I finally read THE HUNGER GAMES last week in anticipation of seeing the movie this past Friday. What surprised me most about the cinematic interpretation was its point of view. I won’t share any spoilers, but if you want to be totally surprised by the book or movie, go check out this point-of-view post instead.
Suzanne Collins’ young adult novel is written in first person present tense. Katniss Everdeen is not only the protagonist, but she’s the eyes through which the readers see the world of Panem. We travel through the dystopian reality with her as our guide.
The movie, however, takes a much broader approach. It’s omniscient. We follow Katniss through the arena, but we also watch the Gamemakers’ decisions, Haymitch’s attempts to win sponsors and President Snow’s machinations.
Being privy to what’s happening in the arena, on TV and behind the scenes gives movie-goers a strong sense of the horrible pageantry that the Games deliver. It was especially cool to watch the Gamemakers manipulate the various dangerous elements on screen. One of my favorite moments was flashing to District 11’s riot after the Rue scene. Those scenes would have been impossible if the movie had stuck with Katniss’ point of view exclusively.
But what’s missing from THE HUNGER GAMES movie–and admittedly my reaction is colored by my identity as a reader, not a movie aficionado–is why the Games exist. My friend Priya saw the movie without reading the book. “I didn’t understand why the kids had to kill each other,” she said.
And that’s the risk that the movie takes delivering the history of Panem and the Dark Days through the impersonal omniscient viewpoint, instead of through Katniss’ perspective. In the movie, the information is set up with a short piece of text at the beginning, and elaborated on in a propaganda film shown before the reaping, but it’s presented as the facts of this world, without much emotional context. Put another way, we hear the Capitol perspective, which is obviously unconvincing, and hence, my friend wasn’t convinced.
In Collins’ novel, we immediately distrust the government due to being in Katniss’ point of view. We see her supporting her family and caretaking her sister. We see what the government has done to its people. A ruling class that creates a society where residents are starving, and where spirited young people like Katniss and Gale must break the law to feed their families, causes readers to be anti-government from the beginning.
The fact that the Hunger Games pit children against each other is a terrible outrage, but it’s also an extreme byproduct of the Capitol’s tight-fisted approach to ruling Panem. The Games are representative of how the government has terrorized its districts. It’s not the only outrage.
In the movie, the Capitol’s role in creating these impoverished communities is glossed over. We witness Katniss’ everyday reality in District 12 but don’t fully comprehend the government’s culpability. Instead we see the exaggerated fashions and appetites of Capitol dwellers. It is implied that these appetites, and the passion for spectacle, keeps the Games going each year. But without the historical background that Katniss gives us in the book, the senseless brutality seems intended merely as a shocking plot device instead of as an extreme act by the ruling class to keep its authority intact.
I should add that Katniss’ point of view in the book isn’t riddled with anti-Capitol rhetoric; in fact, quite the opposite is true. Her understated commentary is believable and gripping because it’s so matter-of-fact.
“When I was younger, I scared my mother to death, the things I would blurt out about District 12, about the people who rule our country, Panem, from the far-off city called the Capitol. Eventually I understood this would only lead us to more trouble. So I learned to hold my tongue and to turn my features into an indifferent mask so that no one could ever read my thoughts.
We see this mask portrayed in the movie but we never learn why she stays quiet. Do we need to know why in the movie? Probably not. But it’s this kind of first-person moment that teaches me about the story world’s politics in a deeper, more meaningful way than an omniscient movie could deliver.
Have you read the book and/or seen the movie? What do you think about the point of view shift? Is third person more cinematic? Do you prefer one version over the other?