One of the reasons for the success of the Hunger Games series is that apart from being a romance and an action-adventure, it also has a powerful dystopian subtext. But you might not know about the many secret references, meanings and interpretations to be found in the books and films.
With ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1’ hitting cinemas this month, here is a handy guide to what the film series is really all about…
It’s all about the bread
Panem is the Latin word for bread and the doughy substance crops up a whole lot throughout ‘The Hunger Games’ in various guises. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is the son of a baker and throws a piece of bread to a starving Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) when they are kids.
The Capitol – essentially the creators of Panem as a concept – have as much food as they need, while everybody else goes hungry. And then there’s the Roman phrase “panem et circenses” or “bread and games”, which is how the Roman leaders appeased the paupers lest they rise up in revolution – by using the gladiatorial arena where the public watched people fight to the death. Not only that, but each district has its own type of bread product. Who knew bread could be so meaningful?
We got genetically-mutated dogs in the first film, whose twisted DNA calls back to the Minotaur, the half-man-half-bull creature which you may recognise from Greek myth. The story of Theseus and the Minotaur has been acknowledged by Collins as an influence on ‘The Hunger Games’ and it’s clear the author has pulled a bit of a Tarantino – taking quite a lot of the best elements of a previously-told story and turning them into something modern and cool.
In the Theseus legend, King Minos of Crete demanded that every nine years Athens picked “tributes” to be placed in a labyrinth and face the bovine monster. Until Theseus volunteered, no-one had survived, but he managed to kill the Minotaur and escape the maze thanks to a ball of yarn he was given by Minos’s daughter. We see all these elements in ‘The Hunger Games’ – tributes, a seemingly inescapable arena, things trying to kill you and the ability to be earn gifts from people watching.
Peeta is Peter from the Bible
Obviously, the name is basically the same, but Peter was also ready to die for Jesus, like Peeta in the books is prepared to do for Katniss. Other keen-eyed viewers have spotted that Peeta also “denies” the person he loves the most, which will be the case in ‘Mockingjay – Part 1’ with Peeta captured and brainwashed by the Capitol. That being said, some commentators have suggested that Peeta is actually Jesus, partly because of Jesus and the Bread of Life (that bread thing again) and also because he was practically dead and then rose again. Oh – and he left District 12 under no illusion that he was going to die. Which Jesus knew was going to happen to him.
The Capitol = the bankers?
Many people have argued that the book is intended to be a fictional take on the Occupy movement, during which protesters made a stand against social and economic inequality. It also sparked riots as the proletariat rose up against the rich and powerful. There’s one problem with this – Suzanne Collins had written the book by 2006 and had probably had the idea for a while before that. In other words, before the credit crunch really hit. That’s not to say it’s still not an indirect attack on the rule of the 1%, which let’s face it has been happening for pretty much the whole of human history.
The salute means something in the real world
On 22 May this year, the Thai military seized control of the country in a coup d’état and not everyone was happy about it. Intriguingly, the opponents turned to ‘The Hunger Games’ for inspiration, utilising the three-fingered salute which in the film is shown to demonstrate resistance to the Capitol. That didn’t go down well with the army, who vowed to stamp it out. A military spokesman told The Guardian, “If it is an obvious form of resistance, then we have to control it so it doesn’t cause any disorder in the country.” Sometimes life really does reflect art.
It’s all in a name
It’s easy to make fun of the names in Panem, which can seem over-the-top and odd. But they do have a purpose. Those from the Capitol - the rich - have Roman-inspired names. Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley in the first film) has the same moniker as the legendary philosopher and writer. Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is named like the Latin historian. Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) shares his name with a scion of the Roman republic. However, the poor - those from the outer districts - are called much more earthy things. Katniss is a type of plant (whose species is sometimes called an arrowhead, which makes sense). Her sister is called Prim (Primrose). Gale (Liam Hemsworth) obviously suggests another of the natural elements.
Katniss Of Arc
Joan of Arc became a symbol of revolution in France during the 15th century, was a young woman and died fighting for her cause. Both grew up poor and Katniss’s birthday is 8 May - the same day as Joan helped lift the siege of Orleans. Both women are also closely associated with flames. Katniss is known as the Girl On Fire thanks to her Cinna-designed costumes during the Games. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431.
Got your own theories? Let us know. ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1’ is released on 20 November.