Like any good dystopia, “The Hunger Games” depicts a frightening world that resonates with the anxieties of contemporary audiences -- a futuristic version of North America blighted by income inequality, government overreach and sadistic entertainment.
With the release of the box-office juggernaut “Hunger Games: Catching Fire” this weekend, the debate over the political interpretations of author Suzanne Collins’ bestselling trilogy is heating up, with thinkers on the left and the right both seeing their views reflected in it.
The new movie, which is based on the second book in the series, finds its rugged heroine Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) back in their impoverished District 12 after winning the 74th Hunger Games, a fight to the death among children designed to intimidate a beleaguered public from dissenting.
As they’re about to depart for a victory tour, the despotic President Snow (Donald Sutherland) visits Katniss and explains that when she defied the rules of the Capitol so that she and Peeta could both survive the “Hunger Games,” she inspired rebellion and unrest.
When it comes to 2013 political interpretations, that rebellion might represent 99 percenters speaking up against the wealthy elite or Tea Partiers rising up against an oppressive government.
On the conservative website Big Hollywood, writer Christian Toto drew parallels between Snow’s fictional authoritarian government and the “age of Obama,” citing the NSA and IRS scandals and Obamacare, Democrats’ move in the Senate this week to abolish the filibuster and the Obama administration’s relationship with the press.
“Snow’s willingness to do whatever it takes to get his way certainly recalls this week’s ‘nuclear’ decision by Senate Democrats,” Toto wrote. “It’s also alarming to consider how Fire’s fearsome government manipulates the images broadcast to the huddled masses when the Obama administration is strong-arming the press to make sure its best side is constantly shown.”
On the website GoLocalProv.com, Rhode Island Republican Travis Rowley echoed some of those views, seeing in Snow’s government a “highly imaginable tyranny. Soft, at first. Then, much more ruthless ... Right up this Tea Partier’s alley.”
But Sutherland, who plays Snow, is a lifelong leftist who told Britain’s Guardian newspaper that he hopes the movies inspire young people to the kind of activism he took part in the in 1960s as a protester against the war in Vietnam.
“Hopefully they will see this film and the next film and the next film and then maybe organize,” Sutherland said. “Stand up. They might create a third party. They might change the electoral process, they might be able to take over the government, change the tax system.”
In an interview with the website Screen Rant, Sutherland said that the notion of a heroic character provoking civil unrest against an unjust government was part of what made him interested in taking a role in the “Hunger Games” in the first place.
He said the movie series “could be another Battle of Algiers,” a reference to the 1966 film about the organization of a guerrilla movement during that Algerian War that has been a source of inspiration for insurgent groups.
Jeffrey Wright, the actor who plays Beetee, a “Hunger Games” participant gifted in the use of electronics, said the genius of the series is in its varying possible interpretations.
“It’s welcoming of the entire political spectrum,” Wright told the website Hypable. “Some people look at these stories and take a 1% versus the 99% perspective, which can be read something as a left-leaning perspective. I think others look at this and they view it from a more right-leaning perspective as a condemnation of government. Others may look at is as a validation of a need for strong allegiance to the 2nd Amendment. So it’s nondiscriminatory, it’s nonpartisan.”