On the “Kentuckism” of the Hunger Games

So I finally got around to seeing the Hunger Games after reading enough about it to have probably written a book report on the source material.

Not that I have read the source, but if you’re interested in reviews that have, I recommend Marzgurl’s 3 part vlog review where apparently all 3 of them have read the source.

I do have to commend this movie for being one of the most “Kentuckian” movies I’ve ever seen. (and I’m not just talking about the two stars from here).

District 12, where the two main characters are from, is a “coal mining” district, and the opening reeks of the Appalachian Mountains in the look and feel of the place.  Even their mentor, a previous winner (played by Woody Harrelson) is shown in one scene with bare feet (a common feature among those from the Appalachians and Ohio Valley).

And all of this leads to what is – ultimately – the biggest flaw of the movie: no religion.

Now, here’s where I explain things to try and prevent a flame war in the comments (also, this all leads up to a larger point, so try to stay with me here).

In general, I could religion in art as I do eating, sex, bathroom duties, etc.  Namely: the Law of Conservation of Detail.  If it’s not relevant to the story or characters, we don’t need to see it.  However, in the world of District 12, with the Appalachian people, we DO need to see religion because it is very much a feature of their lives.

This may be hard to explain to people unfamiliar with the area.  One of the more accurate portrayals would be the Andy Griffith show.  I’m not talking about an evangelical exaggeration of religion – where God must be mentioned every fifteen minutes.  This is a culture where their faith and religion is so ingrained, it’s like the air they breathe: nobody needs to talk about it, it’s simply there, it’s simply understood in thousands of interactions, references, and conversations people have every day.  Katiness wouldn’t be singing a lullaby with her sister, but a hymn (because those are the songs she’s most familiar with).  I’m not saying the mockingjay pin should have been replaced with a cross or anything, that should be the way it is because, like I said, the religion is so ingrained on these people’s lives, they don’tneed to have a trinket or anything expressing their faith.  Their very dialect, dress, everything about them will do that as a sign of their culture.

“But is that needed for the world building here?” Some might say?  Well… let’s drift away for a bit before circling back to here.

There is a question of “why the hunger games”.  Why does the capital engage in this?  In everything I’ve seen and read (and now watched) I think there’s a factor that was overlooked: to keep the districts divided.  The back story is that there was a rebellion once.  Afterwards, the capital, like Minos of Crete towards Aegeus, demands children to be sacrificed from the districts.  Ok… but the capital should have had one other aim: to use the games to keep the districts divided and against each other less they rise up again.  I found the “there is only 1 winner” rule to be stupid, it should have been “there is only one winning district” (meaning that both kids from a district could have always won, but rarely did) to emphasize the distinctions.  This would have also made the movie’s motif stronger drawing on parallels between reality TV AND professional sports (i.e. if they had a line “12 looks like they have some strong contenders this year”).  Instead, we only get one line, towards the end, where a character refers to Katiness not by her name, but by her district number.  That should have been the standard address through the whole film – by everybody. (maybe even referring to B# and G# during training to further the motif)  This was especially apparent when a repeating phrase in the movie is “May the odds be ever in your favor.”  While that works with someone who is supposed to be “neutral” in the games (such as Donald Sutherland), as someone who grew up in the heavy football/basketball fandom South… it would have worked better had each District had its own cheer so when the gaudy lady draws names, she doesn’t say “May the odds…” but something along the lines of “Go district 12!” to further emphasize the division.

Then, to bring it all together, each of the districts should have had their own religion (and all overseen by an agnostic capital).

See, the climax of the movie, or rather a turning point of it, what is arguably the most important point of the plot, is Katiness on the death of Rue.  What I think we’ve sometimes forgotten in this day and age is that once upon a time, you treated someone respectfully according to your own religion/culture – not theirs.  Say a Christian and a Muslim meet on a battlefield, and after a fight, one of them falls.  No matter who the winner was, it would follow thus:

  • If it was a bad and dishonorable fight, the loser would be ignored or dishonorably treated per the winner’s religion/culture.
  • If it was a good and honorable fight, the loser would be honorably treated per the winner’s religion/culture.

