DM Haight

For the last few years, we as a culture have become obsessed with our own demise. This isn’t to say that we haven’t always been morbidly curious as to our own end as a species, or a race; but what stands out from the last few years that hasn’t done so before is the intensity. Over the last decade we have run across a ton of doomsday clock scenarios, including, yet not limited to, at least two rapture expectations, the 06/06/06 apocalypse, meteors, prophecies, and a Mayan calendar prediction, all of which have fallen flat on their faces. And rightfully so. But this intensity is perpetuated by the one medium that can inspire these thoughts in the hearts and minds of any living individual–film. Be it television or movies, the apocalypse has found a secured spot in our popular consciousness, because what is more engaging than thinking of your own death? Nothing, that’s what! But we aren’t leaving the apocalypse at just the end of days–no, we’ve chosen, as a culture, to look at the after-end-of-days world. This year alone (2013) we will see OblivionAfter Earth, and The World’s End. Three films about the end of existence in one year, and they aren’t the only ones. Heck, with The Walking Dead, Zombieland, Book of Eli, I Am Legend, Day After Tomorrow, Warm Bodies, Adventure Time, all the recent Romero films, Dawn of the Dead, War of the Worlds, and literally hundreds of other films outside of this last decade (and I still did not mention all of the ones from the last ten years), it’s hard to believe that we’re still happy as a culture, seeing as how we keep dreaming up more and more creative way about how we might end, and what it might be like to live in that new world. We like the ideas of gods killing us, or zombies killing us, or aliens, or nuclear war, or weather, or…wow, we’re sick people.

Anyway, on this day it might be pertinent to look at another film, a part of a new series that looks to be gaining more steam every day. The Hunger Games isn’t a film we all think of when we think of post-apocalypse, but think of this–it’s set in a world after most of civilization has been wiped out. North America is now divided up into thirteen districts, of which one of them, District 13, is all but absent from the map, now a wasteland due to a war with the capital of Panem. North America is now recovering from the devastation more than seventy years earlier, with most of the population living on the brink of death, forced to give up their children, should they be chosen, to the Hunger Games, a yearly event held in the capital as a reminder of oppression, or better, a reminder of what happens when you challenge the power of the capital. Our heroine is Katniss, a young girl in District 12. She’s played by Jennifer Lawrence in the film, and is tough as nails, and willing to do anything for her sister. They live in the coal mining district. When Prim, Katniss’s sister, is chosen to go into the Hunger Games, a certain death for most anyone who enters, she offers herself up as tribute. She is joined in her horror by Peeta, her male counterpart, played by Josh Hutcherson. He likes to bake.

But for those who think that the technology, the trains, the cities make it so that Hunger Games isn’t a post-apoc film, just listen to this. In many post-apoc films the world is left barren. Many of the districts are left helpless by their servitude toward the capital. They starve. They don’t have anything. The capital takes what they grow, and leave their citizens in a tired, hungry, and poor state. But the hold of civilization, the capital, is lush with delicacies. They grow fat and grotesque while the rest of their nation grows emaciated. This is often a dynamic of post-apoc films. The last stronghold often leaves the rest of the world barren of resources. This encourages us to think about how we as a people, as a nation, see our own country, our own situation. Post-apoc narratives are as much about the end of the world as the beginning of a new one. Apocalypse even means: uncover, revelation, an awakening. Thus, films about an oppressed society after a failed revolution are very much films about post-apoc. It’s the death of one state, and the beginning of a new one. So we can see The Hunger Games as a type of apocalyptic/post-apoc film, because it’s about the world after a failure, a world after death and destruction, a world of rebuilding, a world where old secrets are in need to be uncovered, and a city-state is in need of toppling. President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland, is the representation of oppression, the living embodiment of evil. He is the warlord of the post-apoc world. He can’t be challenged, because he is a bringer of death to even the strongest of a society. He eliminates his enemies like the king of a pride, the top predator. He kills before power can be gained, keeping his districts in check, and keeping himself happy in this city of glass and steel.

But the greatness of The Hunger Games is that it shows us just how easy it is to destroy a destroyer. Just give them a show. Win the people, and they can’t touch you. And Katniss does this, albeit begrudgingly. She becomes the girl on fire. But with this transformation we see a new being emerge. Post-apoc films are really about the individual (and if they aren’t they should be). It’s about second chances for the characters in a world wiped clean. The Hunger Games is about redemption of a sort, a revenge, a triumph over a tyrannical power in a world that’s unusable for the inhabitants. And that’s what we like about the genre. The building up anew. The change, drastic, unpreventable. We like the idea of progression, but we also know that sometimes you have to make a mess to clean up. The world of The Hunger Games lets us see how much of a mess we’ve let the world become, and how much more of a mess we have to make to clean it up. To knock down tyrants you don’t necessarily need guns, bombs, swords, generals, or an attack plan. You just need a handful of berries, and a moment of desperation. Because we all know that even the greatest of powers has a weakness. And as Katniss proves, it must be very fragile if it can be scared by a handful of berries and a desperate girl. And this is what post-apoc films are about. The destruction of the old, and the building of the new, whether simple, or hard.

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