With the approaching release of The Hunger Games (March 23rd), I thought it would be a good time to gain (or regain) some perspective on the possible influences on the plot of the much acclaimed book series. Now, when I first thought of writing on this topic, I took the stance that the book series, written by Susanne Collins, was simply a bastardization of some quality pieces of art and entertainment (not always at the same time). After sharing some of those thoughts with my 7th grade students – Collins target audience – I have realized that many fans of the series are blindly convinced of its originality, as well as the authenticity of the themes and plot of the books. However, they are just as blindly willing to watch or read the various films and novels that have shaped their being.
Before going any further, I know many of you will automatically think, “Nothing is original anymore!” If you want to have that argument, view the profound “Everything Is a Remix” blog. My point here is not to say that unoriginality is terrible, but rather point out possible influences on the forthcoming movie which I think are more interesting and poignant than the young adult novels.
Theseus and the Minotaur
One of the greatest places to find stories to reinvent is from Greek and Roman Mythology. The premise of the hero Theseus running around the Labyrinth contending with a Minotaur as punishment for the wrong-doings of Athens is intriguing. In a Q and A with publisher Scholastic, Collins admitted that the basic premise of a government that sends youths into a battleground as punishment for the past came from the brutal Greek Myth.
This is a pretty clear modernization of that basic premise.
The Running Man (1987)
The next step in forming The Hunger Games is obvious: include the Governator. The basic plot of The Running Man is that a wrongly accused man is set for public execution on television. This is not simply flick of the switch type execution. Rather, the execution is a commercially driven television game show, in which viewers are rewarded with entertainment, and not necessarily justice. The movie is like many Arnie flicks: lots of campy action, one liners, and guilty pleasures. However, the premise is disturbing, and the idea that people gain entertainment from others’ pain and suffering is appalling, if not true to modern times, i.e. Survivor, Mixed Martial Arts, and any “reality” dating, singing, or makeover show.
The connection to Collins’ series is clear: the people in the Capital city of Panem are completely desensitized to the violence of ‘the Hunger Games’, and find the brutal destruction and death to be the greatest form of entertainment.
Battle Royale (2000)
In the near future, 42 students are forced by Japanese legislation to compete in Battle Royale, an all-out three day massacre in which all students are given a random weapon, some meager supplies, and are told that only one student can come out alive.
If you haven’t seen Battle Royale, you really shouldn’t be allowed to see The Hunger Games, which will seem like a Disney story in comparison. The violence is disturbing, and the reactions of the students are likely very accurate as to how the masses would act in such a situation. Battle Royale comes across more on the psychological mutilation that occurs within people, and the inhumanity that a government requires to keep control.
Besides these main three, there are many other allusions one could infer from the Hunger Games. These connections are slightly vaguer, and may apply to the second and third books in the series, so my logic may not hold…
Youth becomes the face of rebellion. Youth’s mentor is a has-been, and doesn’t inform youth of all that he knows. Like the fact that his father IS Darth Vader!
Love triangle. Which one of the flawless mates will she choose? Bah.
The struggles of youths faced with the politics of ‘survival of the fittest’.
Regardless of whether you are a fan of The Hunger Games or not, you’ve got to appreciate many of the themes explored through it and its predecessors. Despite my perpetual pessimism with popular culture, and my want for originality in art and entertainment, I can take solace in how Collins responded to the question: “What do you hope your readers will come away with…?”
Collins: “Questions about how elements of the book might be relevant in their own lives. And, if they’re disturbing, what they might do about them.”