Last week, I treated myself to an evening out with a good friend, and we went to go see The Hunger Games movie on opening night. On the whole, I enjoyed the movie – I thought the acting was very good, and the suspense felt very real, and that’s coming from somebody who’s read the book more times than I care to admit. There were some missteps, like the scene where Katniss is hallucinating under the influence of the tracker jacker venom, and a few bits and bobs left out, like the incorporation of dead tribute’s eyes into the muttations featured in the finale. But there were some good additions, like the increased role of Seneca Crane and the visual image the viewers are allowed of the riots in District 11 after Katniss acknowledges Rue’s death to the cameras. I do love these books, but I tried to judge the movie on its own merits, and as I said, enjoyed it. It didn’t knock my socks off, but I teared up when Rue died, if that puts it into perspective.
However. However. A full week on from the movie, there are two things that were left out that are driving me crazy, one of which is personal but still important, and one of which seems like a major plot point ignored, and I’m really curious how these issues will be addressed in the second film, Catching Fire.
First, the plot point – Peeta’s leg. Towards the end of their time in the arena, Katniss finds Peeta essentially dying of a stab wound to the leg. This injury drives her actions for several chapters of the book – tending him, distracting him, essentially focusing on his well-being in a semi-private cave space that allows their relationship to develop almost normally.* In these interactions, we see Katniss’ tender devotion to her sister in the story about her sister’s goat, her steely determination to protect Peeta by getting him better, and her inability to see people she cares about in pain. All these character traits are important, but what’s especially important is that Peeta’s leg doesn’t get fully better in the books, while it’s miraculously healed in the film. In the book, the madcap rush for the Cornucopia in the end leaves Peeta bleeding and weakened, and Katniss’ blind panic when they’re separated, and her later devastation to learn he’s lost the leg, illustrate her changing and conflicted feelings for him in a way the movie fails to do. Also, her relative lack of injury makes it difficult to understand how they’re going to set up the force field issue in book 2, but that’s another story. I thought leaving this out saved some storytelling time, but at the cost of a deeper understanding of their relationship and a potentially suspenseful plot point.
Secondly, the issue of food. The books, and the competition, are called the Hunger Games for a reason, and the reason was completely ignored in the films. Where was the discussion of the District 12 Tributes of the 73rd Hunger Games, who Effie Trinkett declares had terrible table manners, and who Katniss counters had never, “not a day in their lives,” had enough to eat? The loving description of the lamb stew, over which Katniss and Peeta will later bond? Rue’s wistful comment that she’s never had a groosling leg to herself? One of Katniss’ major strengths in the arena is that she can hunt, a skill borne of deep necessity, and her ability to find adequate food not only saved her family, but will save her and Peeta in the arena. Katniss’ life revolves around finding enough food (and water) to keep herself alive, especially once she’s in the arena, and this single-minded focus helps the reader understand much about what drives her as a character. Katniss is dragged of Gale in a state of panic, begging him to promise he won’t let her family starve if she dies in the arena, and it should be a desperate and touching moment that highlights both her worst fears and her implicit trust of Gale. In the absence of a real understanding on the part of the audience of the role hunger and the fear of hunger play in the universe, much of Katniss’ drive and anxiety rings somewhat hollow.
I had a lot of quibbles with the interpretation and adaptation of the story in the book into the plot of the film – we never see the worst of Haymitch’s drunkenness, for example – but was generally able to understand many of the changes that were made. These two points have really stuck with me, and made me wonder how the second book will be rendered on the silver screen.
*Obviously, nothing about the situation is normal. But Katniss is able to open to Peeta in this environment in a way she is unlikely to have done in their “real” existences, in a way that might feel normal in a less-dystopian young adult novel featuring two protagonists falling in love.