON.
Again: this scene makes perfect sense in a movie that’s literally about the media and show business; it makes zero sense in a movie that’s delivering those themes through the realm of kids being forced to murder each other.
Then the Games are about to start, and things get interesting again with Katniss freaking out and the mood going all tense and nerve-wracking. It’s pretty harrowing stuff! Jennifer Lawrence absolutely sells the shit out of this part.
LET THE GAMES BEGIN
There’s a cache of weapons and supplies near where the Tributes emerge onto the arena called the Cornucopia, which Woody Harrelson previously warned Katniss to stay away from because it’s there to encourage the Tributes to fight right off the bat and the area around it always turns into a bloodbath. But Katniss spots a bow and a quiver of arrows and goes for them, running past the career Tributes getting into the thick of things and picking off their weaker competitors.
This is another well-done scene. There’s no sound apart from the frantic music and the shaky-cam here serves to highlight the chaotic, shocking nature of what Katniss is seeing (although it was probably included more to avoid directly showing kids getting murdered). A bit later a cannon starts firing every time a Tribute dies; Katniss, having gotten away from the carnage around the cornucopia, sits in the forest and listens as the cannon fires over and over again.
There was one missed opportunity here: every time one of these kids dies, their family is watching it happen in real-time. The book couldn’t show this because it’s focused solely on Katniss’ perspective, but the movie, which frequently cuts away to other people and locations, could have.
Later on Katniss will transform into that annoying sort of protagonist who we’re supposed to believe is special and vital to the larger events happening in the world just because, but here the story resolutely avoids making her suddenly be awesome. Going for the bow was a courageous move, but it doesn’t actually work (she only managed to grab a backpack) and she gets out alive almost entirely due to luck.
So, brief intermission: what would your strategy for the Hunger Games be? I’d find somewhere to hide and conserve energy while the other Tributes eliminated each other, hoping that the final competitor would die from hunger/thirst/injury without requiring me to get my hands dirty. If that failed I’d use ambush tactics on whoever was left, hiding near the central area and waiting for them to let their guard down. If all went according to plan they’d be exhausted from fighting while I’d be well rested and able to pick them off without trouble.
(This is of course assuming I would actually be able to go through with killing someone to save my own life)
This is the big fancy sci-fi control room that’s used to control and monitor the Games, and it seems to have essentially supernatural powers. The technicians are able to create things holographically and have them appear inside the arena- and I don’t just mean images, later in the movie they appear to conjure new life forms somehow.
Anyway a thing appears in the sky showing all of the Tributes who have died so far. Katniss watches and seems to be relieved that OHD isn’t on it.
The Career Tributes (who have formed a temporary alliance, remember) find a girl near where Katniss is hiding and kill her. Afterward they talk exactly like bullies revelling in harassing their latest victim, in case the High School City vibe wasn’t strong enough already.
Interesting question: the Careers are trained to fight, but how are they conditioned to be able to kill? All the training in the world won’t make you capable of actually murdering a person in cold blood. The Districts must be feeding them some kind of propaganda that dehumanizes the other Tributes, but we never get to see what that is. They’re just treated as evil.
While Katniss is spying on the Careers she oversees what appears to be OHD teaming up with them to help them track down Katniss; they regard her as a major threat due to her high evaluation and want her gone as quickly as possible, although of course they’re secretly planning to kill him as soon as he’s outlived his usefulness instead of keeping him around for the final stand-off.
(Spoiler: he’s not actually helping them)
The next day Katniss picks a direction and starts walking. The people in the control room notice that she’s nearing the edge of the arena and has gotten extremely far from the nearest other Tribute, so they devise a plan to get her back into the action.
Before we get to that though: is there any reason for the arena to be so huge? What would happen if the last two Tributes ended up wandering aimlessly miles apart from each other? We know the people running the games can manipulate the arena to a seemingly supernatural degree, but all of the methods we actually see could easily end up killing the Tributes by accident.
There’s a Japanese novel called Battle Royale that has a somewhat similar premise to this story. In that book the captured teenagers wear explosive collars and sections of the island they’re trapped on are randomly designated as forbidden, meaning they have to get out of the area by a certain time or their collar will detonate. As the equivalent to the games progresses more and more parts of the island become permanently forbidden, ensuring that as the combatants dwindle they’ll be forced into closer and closer proximity. It seems like the Hunger Games could have done with a system like this, if only to stave off the dull, plodding pace that the story soon enters.
(By the way the titular Battle Royale didn’t really make much sense either, which means that there is probably no motivation you could come up with to force kids to fight to the death that doesn’t ultimately boil down to “for the lulz”)
The method used to get Katniss back on track? A fake-looking CG forest fire, which she has to run like hell away from. The techies in the control room can also launch hilarious mario-style fireballs at her, although I’m not sure why they would since they’re supposedly trying to get her back near the other Tributes rather than killing her (one of the fireballs burns her on the leg, which would seem to provide an unfair disadvantage).
