When thinking about The Hunger Games, it is important to consider which characters we are encouraged to sympathise with and how these characters are constructed using a range of cinematic techniques.
KATNISS EVERDEEN (JENNIFER LAWRENCE)
The Hunger Games’ protagonist, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to participate in the games after her younger sister Primrose is randomly selected during The Reaping. Katniss is headstrong and independent, stepping up to take care of her family after the death of her father. In the opening sequence of the film, she defies the order of The Capitol by venturing into the woods to hunt with her close friend Gale Hawthorne. Although Gale suggests running away and defying The Capitol, she is far more pragmatic and says they wouldn’t make it five miles before the government caught them and cut out their tongues. Katniss cares deeply for her younger sister Primrose, comforting her when she wakes from a nightmare, helping her to dress for The Reaping and, ultimately, offering herself as tribute when Primrose’s name is drawn. Before she leaves for The Capitol, Katniss implores her mother to take care of Prim. “You can’t tune out again,” she says. “Not like when Dad died. I won’t be here anymore. You’re all she has. No matter what you feel, you will be there for her.” When she arrives at The Capitol, Katniss is overwhelmed by its opulence after living our her entire life in District 12. She is openly defiant, firing an arrow at the judges when they’re not paying attention to her. When The Hunger Games start, her skill with a bow helps her to survive but she refuses to adopt the ruthless behaviour of the career tributes, instead choosing to help Rue and Peeta.
PEETA MELARK (JOSH HUTCHERSON)
Peeta Melark is a compassionate and caring tribute from District 12. Peeta’s compassion is demonstrated early in the film through a flashback which shows him throwing a loaf of bread to a starving Katniss. Before The Hunger Games commence, he admits to Katniss that he doesn’t want the games to change him and doesn’t want to be a “piece in their game”. Although he can see himself killing to survive, he wants to “find a way to show them at they don’t own me.” Although Peeta forms an alliance with some career tributes early in the games, it is obvious that he doesn’t agree with their cruelty and ruthlessness. When the group closes in on Katniss, Peeta looks on fearfully, urging her to flee when he gets the chance.
HAYMITCH ABERNATHY (WOODY HARRELSON)
Haymitch Abernathy is the only tribute from District 12 to survive The Hunger Games. In the film, Haymitch becomes a mentor to Katniss and Peeta. “Embrace the probability of your immanent death,” he says when he is first introduced to them, “and know in your heart that there’s nothing I can do to save you.” Although he is an alcoholic, Haymitch offers Katniss and Peeta some useful advice and does what he can to support them throughout the barbarous tournament. He understands that The Hunger Games is more than just a fight to the death and that it requires political manoeuvring to win. “You really want to know how to stay alive?” Haymitch asks. “You get people to like you. Oh. Not what you were expecting. When you’re in the middle of the games and you’re starving or freezing, some water, a knife or even some matches can even make the difference between life and death. And those things only come from sponsors. And to get sponsors, you have to make people like you.” Haymitch’s contempt for The Hunger Games is illustrated when he watches two children engaging in a mock battle. The scene begins with several shots of a board showing the odds that each tribute has of winning The Hunger Games. Director Gary Ross cuts to an over-the-shoulder shot of Haymitch watching two children unwrapping presents, then to a shot of Haymitch looking on in disgust. Later in the film, he encourages Seneca Crane not to kill Katniss. You’ll just create a martyr,” he says. “I hear these rumours out of District 11. This could get away from you.”
RUE (AMANDA STENBERG)
Rue is a tribute from District 11. Although she lacks the strength of other tributes, she manages to survive using her speed and stealth. During training for the games, an argument breaks out between two tributes over a missing knife, director Gary Ross cuts to a shot of Katniss who looks up. The audience sees Rue hanging from the ceiling, grinning. Rue helps Katniss evade the career tributes by pointing out the nest of tracker jackers. When Katniss is incapacitated by the tracker jackers, Rue protects her and helps her to recover. Rue’s death is an important part of the film, helping to demonstrate how cruel and unjust The Hunger Games are. After being impaled by a spear, Rue collapses into Katniss’ arms. Ross cuts between several extreme close ups of the fatal wounds and Katniss’ distraught expression. “It’s okay,” she says, crying. “You’re okay. You’re okay.” Sorrowful music rises as Rue implores her to win. A point of view shot from the perspective of Rue pulls in and out of focus as Katniss sings to her, gradually fading to white. In this sequence, the audience is clearly encouraged to feel sympathy for Katniss and Rue as well as a deep sense of antipathy towards the brutality of the career tributes and the uncaring Capitol. Ross lingers on a close up of Rue’s motionless face as Katniss closes her eyes. He cuts to a close up of Katniss who cries uncontrollably. The sound fades out and the music rises as Katniss screams, throwing the spear away. A montage of shots shows Katniss picking flowers and laying them on Rue’s body. Throughout this sequence, the use of acting, music, shot size, focus and editing in this sequence all combine to create sympathy for these characters and their plight.
EFFIE TRINKET (ELIZABETH BANKS)
Effie Trinket is responsible for drawing the tributes from District 12 and escorting them to The Capitol. When she arrives in District 12, she is wearing an expensive, ruffled pink dress which immediately makes her stand out in the impoverished surroundings. Effie seems to represent the attitudes of The Capitol. Despite the fact that Katniss and Peeta will likely die, she remains optimistic and encourages them to take advantage of the opportunity and tries to convince them they’re “in for a treat”.
CINNA (LENNY KRAVITZ)
Cinna is the kindest character that Katniss encounters in The Capitol. “I’m sorry that this happened to you,” he says, “but I’m here to help you in any way that I can.” Cinna helps to prepare Katniss for The Hunger Games, conceiving the costume that attracts so much attention during the opening of the games and comforting her before she is plunged into the arena.
PRESIDENT CORIOLANUS SNOW (DONALD SUTHERLAND)
President Coriolanus Snow is the tyrannical leader of Panem. Snow is concerned when Katniss openly defies the judges of The Hunger Games, shooting an arrow at them. He explains that The Hunger Games has a winner to give the districts hope and keep them in line. “It is the only thing stronger than fear,” he explains. “A little hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it’s contained.” He attempts to maintain control over the districts because The Capitol needs their coal, crops and minerals. At the end of the film, he orders Seneca Crane to be executed for allowing Katniss and Peeta to live. The film ends with a shot of President Snow watching on as the victors return to District 12.
SENECA CRANE (WES BENTLEY)
The Head Gamemaker, Seneca Crane is responsible for organising and coordinating The Hunger Games. Crane appears in the opening scene of the film, discussing how The Hunger Games has become something that “nets us all together”. Like the majority of those living in The Capitol, Seneca sees The Hunger Games in a positive light. When it becomes apparent that Katniss is causing civil unrest in the districts, President Snow instructs him to contain the situation. At the end of the film, he is executed for allowing Katniss and Peeta to survive.
GALE HAWTHORN (LIAM HEMSWORTH)
Although Gale only appears in the film briefly, he is a major character who more strongly criticises The Capitol and The Hunger Games than his friend Katniss, suggesting that people should stop watching. “You root for your favourite,” he says. “You cry. When they get killed. It’s sick.” He suggests that if everyone boycotts it “they don’t have a game”. He also suggests that they could simply run away and live in the woods. Katniss is more pragmatic and says they wouldn’t make it five miles before the government caught them and “cut out our tongues or worse”.