The Hunger Games opens with an interview between Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) and Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley). This interview helps to create an opposition between the opulence of the Capitol and the poverty of District 12 right from the beginning of the film. The scene features high key studio lighting and a three camera set up typical of reality television. The set itself is reminiscent of programs like Big Brother and The Biggest Loser. Flickerman and Crane are dressed in expensive suits and ties, their hair styled immaculately. “At first it was a reminder of the rebellion,” says Crane. “It was the price the Districts had to pay. But I think it has grown from that. I think its a…Its something that nets us all together.” Partway through the interview Ross cuts abruptly to an establishing shot of District 12 and the terrified scream of Primrose Everdeen (Willow Shields). This establishing shot is a stark contrast to the bright, artificial world of the television studio. There is a ramshackle wagon in the foreground, a dilapidated house and old power lines stretching into the distance. From this establishing shot, Ross cuts to a handheld shot of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) comforting her younger sister Primrose. The use of handheld camera movement in this scene reinforces the difference between The Capitol and District 12. The Capitol is slick and polished whereas the Districts are earthy and real. The colours in this shot are desaturated and pale. Mise en scene – the use of costume, colour and props – also contributes to the difference between District 12 and the Capitol. In this scene, Katniss is wearing an ill-fitting shirt, Primrose a threadbare nightgown. Their costumes couldn’t be more different from the expensive suits worn by Flickermann and Crane. As Katniss prepares to leave the house, the audience is given a glimpse of the poverty that they live in. The walls of the house are wooden and poorly painted, daylight seeping in through the small windows.
1. In the opening sequence of The Hunger Games, how does director Gary Ross create a contrast between the wealthy Capitol and the impoverished District 12?
Play this sequence several times, paying particularly attention to how camera techniques, mise-en-scene and lighting are used to establish The Capitol and District 12.
• Think about the opening shots of Caesar Flickerman and Seneca Crane. Think carefully about the use of mise en scene. What kind of costume, colours and make up are used? How does the camera move? What sort of lighting is used in this shot? What does this tell the audience about The Capitol?
• Describe the opening shot of District 12. What can you see in this shot? What type of colours have been used? What does this convey about District 12?
• As Katniss leaves to go hunting, there are a series of shots showing District 12. What is in each of these shots? What does the use of colour, lighting, costume and make up, tell us about the people who live in District 12?
• When you start to answer the question, use a topic sentence this: “In the opening sequence of The Hunger Games, director Gary Ross uses a combination of camera techniques, mise en scene and lighting to create a contrast between the opulent Capitol and District 12.”
• When you’re describing the difference between The Capitol and District 12, consider using these words:
• Bright vivid, gaudy, vibrant.
• Dull, desaturatated, dreary, drab, subsued, muted.
PREPARING FOR THE REAPING
After the scene where Katniss stalks the deer, Ross cuts to a shot of Effie Trinket arriving for The Reaping. Again, costume is used to create a distinction between the wealth of the Capitol and the poverty of District 12. The camera starts off at ground level, showing her high heels and tilts up to reveal a pink, ruffled dress, floral scarf, highly styled hair and umbrella. She looks slightly to the left, scowling slightly, then surveys the men setting up for The Reaping.
Meanwhile, Katniss and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) discuss The Hunger Games. Gale suggests that everyone 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”.
Later that day, Katniss exchanges some of the berries she scavenged from the forest for a ball of yarn. The shots of the market helps to reinforce the poverty of District 12. As she’s about to leave, Katniss picks up a small, golden pin on impulse. “What’s this?” she asks the woman. “It’s a mockingjay,” she replies, allowing Katniss to take it.
WHAT IS A DYSTOPIA?
There are many science fiction writers who have imagined what the future might be like. These visions of the future are often bleak very bleak and depressing. These dystopias often that lack freedom and are ruled by ruthless, totalitarian governments. Often, these writers are responding to issues or concerns in their own place and time. There are many science fiction writers, for example, who have imagined worlds that have almost been destroyed by nuclear weapons or some kind of environmental disaster.
