Sunday, March 25, 2012

Climbing the Rungs

At the end of the 1998 film The Truman Show, when Truman Burbank reaches the edge of the dome that has housed him his entire life & served as the set of the reality TV show in which he was unknowingly the star, he has a brief conversation with Christof, the creator of the show.  Christof, who has been with the show since its inception & manipulated the world in which Truman has lived his entire life, tells Truman that he knows him better than he knows himself, to which Truman responds "You never had a camera in my head."

Saturday afternoon, I joined a group of good friends to see The Hunger Games, the film adaptation of the first of a series by Suzanne Collins.  Both Catching Fire & Mockingjay, the sequels, are slated to be filmed as well, the latter broken into two films, which, if you've read it, you know is absolutely essential.  The movie was well done, so I don't want to be too critical, but I desperately missed the voice of the novel's narrator, Katniss, & I believe the film suffered somewhat from the lack of access to her thoughts & I was reminded of Truman's aforementioned line to Christof.

The strength of the film is the visual contrast between the affluent Capitol, the ruling city of Panem, the fictitious nation that rose from the ashes of North America in Collins's novels, & the outlying Districts that are mired in poverty & exist solely to supply the Capitol with material goods, as well as entertainment in the form of the yearly Hunger Games.  As punishment for revolting against the Capitol some 74 years before the opening of the first novel, every year the Capitol puts on a show that is required viewing for all of Panem.  Twenty-four young men & women between the ages of 12 -18, two from each District, are selected at random to be the stars of the show.  These young people are taken to the Capitol, primped and styled, put on parade, interviewed, & then locked in an arena constructed & manipulated by Gamemakers.  The goal is to be the sole survivor, literally.  Kill or be killed.  It sounds dire, obviously, & it is, but that's why there are two sequels to The Hunger Games.

Collins runs the gamut of human experiences in her series.  As I read, I often had this image in the back of my mind:

This triangle is typically the visual that accompanies an explanation of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.  If you've ever taken a basic psychology class, you encountered Maslow.  Even before she enters the arena, Katniss's life is dominated by providing not only for her own physiological needs, but those of her mother & her younger sister.  Her father was killed in a mining accident, after which her mother shut down emotionally, leaving Katniss to fend for the three of them in one of the poorest Districts in Panem.  She learns to hunt & survive off the land, skills which serve her well when, at sixteen, she enters the arena as one of the stars of the Capitol's Hunger Games.  Katniss has been playing hunger games her entire life, and, much to the Capitols' chagrin, she shines in the arena they constructed to be her tomb. 

In contrast to Katniss is Peeta Mellark, the male tribute from District 12 who accompanies Katniss into the arena.  Peeta's father is a baker, & while his family is by no means wealthy, Peeta's childhood isn't dominated by a fear of starvation like Katniss's is.  Thus, Peeta has time to dabble in other areas of Maslow's hierarchy.  During his interview before the Games, Peeta announces to all of Panem (literally, it's required viewing) that he has a crush on Katniss.  The reader knows that Katniss has never had the luxury of wondering or worrying about who has a crush on her, and she doesn't much care since she announces early in the first novel that she will never marry and have children, an understandable sentiment considering the daily struggle for food in her world, and the yearly Reaping Day, the day on which all twenty-four tributes are selected for participation in the Games.

In addition to developing & maintaining a crush on Katniss, a careful reader (or perhaps one who is slightly obsessed with Peeta's character) picks up on the fact that Peeta is a thinker.  While Katniss enters the arena with essentially the same survival mindset she has when she enters the woods back home to hunt, Peeta tells Katniss that, while he knows he will lose his life, he wants to find a way to show the Capitol he is more than a piece in their Game.  (I'd quote the line directly, but at present my Dad has my copy of The Hunger Games.  That's right, I've become a book pusher, just like him).  One of the ways Peeta attempts to do this is by refusing to play the game by the Capitol's rules, looking out for Katniss's safety before his own. *sigh*  

As I read, I was engrossed in the world Collins creates.  When Katniss & Peeta binge on the fine food they're served in the Capitol prior to the Games, I was salivating.  While Katniss searches for water in the arena, nearing dehydration, I was thirsty.  When Katniss treats a deep leg wound Peeta receives in the arena, I was cringing.  When Peeta & Katniss search desperately for viable ways to thumb their nose at the Capitol & to change the reality of life for the citizens in Panem, I was constantly reminded of the harshness of war that always accompanies such change.  

There is, of course, a love story woven throughout the novels.  I was at times incredibly frustrated with its pace, and then I'd again recall Maslow's trusty triangle.  Not only is Katniss young, she is constantly in a fight for her life, both in and out of the arena, so she understandably doesn't usually think clearly  - or at all - about love.  To contemplate anything above those first two rungs of the triangle - physiological needs, & safety needs -  is a luxury she almost never allows herself, and so the moments when she does are quite poignant (& noticeably missing from the film, in my opinion).  

I don't want to give away the end of the series, but let me just say that while Collins delves into sobering issues, she tinges the despair that weighs heavily on her characters (& her readers!) with a story of sacrificial love that kept me up reading several nights.  I hope this part of her story is more prominent in the subsequent films.  I know the movie is never as good as the book, but I hope to not leave Catching Fire reciting all of Peeta's lines that weren't included in the film for the lucky moviegoers around me.  If you run into me in the next few weeks, I'll probably recite them for you, too. 

Most of us, certainly anyone reading this blog, live constantly in the top three tiers of Maslow's hierarchy - social needs, esteem needs, & self-actualization.  For example, because I've never a day in my life had to worry about where my next meal will come from, & I am fortunate enough to live in a country where I rarely worry about my personal safety, or that of my child, I am free to sit & muse about Collins' series, take a Saturday afternoon to view the film, & then eat dinner with friends so we could all bemoan the absence of our favorite Peeta lines & speculate about how exactly the second film might ramp up the romance.

When Reagan was first born, I thought about Maslow's triangle every now & then.  I realized Maslow was right, because when you aren't getting any sleep, little else matters.  Also, babies are a fine example of his hierarchy of needs.  They primarily are concerned with the first two tiers for the better part of their first year, & when a need isn't being met, they promptly let you know.  It's interesting to note how a person's definition of safety changes as they age.  I know my arms are sufficient for now, but I pray when she's older, our world is a place where Reagan doesn't have to worry about her personal safety. 

While I've been reading, rereading, & analyzing film this past week, Reagan, all her needs typically met before she realizes she has them, has been relaxing.

At The Cracker Barrel:

At The Hilton Garden Inn:

With Sophie:

Exercising her need to grab my phone/camera:

I hope Reagan never has to worry about how she will meet her physiological needs.  I pray she always feels safe, which is something most of us take for granted because it's just the norm.  It's only once these basic needs are met that people are able to move up the tier & delve into the things that make life worth living: relationships, love, music, books, complaining about lines omitted from movies, &, of course, coffee.  Interestingly, coffee is mentioned only a few times in Collins's novels.  It's considered a luxury in Panem that, like all luxuries, only Capitol citizens have regular access to . . . so, as much as I love Peeta, he probably wouldn't be enough for me, regardless of his flawlessly delivered romantic lines.  Coffee first, romance second.  That's how they shake out on my hierarchy of needs.


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