Winner Takes None: a Question of a Darker “Hunger Games”

So last night I went to see The Hunger Games. If you’re wondering what my opinion was, I thought it was a good movie, even great in places, especially toward the beginning.

But I’m not writing this post as a review. Rather I’m writing because there was one moment, one single line of dialogue in the movie that really made me think. The moment I’m talking about is when the president of Pan America meets with the man running the Hunger Games T.V. show. (I don’t remember their names, so if you read the book and you’re screaming at your computer screen right now that their names are Mr. Flompy and the Great High Wimglomer I’m terribly sorry. [Yes, that’s right, I saw the movie without reading the book. In my defense I will only say that I tried to read the book and found the style of writing less than appealing]).

The President asks Game Show Host Guy, “Do you ever wonder why we have a winner? If the point of making these kids fight to the death is to keep the Districts in line, then why not round up 24 of them each year and execute them?” And then he goes on with some cliched claptrap about hope and how it’s more powerful than fear and blah blah blah that’s not what I’m talking about.

Instead this is the thing that got the gears going in my head: what if everything about the Hunger Games was the same except for one thing? What if the winner didn’t get honor and riches? What if, after it was all said and done, the last man standing was rounded up and shot?

What would you do?

Let’s make a few stipulations here. First, if you commit suicide, everyone you love gets killed. Second, if 24 hours goes by without a death in the arena all the contestants’ family and loved ones get killed. That way there’s no way out of this, no chance of banding together with your fellow contestants to fight the system.

What would you do?

Would you fight, trying to stay alive for as long as possible knowing that all you could achieve by winning would be living just a few days longer than your opponents? Or would you choose to die sooner rather than later so that your last few days would not have to be spent hunting and being hunted?

This is the question that has infected my brain since seeing The Hunger Games and now I’m sneezing the memetic virus your way. It’s not an easy question, not for me anyway. But perhaps that’s what makes it so compelling.


7 responses to “Winner Takes None: a Question of a Darker “Hunger Games”

  1. Hmm . . I know almost nothing about THG except what I’ve read here. So if I understand this correctly, a bunch of people get rounded up against their will and are made to fight to the death until 1 person is left. In your version, the last person would then also be killed. Given your further “no suicide” and “no banding together” stipulations, I would fight like I was acting on a movie set, and hope that not everybody else was doing the same. Hopefully I’d be the first one “out.” I’m selfish that way.

    • There’s no knowledge of the actual Hunger Games story required here, I just wanted people to understand where I was coming from.
      As far as faking it goes, I’d like to point out that there still has to be a real death at least once every 24 hours. But that does raise an interesting point. Would the contestants be willing to work together to stretch the period of time out as long as possible, knowing that only one of them would get the benefit of the full 24 days?
      I’m also interested in your characterization of wanting to die first as “selfish”. Would it not be just as selfish to want to live as long as possible?

  2. I’d want to get getting killed over with ASAP. A few extra hours or days of hunting and being hunted only to have everybody in the group get killed anyway sounds like torture. I’d opt for the “easy” way out, if possible, and let the others continue in being tortured. Their choice.

  3. I enjoyed the book – when it was published five or six years ago, it was a stunningly original concept. After about a page I got past my distaste for first person, present tense, which usually seems just too precious, and the story took over. I haven’t seen the movie yet, put off by all the hype (come on, a super-bowl ad?). I figure I’ll wait till it hits the discount cinema at one of the local malls – that’ll learn em.

    The movie dialog you quoted is not in the book, and really represents a faulty major premise when you think about it. If you want to control a population, video entertainment is the way to go. I’m recalling an episode from a short lived, yet visionary show in the ’80’s, “Max Headroom.” The population began to riot after terrorists blew up the local TV towers because there was nothing to watch! (this was before cable and satellite TV). To pacify the populace, “the authorities” gave out personal vcr playback machines so they could watch old movies.

    And in that case, the games guy is right. Hope would give you much more lively reality TV – psych experiments on “learned helplessness” make it clear that hope motivates more than threats or punishment.

  4. I’m going to be weird and say that if I’m me (having been raised in the present by my parents without the experiences of a person raised in a society like Panem), I try to stay alive… because of hope.

    Okay, so it’s cheesy, but I really, truly think I’d fight as long as I could because I believe that what’s good wins eventually, and I’d hope that my effort might help good along just a tad. I’d hope that my battle would be the first won by the good side.

    But… if I had grown up watching 24 people die every year for my entire childhood, I don’t think I’d hope that way. I’d probably want to die because I wouldn’t believe that good could triumph.

  5. I don’t think any one really knows until faced with the actual choice. Now, live, not Memorex.

    • Clearly you’re correct, but I’d still say there’s some value in thinking out the problem in your mind. It’s not so much that I’m expecting people to KNOW how they would act, but getting them to THINK about how they would act can be a good exercise.

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