Further on the Hunger Games and moral cowardice in storytelling

**Spoilers Ensue.**

Something else about the movie version of The Hunger Games that made it more pleasant, but less profound, than the book:

In the movie, the Good Guys never have to do anything Really Bad.

The movie version spares Peeta entirely of the opportunity/obligation to kill another tribute. He expresses a willingness to kill another contestant, should the situation arise, but he never has to follow through.

A friend of my complained of the books that Peeta comes off as too much of a plaster saint to be believable or particularly likeable.  I didn't feel that way about the book Peeta, mainly because when confronted with the opportunity to kill another contestant, he does not hesitate to do so.  (Granted, he acts to protect Katniss, not himself, which maybe makes the act more noble than simple self preservation?)  But of the movie Peeta, my friend makes a strong point.  Peeta's purity is unspoiled; he manages to emerge a victor from the kill-or-be-killed Hunger Games without ever having drawn blood.  It's a nice fantasy, but it dilutes the power of the basic premise of the story to allow for such a fantastical possibility.

Katniss, OTOH, does kill several times in the course of the movie -- but always defensively, in response to an immediate threat upon herself, Rue, and/or Peeta.  She never has to grapple with the cold logic of the Hunger Games, that only one tribute will be allowed to survive, and therefore any opportunity to kill another contestant is arguably an instance of self-defense, even if that competitor is at a marked disadvantage and offers no immediate threat.  (I actually don't remember exactly how this issue played out in the book -- it's been too long since I read it -- but I'm pretty sure that Katniss is painfully aware that a strategy of only killing tributes who are actively trying to kill her is likely not going to be an effective way to reach her primary goal, which is to win this damn thing so that she can go home to her little sister who needs her.)

So what you get in the movie is one set of Bad Guys -- an alliance of conniving, well-trained, well-armed teenagers gleefully tromping through the woods in search of weaker, under-resourced, less-capable peers to slaughter -- and one set of Good Guys -- Katniss and her allies, the underdogs, who genuinely care for each other, who only fight in self-defense, who deserve to survive.  So we, the audience, can feel good about rooting for Katniss et. al. and not fret about the notion that they are all victims, that even the career tributes are caught up in the oppressive machinations of a government that systematically terrorizes its entire population by annually compelling children to murder each other for the amusement of the residents of the Capitol. 

It's a lot more fun to watch a movie the premise of which demands 23* child deaths when you can apply a moral calculus that rates all of those deaths as either innocent victims of the Bad Guys or Bad Guys who had it coming to them.  But a major part of the moral power of the Hunger Games books is how they convey the reality that, in a situation of warfare, individual combatants cannot be neatly sorted into Good Guys and Bad Guys.  I think the movie's viewers lose out by not being confronted with that truth.

*Reduced to 22 through last-minute rule changes.


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