March 17, 2023 | ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT | By Carlee Castillo

I first became enamored with “The Hunger Games” in middle school. Flocks of preteens gathered at my local, rinky-dink theater, popcorn kernels crunching under our eager feet as we scrambled for the best seats. The lights dimmed and the dark air buzzed with excitement.

Those four infamous whistle tones reverberated through the room, igniting my love for the dystopian genre. “The Hunger Games” captivated me in a way no other film had before. The nuanced story of violence and love was unlike anything I had ever seen, and it captured my full, obsessive attention.

It was a spring semester of side braids. In honor of the trilogy’s protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, I even picked up archery (a hobby I was dangerously bad at). All my friends adored “The Hunger Games,” the movies especially enthralling us into a deep, dark (semi-problematic?) trance.

“My friends and I used to get dressed up for the premieres of new movies and pass around the books so we could all read them,” said Lexi Kaer ’24. “They were a really important part of my middle school experience.”

As adaptations of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling novels, “The Hunger Games” movie franchise mirrored the success of the books. Grossing about $2.95 billion collectively, the trilogy is the 21st-highest-grossing film franchise of all time.

The movies established the young-adult-dystopian genre, unique to the early 2010s and are incomparable to later makings of the genre, such as “Divergent” or “The Maze Runner.” Through an astounding soundtrack, compelling characters, and faithfulness to source material, “The Hunger Games” movie trilogy made an incredibly disturbing story more easily digestible.

The movies focus on the experience of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a young woman thrown into a pediatric fight to the death in her sister’s place. In addition to staying alive, she must navigate love, loss, morality, and eventually what it means to become the emblem of a revolution.

What’s particularly impressive about “The Hunger Games” is its ability to portray incredibly dark themes to a younger audience successfully. Even though the premise can seem preposterous, the themes are grounded in reality; both the books and the movies depict an exploitative, broken world (not too unlike our own) in which the population is divided through violence and government manipulation.

Collins even twists the viewer into the event of “The Hunger Games.” Upon my first viewing of the movie – tweens and adults – cheered when their least favorite contestants died and cried when their favorites lost. The audience pictures themselves in the games, making the horrific concept alluring and alive. The atrocities the viewer is witnessing on the screen are happening in real life, both for the characters within the confines of the film as well as for audience members, which is sharply self-referential and entirely the point of Collins’ genius.

Although it would seem easy for a younger audience to get caught up in the film’s proverbial love triangle, Everdeen’s character is not merely diminished to which romantic partner she chooses. Rather, her potential suitors mimic her own internal struggle with prioritizing brutality, as seen through the character of Gale, and kindness, represented by Peeta, in the face of exploitation.

The experience of watching “The Hunger Games” with others is also essential to the success of the films. Shut in on a snowy day, my roommate and I binged the entire series, unable to peel our eyes away from savage and gorgeous imagery projected on our wall for hours. “The continued bonding over the movies is one of my favorite parts of the experience,” says Kaer.

A prequel to the trilogy, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” is set to premiere in November of this year and follows a young President Snow on his path to tyranny. Netflix has also brought the films onto its platform only for March, affirming that young-adult-dystopian media is being reignited. The fiery phenomenon of “The Hunger Games” has impacted the lives of countless people and is sure to continue catching fire.

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