The Indigo Canon: ‘The Hunger Games’ and its influence on the dystopian genre

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How do we define a film as a ‘classic’? This label is taken seriously by cinephiles across the globe, but of course something so subjective cannot be reduced to a single definition. For some, it is a film that transcends the time in which it was made. It has a timeless quality that resonates within the watcher even after they have left the cinema or switched off their television. For others, it is the iconic scenes and impactful pieces of dialogue that carry an emotional significance in their everyday life.  

In every sense of the word, The Hunger Games deserves to be considered a classic. The franchise, directed by Gary Ross and Francis Lawrence respectively, is a masterclass in creating an exceptionally successful book-to-film adaptation. From 2012 to 2015, this series dominated the worldwide box office, grossing nearly 3 billion dollars (USD).

However, the enduring legacy of the films is most notable in its cultural impact today, which has rapidly surpassed the intended teenage demographic. The Hunger Games completely redefined the young adult dystopian genre and opened the eyes of audiences to this genre as a valid form of storytelling.

The iconic three-finger salute has since been adopted across the world as a symbol of peace

The premise is rooted in a fictional dystopian political system, wherein each of the 12 outlying districts of Panem are forced to send two child tributes to the annual Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death. Often poverty-stricken like the district we are introduced to as protagonist Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) home, many of the characters are forced to act as slaves to the Capitol’s oppressive regime. Immediately the viewers are confronted with the exploration of important ideas such as classism against a backdrop of what is essentially systematic genocide. The story is set in motion by one single act of selflessness: Katniss volunteers to enter the games after her sister, Primrose (Willow Shields) is selected. From this meaningful gesture, we can see how the entire rebellion against tyranny is centred on the need to protect loved ones, a very relatable and innately human desire.

The Hunger Games is currently enjoying something of a renaissance on social media, more than a decade after the release of the first instalment which is already generating buzz of being considered a ‘modern day classic’. For example, on TikTok we can see fans returning to the series as adults with a newfound appreciation for the issues each film tackles. In fact, the iconic three-finger salute has since been adopted across the world as a symbol of peace, famously in the Myanmar protests against the 2021 military coup.

On a visual level, it not only portrays the overwhelming nature of the arena setting but is crucial in understanding Katniss’s character

From a technical perspective, all four films are a pure spectacle for the audience as Panem comes to life through the sheer magnitude of the worldbuilding, established by the author Suzanne Collins. The viewing experience is only enhanced by James Newton Howard’s hauntingly beautiful score which takes us on an emotional journey parallel to that of the characters. For most, it is the second film The Hunger Games: Catching fire, which truly solidifies the series as deserving of the ‘classic’ title. The decision to change the aspect ratio to align the screen with Katniss emerging from the tunnel to her pedestal in the arena perfectly captures this moment as the turning point of the sequel, and the rebellion. Expertly shot on IMAX, the jungle sequences completely transform the atmosphere of the film, allowing the viewer to be engulfed into the deadly action of the games. On a visual level, it not only portrays the overwhelming nature of the arena setting but is crucial in understanding Katniss’s character. The first half of the film, which takes place in the districts and the Capitol, is shot on a standard camera and reflects how confined and restricted her life is on the outside of an oppressive system. Her experience in these games shapes her decisions as the ‘mockingjay’ of the rebellion, the outcome of which reaches its pinnacle in the fourth instalment.

We must acknowledge that the provoking themes of the series are even classical in nature. The deaths of beloved main characters like Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Primrose serve as a poignant reminder of the futility of war and its destruction of innocence. The emotional depth that Lawrence is able to achieve makes the portrayal of the reality of war all the more distressing. Her raw and authentic depiction of PTSD constantly battles with the promise of survival she makes to her loved ones.

Over ten years later, The Hunger Games remains the biggest dystopian series to ever hit the big screen. In many ways, it has already stood the test of time and is a trailblazer for female leads in a male-dominated genre. The sensitive treatment of grief alongside powerful commentary on conflict still strikes a chord with audiences all over the world, and is a testament to its worthiness of being labelled a ‘classic’.

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