Editor’s Note: This review may include spoilers if you have not seen the movie or read the book.
I really didn’t want to read The Hunger Games. I had resisted the time sucks that were the Harry Potter and Twilight series. I’m too old for such nonsense.
But about two months ago, my friends settled on the trilogy for our next book club pick. After some initial whining, I gave in. Our last selection was Cutting for Stone—I could use a mental break. Of course, the inevitable happened. I was engrossed so completely that I flew back to Minneapolis for opening weekend and book club.
Our group of seven twentysomethings settled in with our themed cocktails among the hordes of fans, ready to be wowed. Later at our debrief in the rented-out sky club at my old apartment building—we were serious about this—we settled on a resounding “eh.”
Forget the poor casting choices. (I love the gorgeous and talented Jennifer Lawrence, but she doesn’t quite fit the role of emaciated, self-unaware 16 year old.)
The whole theme of the books—one of punishment for past deeds and occasional glimpses of grace—seemed to be discarded for fancy explosions and a really cool control room from which a few got to play God.
The book opens with an unjust system—one in which 24 teens a year must fight to the death as punishment for an uprising that happened decades before they were born. There is no forgiveness, no grace. But individual characters become Christ-like figures, willing to become the sacrificial lambs for others. First it’s protagonist Katniss, who volunteers for the games in the place of her younger sister. Then it’s Peeta, who decides to protect Katniss at all costs.
Other instances of grace emerge in the book that are left out of the movie—like when one of the districts pulls together what little resources they have to send Katniss bread, sustenance to continue. Or when the duo’s coach Haymitch, played by Woody Harrelson, gives up his alcoholic tendencies so he can be present enough to help his team.
The movie does little to explore this theme or even confirm it. The viewer isn’t quite sure why we should even like Peeta. Haymitch is completely undeveloped as a drunken mess who suddenly becomes Katniss’ strongest advocate with virtually no prompting.
Of course, readers will always be disappointed by movie adaptations. There is always more to tell, different ways we would have liked to see our beloved characters develop. I think there is probably a way in movies two and three to provide the viewer with more substance. And I’ll be there, back in the second row, geeking out like a tween once again.
Sandi Villarreal is Associate Web Editor for Sojourners. Follow Sandi on Twitter @Sandi.