Katniss continues running and we find out that the techies were deliberately trying to herd her toward the group of Careers, which they succeed in doing. She climbs a tree to escape them and they can’t get her down because they’re all terrible shots with a bow, the only long-range weapon they have.
OHD suggests they just wait it out (this story involves an inordinate amount of Katniss sitting in trees), pointing out that Katniss needs to either come down eventuality or starve to death. The Career’s leader (Kato) for some reason agrees to this, even though they also have limited resources that will dwindle as long as they wait and they have no idea how much food and water she’s carrying. Siege tactics only work when you’ve got a basically limitless logistics chain keeping you supplied.
There’s a cut-away to Woody Harrelson (who’s been watching this entire thing on TV) schmoozing it up with some people from the Capital. We later learn that he’s trying to secure sponsorship for Katniss. Go Woody Harrelson go!
Sponsorship (specifically medicine for Katniss’ burn) comes in the form of little packages that float down on parachutes. I sure am glad these goofy things won’t show up in the third book during a tragic and pivotal scene, that would be stupid.
Look, it’s Rue! She points Katniss to a nearby hornet’s nest she can use to get rid of the Careers. The hornets are apparently called “tracker jackers” and they’re genetically engineered super-wasps that can cause hallucinations and death. No, I don’t know why these things exist either.
Operation Waspageddon works so well that the Career with the bow is stung to death in what’s probably the movie’s most gruesome scene, but Katniss is also stung several times and starts tripping balls. She steals the bow and OHD sprints over and tells her to run for it, which is made harder by all the hallucinations she’s suddenly having.
Some of these are related to the death of Katniss’ father in a mining accident, and these scenes are really quite striking, with some creatively surreal cinematography. It really drives home how bland the arena and the Hunger Games actually are.
Rue finds Katniss unconscious and treats her super-wasp stings, and they decide to become BFFs and talk about how OHD is totally like way into Katniss except she doesn’t realize it. Because, again, High School City. Obviously any decision to team up during the Games brings with it the knowledge that both of them can’t make it out alive (except for Katniss and OHD, who are both going to make it out alive). What happens if everyone else takes each other out and they’re the last ones left?
If I remember correctly the book does actually address this, with Katniss having to think through whether she should sacrifice herself for Rue’s sake or if her commitment to providing for her sister obliges her to survive by any means necessary, even if it means killing Rue or allowing her to be killed by the other Tributes. You know, cheerful stuff.
(By the way the actress playing Rue is really good. Apart from the two Hot Dudes this movie has a great cast)
Rue (who is uncannily good at gathering information) reveals that the Career Tributes have hoarded a ton of supplies near where they all started out. Katniss comes up with a pretty clever plan: Rue will light a series of fires to lure the Careers away, then Katniss will dash in and destroy all the supplies. As an emergency signal they decide on the call of a Mockingjay, the bird depicted on a pin that Katniss brought from home and which becomes a symbol of great importance later on in the trilogy.
Katniss: “We’re gonna be okay. I’ll see you at supper.”
Bye Rue! It was nice knowing you!
Operation Fuck Shit Up goes off remarkably well: the Careers have mined the area around the supplies, but another Tribute was watching the process and learned the mine’s positions so she can dash in and steal supplies. The guy left behind as a guard catches a glimpse of her and wanders off in pursuit, leaving the way wide open for Katniss to trigger the mines with an arrow, destroying the supply cache.
Unfortunately she gets back just in time for Rue to get attacked by a dude with a spear. She puts an arrow in his heart, but it’s too late and Rue tragically kicks the bucket in a touching, Victorian novel sort of way where she encourages Katniss and Katniss sings a lullaby.
I’m being cynical, but the scene is actually pretty good at evoking the feels, particularly the way Katniss just breaks down and starts incoherently flinging shit afterward.
Katniss does the “resist” hand sign that we saw back at the Reaping and the people of Rue’s district return it and then start rioting and attacking the government police… aka the thing every single District would totally be doing every year because come on, of course they would. Did it just not occur to them to fight back until Katniss gave them the idea?
SO WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT among the many think-pieces on the current wave of police shootings and protests erupting across America right now, a few have highlighted this exact scene, concerning as it does a violent uprising in response to the unjust killing of a child (Rue is one of only two prominent black characters and her district contains many more PoC than any other place we see, which makes the parallels stronger). They pointed out the fact that this is clearly supposed to be a stirring, fist-pumping scene where we’re firmly in support of the people of District 11 sticking it to The Man, and yet when pretty much the exact same thing happens in real life there’s all sorts of hand-wringing and finger wagging over damaged property.
Now, the analogy breaks down somewhat because the world of The Hunger Games is unrealistically simplistic, where the Capital is basically a foreign occupier exploiting the Districts from a distance rather than a system of oppression woven into the fabric of society, but it’s still a powerful point. The protests in the US are functionally no different from what we see here: people rebelling against an unjust system, motivated to action by the death and suffering directly caused by that system. If you feel galvanized or uplifted by this scene but shocked or angry at real-life protests, you should probably ask yourself why.
CONTINUED IN PART 3