Disability: Lost in the Translation of The Hunger Games?

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Yes folks, there’s now a Katniss Barbie.

Ok, I’m a Hunger Games fan. I was late to catch onto the trend, but once I did there was no stopping me. This past December a friend of mine briefly explained the plot to me and I was immediately enamored — I’m all for post-apocalyptic, survival stories. So, as with most “pleasure” books that I “read” during the school year, I got the audiobook versions and listened to them during every waking moment that was not spent doing work for my classes (which includes jogging, showering, driving, cooking, etc.).

I was out of town when the film version of the first installment came out, so most of my friends had already seen the movie by the time I got back and was ready to watch. Thankfully, one of my friends was even later coming to the series than myself and was waiting to see the movie until she had finished the last book — my movie buddy!

So, we went and saw it today and it was pretty good. My main cinematic objection was the extremely shaky camera style because it made me a bit woozy at times, but overall it was well done and lived up to the high expectations that I had for it. Except for one little aspect.

What happened to the elements of disability that existed in the book? They appear to have simply vanished. How is it possible that Katniss and Peeta could emerge from an arena, where the sole purpose is to kill or be killed, with nary a scratch on them? The book went into pretty good detail about the physical toll The Games took on the contestants (even relatively unglamorous physical effects, such as dehydration). At one point in the story, Katniss cleverly destroys the food and supply stockpile of the wile Careers by triggering some landmines they had rigged. The explosion in both the book and the movie is massive. So massive, in fact, that in the book Katniss looses her hearing in her left ear, the ear that was directed toward the explosion (223). For the rest of The Games she struggles to come to terms with her hearing loss (not wanting to appear “weak” in front of the cameras or her fellow tributes), while assessing how her deafness will affect her success in The Games because it makes her feel “off-balance and defenseless to [her] left… with her right ear trying to compensate” (229). In the film, however, there is some ringing onscreen, but her hearing appears to come back as good as new a few minutes later. This hearing loss (which is later remedied by The Capitol in the book) is a subject revisited in Catching Fire, so one wonders how the films will grapple with this issue in the next cinematic installment.

Katniss isn’t the only one to incur a disability after emerging victorious from the arena. In the book Peeta’s leg is so mauled by the mutated wolf-like animals, that it is later amputated. It is Katniss who decides to tie a tight tourniquet around his injured calf, even thought she knows “it’s risky business –[because] Peeta may end up losing his leg” (338). Indeed, after victory, the The Capitol amputates it and replaces it with a high-tech steel one, much to her chagrin. Again, the subject of his prosthetic leg emerges in the subsequent books (particularly when a group is trying to outrun some foes and he struggles to keep up), so one wonders how that will be dealt with cinematicly. Like the film’s portrayal of Katniss’ hearing loss, Peeta’s leg injury is shown on screen. Due to an earlier leg injury, he is unable to outrun the mutts as easily as Katniss and can’t climb to safety as smoothly as she can. As Katniss pulls him to safety, the mutts bite and claw at his leg… but miraculously his clothing isn’t even torn in the next shot.

It’s not that the erasure of these plot points drastically changes the entire tone of the film, but it does contribute to the general way that society views adversity, ability, and victory. In all seriousness, how is it possible that both Katniss and Peeta have left the Hunger Games without any major injury or long-lasting bodily effects? By glossing over the physical tolls that are oftentimes the result of conflict and war, the “reality” of the situation is lost. If the point of the book/film is to encourage us to think critically about our willingness to mindlessly follow authority to the point that the most innocent members of society become victims, how is this message upheld by allowing for Katniss and Peeta to barely emerge from the games with their lives, but with no physical demarcation of the emotional alterations that they have sustained? It’s not that I think disability needs to be utilized in the film as some sort of metaphor for the ways that they have been “changed” by the games, but I do think that by allowing them to have the physical alterations that they have in the book, we would be able to more accurately appreciate the gravity of the message of The Games.

The victors of previous games are introduced to us in books two and three – all of which deal with some sort of resulting physical or mental trauma (Haymitch become an alcoholic because it is the only way he can conceive of to dull the pain of The Games, Annie is in some sort of perpetual post-traumatic stress disorder, Wiress can communicate coherently only with the male victor of her District, etc.) So what makes Katniss and Peeta so special? Perhaps nothing really. As Nancy Mairs (and quite a few other disability scholars/theorists) points out, “when it comes to sexuality in the disabled, dismissal is apt to turn into outright repression. Made uncomfortable, even to the point of excruciation, by the thought of maimed bodies engaged in erotic fantasy or action, many deny the very possibility” (235). Perhaps, then, it is not that the producers of the film didn’t want to show the physical realities of battle, but felt that they had to choose between the romantic plot line between Katniss and Peeta or their experiences with disability. As Maris says, “this repulsion [stemming from the idea of people with disability’s sexuality] lies buried so deeply in consciousness as to seem natural rather than constructed” (236).

Right before the release of the film (and during its first few weeks in the theater) there was a lot of controversy surrounding the “violent” premise of the film – children “fighting to the death” – and the intended audience – teens/young adults. While Collins likely felt that she could go into some detail, however brief, regarding the deaths of tributes and the physical toll The Games have on Katniss and Peeta, the producers of the film likely anticipated some of the “backlash” – largely from those who self-proclaim not to have read the books, but who disagree with them on principle – and attempted to mitigate it. While minimizing the physical dangers of The Games may theoretically broaden the appeal of the film to a larger audience, it ultimately seems to diminish the value of people with disabilities, their involvement in all aspects of society (post-apocalyptic or contemporary) and their potential for future contributions (hint, hint, nudge, nudge, Catching Fire and Mocking Jay).

In any case, I’ll be eagerly awaiting the release of Catching Fire and Mocking Jay to see the further development of this interesting cinematic move.

For a little Hunger Games fun check out these comics. They’re just so cleverly done!

Of course, I absolutely love how Saturday Night Live has re-envisioned the stories!

And, finally, The Muppets are always my favorite.

‘Till next time, Happy Hunger Games; may the odds be ever in your favor.

Citations:

  • Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic Press, 2008. Print.
  • Mairs, Nancy. “From Sex and Death and the Crippled Body: A Mediation.” Disability and the Teaching of Writing. Eds. Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson and Brenda Jo Brueggemann. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin, 2008. Print.
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4 responses »

  1. Pingback: Faulting the Hollywood-ization of FIOS: A Critical FemCrip Perspective | Feminist Disability Studies Blog

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