Understand Hunger Games' message

FROM REEL TO REAL LIFE: A student in Bangkok flashes a salute from The Hunger Games in front of a billboard of the series' latest movie. The trilogy romanticises this salute, but also demonstrates how such a gesture can be exploited.


    Nov 27, 2014

    Understand Hunger Games' message

    IF YOU haven't read the books and hate spoilers, stop right here. Go and enjoy the film, which won't reveal much, because the producers for some reason decided to break up the finale of the Hunger Games trilogy into two parts and are putting only the first half on show.

    Here's an article for those who have read all three books and thus know how the story ends, or for the rare breed of spoiler lovers.

    A lot of people must have thought the Capitol is the sole bad guy and Mockingjay is an attempt to denounce urban people and glorify rebellion. Well, not so fast. The Hunger Games' key message is this: People can change, and rebels are no exception.

    The book Mockingjay ends with Katniss Everdeen, the heroine, becoming hugely disillusioned because those responsible for her beloved sister's death are the rebel leaders.

    So, like the real world, the one in which Katniss lives is grey. The Capitol's President Snow is bad all right, but he is all but peripheral in the final scenes. What the rebel leaders do may reflect the truths of our day-to-day political reality.

    Ideologies are for rousing people on the streets while deals are cut, horses are traded and cake is divided in the highest echelons of rivalry. Rebel leaders can do what they also condemn. They can take innocent lives and shrug off "collateral damage" as a necessity.

    Katniss is an ideology-driven rebel, but she is smart and in the end must have realised that political leaders are hardly different, no matter what "ideals" they proclaim. The Hunger Games trilogy teaches a political lesson which may be hard to accept: We can become our own worst enemy.

    It asks us to consider whether ideologies are cooked up by vested interests out of selfish, not selfless, reasons. It romanticises the three-finger salute, but also demonstrates how such a gesture can be exploited if a rebel leader is not genuinely ideological.

    Katniss, having been forced to compete in the killing "arenas" twice, is befuddled by both sides' willingness to take lives "for the greater good". Even her first boyfriend tells her he is certain that district people must have been eager to die at the hands of their allies if their deaths were to lead to the Capitol's fall.

    She may have learnt in the end that there is no principle worth dying for. And if such a principle really exists, it could lead only to wars, which would defeat all proclaimed ideals. Such a principle must be guarded at all costs, and that can only turn it into its opposite.

    Katniss is told at one stage that her job is "to be a distraction, so people forget what the real problems are". Maybe everyone inspired by this fictional heroine should consider the possibility that someone, somewhere is conjuring and manipulating distractions so the real issue is hidden from view.

    As much of the trilogy revolves around the contrast between the "elitist" Capitol and enslaved "districts", it's been compared to the Thai divide.

    The fictional Capitol, however, does not pool resources and energy to help the rural areas when natural disasters strike. It's a place where rural kids come to die, not study. It's not a place where rural aspirants become top singers, movie stars, newspaper editors, sporting icons or business executives. It's not a place where streets are empty during home-for-the-holiday festivals like Songkran.

    It's funny how we always want "political engagement" to be enshrined in every Thai Constitution, even though such "participation" threatens to take away the only thing separating us from the professional politicians - honesty. We aren't supposed to distort or take advantage or inflame mistrust or hatred, but it's difficult to avoid such acts nowadays.

    Let the politicians create doubts over the intentions of rural people or portray Bangkokians as elitist. As for us, we can go on protesting against the coup or corruption in the democratic system without hating each other.

    Bangkok used to be a place for affectionate connection and the provinces places where the heart was. The current state of affairs is painful and we shouldn't rub salt into our own wounds. The divide is deep enough and everyone's life is hard enough without Mockingjay being politicised.

    I have no idea how the movie ends. In other words, I don't know if the film strictly follows the plot of the final book.

    But we couldn't care less. How our national strife transpires is all that matters. Hopefully, it won't imitate another film, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, which ends with this quote: "Ape started war…human will not forgive."