(or at least, these were the ideals – as always when it comes to humans, we probably didn’t fulfill them quite often as we should have)  A Muslim wouldn’t find it offensive for a Christian to perform last rites on them, but understand it as an honor (if anything, they would probably find it more offensive if the Christian tried whatever the Islamic rituals are since the Christian would 1) do it wrong and 2) probably not be authorized as an outsider to do it).

Thus, at Rue’s death, Katiness singing a hymn of her district, putting Rue on a bed of flowers (like they do in her district) and giving the salute of her district (the movie doesn’t explain the 3 finger salute, I couldn’t help but think that if they had shown religion being involved, that could be a “Christian” sign of the Trinity) to the screen and Rue’s district returning a salute of their own religion/culture (and then rebelling) would not only have made the scene even more powerful than it was (and it was pretty powerful as is) but would have explained why the capital was becoming so concerned about the games.  The districts learning to unite inspite of their differences would have given us SOME reason for why Donald Sutherland was as worried as he was (as it is… I’m not sure why he was).

It is still a gorgeous film to look at and has quite a bit to recommend seeing it on a large screen, but more than matinee price is tough to justify.  The biggest flaw of the plot is that numerous references are made about Peter’s strength, but ultimately it never plays out in the games (we do see his painting skillz used).  Like I said above, the biggest flaw of the movie is that it’s “good enough”, but it was so close to being great.  And that’s harder to deal with sometimes than just a bad movie.


An extra shell for:

And the sheer Kentuckiness of it.

Recommended further reading on the movie:



7 thoughts on “On the “Kentuckism” of the Hunger Games

  1. Having only one winner makes sense if you want to destroy cooperation– the seeds of betrayal are planted in each district, AND between them. No reason to have two from each district if the idea is to just make the districts fight each other.

    • Crap, that reminds me of the point I wanted to make about how “arbitrary” the game controllers were (seriously, D&D nerds could make DM jokes all day).

      Well this gets into “rules” vs “reality”. They could have had a long standing RULE that only one district could win, even though the reality is that 99% of the time, it’s only one person. Heck, as much as the capital is in control of the elements, they could “eliminate” one of the winning district’s players by “environmental accident” handily.

      But making it over-cruel (such as the standing “only one” rule) kind of loops back around and makes the game less dividing. Since, well if you know you have no chance anyway, you could pick a stronger player to team up with just to ensure that someone you don’t like LOSES.

      • But you don’t have “no” chance, you have a chance that’s random.

        It’s psychotic rules– by making it so that it’s capricious, you have no stability. No stability, nothing to build on– and if you know someone, they’re still trying to kill you.

        I’m seeing it as sorta like the Greek Gods vs the Christian God in relation to nature– a gazillion nature spirits vs natural law. Which is going to let you build up on it?

      • Actually, having slept on it, I thought of a better way to put it.

        Namely, by having ONLY one winner, the games move from a district level, to an individual level. In other words, like this “latest year” we see, had Katiness shot Peter, then 12 would have been just like the other district and lost a child as well. It keeps the districts having more in common instead of dividing them.

      • But the thing they have in common is our kid killed yours. They’re not even open enough about the manipulation to have it be victimization, and limiting it to those that put their own names in was rather bright.

        Honestly, “put a bunch of kids on TV to kill each other” is a pretty sucky way to keep folks from banding together, but if you accept it as a starting point there’s at least possible REASONS for some of the choices.

      • Except for times when like… the kid eats a poison berry. Then it’s “no ones” fault.

        Or, like we saw in the movie, District 12 almost had a “our kid killed… our kid” so I don’t think that’s that much of a factor as presented. (It would have helped if they had a line or something where maybe it was broken down. Like… is there a rivalry between 12 and 4 since 4 has killed more 12 kids than any other district? Or maybe a line like “6 killed our kids last year, so no matter if you win or lose, just outlast District 6”.)

        As presented, the movie (maybe the book does better) gave a sense that the residents saw the deaths in the games as akin to acts of god. Which I’m saying I don’t think is a wise move by the Capital.

        EDITED TO ADD: Huh, look what they listed under “major” issue here.

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