FOUR FAMOUS DYSTOPIAS
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury imagines a world in which knowledge is considered dangerous and fire departments spend their time burning books. One of these firemen accidentally reads a line from one of the books and starts wondering if they’re doing the right thing.
1984 is a classic dystopia, a future society completely devoid of freedom in which people are monitored by a ruthless government and walls are plastered with the ominous message ‘Big Brother is Watching You’.
In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, there is a single global government. People are born and raised in factories and divided into different classes. The Alphas are the elite, ruling class while the Epsilons work in factories and perform menial labour.
In The Chrysalids, John Wyndham describes a world devastated by nuclear war and a society ruled by religion, in which anyone affected by the radiation is cast out into the wastelands.
1. Explain how the world depicted in The Hunger Games is a dystopia, providing examples from the film.
Extension Activity: Read one of the novels listed above.
Director Gary Ross continues to build sympathy for the residents of District 12 as they prepare for The Reaping. After the scene at the market, Ross cuts to a shot of a family standing on their front porch, as a mother does up the buttons on her son’s grubby shirt. There is a sudden jump cut as they embrace. This jump cut contributes to the sense of uncertainty and dread. There is a brief shot of two Capitol Peacekeepers patrolling the district. Their clean, expensive uniforms contrast starkly with the squalor of District 12.
The sympathy for the residents of District 12 continues to build as Ross cuts back to the Everdeen family, Katniss and Primrose preparing for the day. “Oh look at you!” Katniss says when she sees Primrose dressed in her best clothes. “You look beautiful but you better tuck in that tail little duck.” The camera pans left as Katniss tucks in the back of her shirt. After a brief montage of shots as Katniss washes, there is a shot of a blue dress laid out on her bed. Ross cuts to a shot of Katniss as she looks down at the dress with an expression of dread. A siren interrupts them as they’re preparing and a look of dread crosses their faces. This acting contributes to the sense of sympathy the audience is starting to feel for these characters. Katniss presses the mockingjay pin into Primroses palm. “To protect you,” she says. “And as long as you have it, nothing bad will happen to you.”
Ross cuts to a series of shots as the children of District 12 file nervously into the assembly area. Here, camera angles, framing and focus all contribute to the ruthlessness and control of The Capitol. Ross cuts to a shot of several peacekeepers watching emotionlessly as the children, out of focus, walk past. When he cuts to the children, he shows their hands first, tilting down to reveal their old, mud-flecked shoes. When he finally cuts to a shot of their faces, the camera is positioned at a high angle, looking down on them which contributes to their sense of powerlessness. In this scene, there is a point of view shot as one of the children looks up at a Capitol peacekeeper standing on raise platform, this low angle shot contributing to their sense of power and further encouraging the audience to identify with the plight of the children. Ross cuts to a series of shots, showing the concerned, downcast faces of the children. The erratic handheld camera movement and whip panning contributes to the growing sense of anxiety that the audience feels.
When Primrose Everdeen is drawn from the list of names, Katniss steps forward and volunteers for The Hunger Games. Effie Trinket calls for a round of applause. The audience responds by silently raising their hands in the air, a show of support and rebellion.
Effie Trinket steps onto the stage and introduces a short propaganda film explaining why The Hunger Games is necessary.
“This was the uprising that rocked our land,” intones the voice of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). “Thirteen districts rebelled against the country that fed them, loved them, protected them. Brother turned on brother until nothing remained. And then came the peace, hard-fought and sorely won, a people rose up from the ashes and a new era was born but freedom has a cost. The traitors were defeated. We swore as a nation, we would never know this treason again and so it was decreed that each year, the various districts of Panem would offer up in tribute one young man and woman to fight to the death in a pageant of honour, courage and sacrifice. The lone victor bathed in riches would serve as a reminder of our generosity and our forgiveness. This is how we remember our past, this is how we safeguard our future.”
1. What is propaganda?
2. What sort of images are used to depict The Hunger Games in this propaganda video? How does the music and voice over contribute to this message?
3. Describe how Effie Trinket and the audience respond differently to the video.