I saw The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Thursday night. Technically Friday was opening day, but anymore, you can catch premieres the night before and that’s what I did. I had the idea that if I went to a later show on a Thursday, I might be able to avoid the crowds of ‘tweens and teens.
You can laugh now.
So I saw this movie in a theater full of ‘tweens and teens, many in large groups (i.e. they came together in groups). Stuffed with ’em. and I think I was probably the oldest person in there (shut up) and the only person who had come alone. And, as expected, before anything got started, everybody was yakking and texting and Facebooking and whatever the hell else people do these days because god forbid you actually stop using your smartphone for a few seconds (don’t get me started) and engage with the people SITTING RIGHT NEXT TO YOU.
They continued to talk (albeit more quietly) during the previews, which were geared toward this Hunger Games crowd. Young, hip, beautiful people in movies like the forthcoming Vampire Academy (okay, so I want to see it and yes, it’s based on a book) and what looks like a cool dystopic take on Frankenstein.
And then the movie began. I was kind of dreading it at this point, because I was young, once, and I remember being an asshat every now and again at the movies, so I braced myself to try to ignore whatever asshattery would erupt from the surrounding crowd of moviegoers in which the average age was probably fifteen.
Surprise, surprise. Every single person in that theater was thoroughly engaged by this movie. We laughed at the humor, exclaimed at the things that were awful to watch, and at the end we applauded. All those ‘tweens and teens then set to work talking to each other about the movie and the book on which it was based. And, I’m sure, texting all their friends to tell them to totally see the movie.
And it got me thinking about stories.
I’ve read Suzanne Collins’ trilogy. I’m a fan of post-apocalyptic and dystopic fiction and wrote about that and the themes I found in The Hunger Games. There is some cool-ass stuff going on in YA dystopic fiction these days, darlings. And we can have a chat about why that might be and why that resonates with so many young people, but let’s do that at a later time.
Because the big point here is that Collins’ trilogy is a good story. Strong characters, tension, issues bigger than oneself and issues that we all deal with on the day-to-day. Survival, love, friendship, and here, responsibility. And straight up, Jennifer Lawrence OWNS the role of Katniss Everdeen. Let’s just kind of ignore the fact that Everdeen is 16 in the books and Lawrence is 23. Doesn’t matter because here, Lawrence, I think, really captures the essence of Collins’ Everdeen, and the hard, hard things she has to face.
One of the things I really enjoyed about Catching Fire, the second in the book and movie trilogy, is how Everdeen struggles with this role that has been foisted upon her — the embodiment of the spark of revolution. She’s viewed as a “savior” in some ways, a symbol in others, and she doesn’t know what to do with it, or how to carry it.
She’s 16, after all. Knowing that you’re the reason there’s a revolution breaking out across your world and what that burden could mean is obviously of greater import than who you’re going to go to prom with.
And that’s part of the driving force of this story, and why it appeals to so many people. It asks big questions that don’t have easy answers, and stories like that keep you THINKING. They keep you GUESSING about what could happen, what choices a character might make in certain circumstances. In essence, you CARE about these characters and the story in which they operate.
One of the other things I like so much about Everdeen is that she’s a strong female lead. She kicks ass, but she’s not a superhero. She’s a young woman who has been tasked with horrible things but who has, in spite of all the odds stacked against her, prevailed. But she has paid a high price. She has had to actually kill people, after all, and that messes with her (as it should). She’s walking wounded emotionally, and that adds extra depth to her character and, by extension, this story.
A story that has, like Harry Potter, captivated a large swath of young people (and yes, older, too). It has inspired reading, discussion, a bit of costume emulation, and, I’m guessing, some thinking. It’s engaging on many levels. It’s a love story. It’s a story about loyalty and what that means. It’s a story about family, and doing what you can to protect them. It’s a story about coming of age in a world in which the odds are NEVER in your favor. And it’s a story about a young woman tasked with something that seems impossible but who does it anyway.
And so I watched my fellow moviegoers as they came in and as they left. The majority were young women, but there were quite a few young men, as well, who had come with their female friends (and/or girlfriends) and who applauded at the end, too, who appeared to enjoy the film as much as the young women did. And I thought what a great message not only the young women got, but what these young men got from this film: A strong female character who works with accompanying male characters, who is able to help them as much as they help her, and who is not subject to sexist belittling. A story with male characters who are as fully realized as female, who have flaws and issues and good points, too, and who play pivotal roles but who never tell Everdeen that she can’t do something because she’s a girl.
Refreshing, not to have that used either as a trope or as something Everdeen has to overcome. Instead, she, like many of the male characters, is focused on survival and on the survival of her family. Those are the issues, not some suppositions about what men can and can’t do and what women can and can’t do or what either is “supposed to do.”
A good story, friends, still has the power to captivate, to engage, to inspire discussion. We can certainly find flaws in Collins’ work and in the movie adaptations. Of course. But so what? At the heart of both is a good story.
So I left the movie feeling that there is awesome-ness going on in YA fiction, and that people of all ages still appreciate a good story.
And that was pretty dang cool.
Happy weekend, happy reading, happy movie-going.