The film adaptation of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire has grossed over $300 million since its November 22nd premiere. But ever since Suzanne Collins’ dystopian saga became a worldwide phenomenon, she has received lot of flack for blatantly ripping off the Japanese film Battle Royale. Yeah, yeah, yeah, Japan did everything first. Japan, you win. Again.
But let’s move on from this low-hanging fruit; surely a franchise as successful as Hunger Games must have cannibalized more than just one outside source. Talented kids unwillingly visiting violence upon one another for the baroque purposes of detached adults? Where else could we possibly find this theme…
4.) Ender’s Game
What an insane coincidence that the long-awaited Ender’s Game movie appeared just prior to the second Hunger Games installment. Both feature smart, resourceful kids doing adult things because there are tragic consequences for crimes. Crimes, by the way, that happened prior to the hero/victim’s birth, carried out by adult ancestors who supposedly feel a lot of sadness about their sacrificial snowflakes being thrown, sometimes literally, to the wolves. But let’s be honest: most of the original wrongdoers in both Hunger Games and Ender’s Game (even the names are similar!) are beyond punishment. Nobody really benefits from whatever lesson is being taught. Both Katniss and Ender eventually turn on their own governments, realizing that the system is the problem, and both are ultimately left alone, presumably to meet-cute in ten years and run off to start a pacifist collective or something.[divider]
3.) Lord of the Flies
Dig deep into that dusty box of ninth grade homework assignments, because right between Sounder and The Most Dangerous Game you’ll find this classic metaphor for World War II. (Or, you could just go watch the awesome black and white movie. It’s just as good.) The kids, who are trapped on an island without adults, gradually start hunting and killing each other, mostly for fun, but partly to consolidate their own political power. Parallels exist with the Careers of Hunger Games.
While the adults aren’t present as amoral spectators here, Lord of the Flies is kind of a sick game. Remember, there are spectators: you. There’s no actual villain. All of these kids are just behaving according to their nature. Though this particular book is meant to educate its audience about society and stuff, it is a show with child characters written for the benefit—and intellectual titillation—of dispassionate adults, those being us. Even though the characters aren’t real kids, that’s a little…weird.
Well, at least it’s for some greater good, like lab rats wandering through mazes in the name of a cure for Alzheimer’s. Whew! Dodged that existential bullet.[divider]
2.) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Though Harry’s prior exploits were fairly normal “Encyclopedia Brown with a wand” fare, Deathly Hallows takes a dark turn. Harry and his friends use the cutesy faux-Latin spells they learned in school to, well, battle their old classmates and teachers. When you think about it, the Muggle equivalent to a Harry Potter education would include disassembly of AK-47s and construction of trebuchets.
Sure, there were extenuating circumstances, but in the end, Harry’s life has been leading up to an epic battle against Voldemort. His education, his friendships, his adventures all happen so that he can either go beat the baddie for the grown-ups or be the noisy, obvious bait while the nebbish guy waiting in the wings beats the baddie. (Spoiler: that’s what happens.) Harry might have a lot to discuss about heroism with Katniss. Once she assumes the role of Mockingjay, she finds that, for all of her sacrifice and pain, she’s just a prop in the plans of yet more adults. She and Harry are primarily important because they’re inspirational to others. How lame is that?[divider]
1.) YOUR LIFE
The first Hunger Game represents High School. Everyone competes for the attention of vigilant adults, often to the detriment of one another, through a series of contrived and vicious tests. Friendships and cliques are crucial to survival. Contestants are trapped without the knowledge required to escape. There appears to be no logical point.
The Champions’ game represents college. When Hunger Games winners become too dangerous to the peace at home, the powers that be send them back into the fray. The cast features a wider variety of age groups possessed of the experience to question the structure of their environment and test its limits. The contestants use their intellectual prowess to escape, and when they do, they get to deal with the mighty shitstorm that is Real Life.
As the Hunger Games are to real war, so education is to reality. Like you and me, Katniss struggles to define her usefulness to her new organization, which she eventually wonders why she wanted into. She’s no longer special except as an attractive indicator of how relevant the company rebellion is. Finally, she’s trapped in her new situation because, at the end of the day, she has to survive.
Welcome to your life, dear twentysomething! If you started reading The Hunger Games n tenth grade, then congratulations, because The Hunger Games are all about you. Just don’t take out your new boss with an arrow, OK? That’s what we have board room meetings for.
Consider these the base of a mighty pyramid of war kids on film that will rise over the next few years. Now that the model is clearly a moneymaker, look for the film adaptations of Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Maze Runner by James Dashner, and probably plenty more.
Most of them will be based on something from Japan, of course. When you hear about Gantz or Akira turning into Hollywood kid-fighter blitzes, just roll with it and recall that the zeitgeist, at least, was already here. God damn it, Japan.