The Hunger Games Trilogy And The Perils Of Adaptation

While reading an article today from Io9 about why The Hunger Games is better than Twilight, I thought about the reasons why I found the Hunger Games Trilogy [1] [2] [3] to be so unpleasant to read as the novels progressed. Among the reasons is that Kayliss, the heroine of the story, becomes deeply immersed in very shady and unpleasant politics, being used as a pawn by the supposed “good guys” even as she is a tribute sent to die as a reminder to her region about the folly of rebellion. In addition in the third novel in particular, she showed some striking evidence of the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of having seen so many people die, and having killed a few people herself with her own hand.

While I agree that the Hunger Games trilogy is far better than Twilight (in fact, the two aren’t even in the same ballpark as far as works are concerned), I am concerned as to the effectiveness of an adaptation of the books into the movies, and given my own personal experience with PTSD (I have had it since the age of 4), I am concerned about two ditches that may be impossible for the movie adaptation of the trilogy to avoid. At the very least we ought to be warned going into a film like that of the dangers of Hollywood film culture to a true portrayal of a book series like The Hunger Games.

For one, the book itself is very bittersweet and dark. Despite being Young Adult’s literature, it is a very dark and dystopian universe. There is no happy ending in the series–a lot of good and innocent people die, and the ones who live appear to be deeply damaged, with a partial and belated recovery that takes a long time. This is not the sort of story that Hollywood likes to tell, which prefers happy ending and tidy and neat resolutions, which this series does not provide. It is a strong temptation for the writers and filmmakers to try to shoehorn a happy or tidy ending to make it “feel” right as a film, and that temptation would be a serious mistake. The usefulness of books like The Hunger Games to young people in large part is due to its very grimly realistic portrayal of life (I will get to this in a minute), and to scrub everything up and make it sanitized, while it would make the film a “normal” film, would reduce (or even eliminate) the deeper and unsettling moral elements of the story which show how in history there are often no good guys, and often only multiple groups of people wishing to exploit the good and the noble. This is a lesson that needs to be said, and to say it would require making a film that breaks Hollywood conventions in a lot of ways.

I am concerned as well about the opposite ditch, though. A film like this could easily be made too melodramatic, or too focused on the aspect of Kayliss’ trauma to be more than a Lifetime movie on the big screen. And who wants that? A far better approach than to make it either happy go-lucky or Lifetime Movie of the Week, both of which would be horrible movies, would be to try to capture the feel of the book in showing both Kayliss’ agency and stubborn resistance to being used by any particular side or faction as well as the circumstances she struggles against without being heavy-handed about it. Portraying what happened with a dry, understated approach, honestly showing the world in all of its corrupt splendor would allow the reader to be intelligent enough to make their own decisions without it being forced or manipulated. Cut scenes between the real and grim action in the arena in the first two films as well as the sanitized version that appears for the people on television would make an ironic commentary on much of our own television as well. It would allow the viewer to see for themselves how footage can be massaged or sanitized for public consumption.

Of course, such an approach would be highly political. The books, though, are highly political, and were written (like the Harry Potter series, whose dark political material was almost completely excised from the movies) with very particularly deep political questions in mind. Fantasy and Science Fiction literature, even more so than many other kinds of literature, has a particularly political edge to it. By the way we write either about imaginary worlds or the future, we project our image of the world and its ideals and corruptions. Even without consciously attempting to, a writer’s works, whether they are Disneyesque sanitized versions of reality or grim and dark like my own writings or The Hunger Games, reflect the worldviews (political and moral) of their authors. They must either ignore our dark reality or face them head-on. I prefer to face them head-on, and to transcend them if at all possible by the grace that has been given to me from above. Hopefully that will be the case in the film adaptation of The Hunger Games, but I have my doubts. This is Hollywood, after all.




About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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15 Responses to The Hunger Games Trilogy And The Perils Of Adaptation

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  13. Tyler says:

    Im curious, now that all the films are out how do you think that the adaptation held up to your prediction?

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