Friday, April 6, 2012

The Hunger Games and Nazi Germany: Visual Metaphor in the Film and Why It Works

If you've seen the film, you probably couldn't help but notice that in District 12, technology and dress seem to be stuck in the past.  It especially noticeable in the reaping scene, along with some other striking imagery.

Compare these:


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Take off the hats and the stupid sweaters, and you've got some decent comparisons.

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Okay, okay, these aren't perfect examples, because I've only got my lunch hour to complete this post. But you get the idea.  It makes good sense:  the late '30s early '40s were are era of economic hardship in the US and Europe, and District 12 is struggling similarly.  But here is where it gets interesting.

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  Take a close look at the flag on the building.  Does it look a little familiar?  It's an eagle, looking over its shoulder, and it's surrounded by a wreath. 

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This is, per Wikipedia (I did say I was in a hurry), "The Parteiadler or coat of arms of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP; known in English as the National Socialist German Workers' Party or simply the Nazi Party), which features an eagle looking over its left shoulder, that is, looking to the right from the viewer's point of view."  Here again we have the eagle, and though it is carrying the wreath, there are clear parallels.  Moreover, in some versions of the Parteiadler, the eagle is looking over its other shoulder.  Added on the red field, the Panem flag is pretty damn similar.

But wait, there's more!


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There are a couple notable aspects to this shot.  First, of course, is the propaganda video.  Three guesses what rather infamous party was known for its prolific propaganda...  The point of the film in The Hunger Games is to show how the government brought the country of Panem out of a terrible situation.  After World War I, Germany was in dire financial straits.  Hitler had a lot to do with pulling that country out if its very serious depression.  Time named him Man of the Year for 1938.

Second, look at the gathering of people, how they are stand in neat blocks of humanity, facing a stage bare of decoration but for the country's flag...

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It's a lot smaller scale, obviously.  But look at enough photos of Nazi gatherings, and you notice a trend.  (And I don't just mean military events.)  And look, a quote! 

"If there has to be a choice between injustice and disorder, said Goethe, the German prefers injustice." - Barbara Tuchman

(She was an author and historian, so I'm going to assume she knew what she was talking about.
So, let's see if I can't come up with a point to all of this, eh?  Something other than "At this point, I've done so many searches for various aspects of Nazi Germany that I'm probably on about twelve government watchlists."

Here you have two societies in which the totalitarian government has tight control over the populace and depends on order and propaganda to be able to perpetuate the atocities they are committing on their denizens.  In District 12, where this control is very tightly held, the visual nods to Nazi Germany are very strong.  In the woods outside the district, there is a sense of taking a deep breath, of lightness (literally--the colors are way more saturated), of freedom, albeit a freedom under constant threat (the used-to-be-electric fence, the airship from which Gale and Katniss hide).  The Capitol has a hard (lots of concrete and glass) edge under the glamor, but the visual comparisons to Nazi Germany are fewer and farther between. 

That worked for me (but not others), because it seemed to show that the government was willfully holding the outlying districts in this state of depression and anachronism, while life in the Capitol itself is not a utopia, either (which is a decent visual setup for what happens later, especially in the third installation of the series). 

What did you think?  Did the film's visual design depend too much on the past, considering it's ostensibly set sometime in the future?  Was the Nazi symbolism too heavy-handed, or an appropriate nod to the totalitarian government that is first and foremost in our cultural awareness?


(True:  I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  I'm a big dweeb.  Ten dollar words are sexy.)

12 comments:

  1. You may have just convinced me that I don't need to watch the movie (or read the book) in spite of all the positive reviews I've read. The little bit I've heard about the book and the synopses I've read made me less than enthusiastic. Maybe if I were in a different frame of mind but right now I just want to be entertained with something light, amusing maybe. So thanks for confirming what I was already thinking! ;)

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    1. It's a fascintating, enthralling, exciting series. But happy, it's not. But for light, happy YA fiction, I'd recommend pretty much anything by Meg Cabot. Her books always make me smile.

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  2. DSM and I were just talking about this, and we both agreed: they did it perfectly. Number 1, District 12 is Wes'BYGAWD Virginny, and we still have small coal mining towns that look like that NOW. And 2, if you ever saw that show "Life After People," you realize how very short a time it takes for shit to fall apart if left unattended. 70-some years after a terrible war? Yeah, stuff's gonna go downhill pretty fast.
    And you thought YOU were a nerd...

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    1. I haven't seen "Life After People," but I might just have to check it out.

      Don't know if you've read the series, but in the first book, they do mention that District 12 is what is left of Appalachia.

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    2. um, yeah... I also looked up the map of Panem on the interwebz... (slinks back to her nerd hole)

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    3. Get your butt out of that nerd hole! :) It's been so long since I'd read the book, I'd totally forgotten where District 12 was. (This is why I can reread books forever--crappy memory.) And I saw the film and was like, ooh! That area! So I figure that just means they did a good job of portraying where in "what's left of North America" 12 is.

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  3. I envisioned a futuristic NAZI Germany setting for sure. From the countryside to High speed trains to hills. The military similarity of a modern day NAZI soldiers and Mind controls put on by its own government. The people in Movie are cold and heartless to the deaths of these districts in their own country just as the NAZI Germans had no remorse to the slaughtering of their own Jewish neighbors coworkers etc.

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    1. Exactly! I had it in mind from the first time I read the books. The movie just nailed it for me.

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  4. Agreed, mostly. I saw many similarities between the Reaping scene and scenes from Schindler's List, specifically checking in and selection of Jews as they enter the camps. The simple clothing, muted colors. There is an officiant at a table taking blood (doctors checking over prisoners to see who will live and work, and who will die) to verify identity. In some shots there are even coal filled box cars in the background (like those used to transport Jews). For me the welcome festivities at the Capitol resembled the Neuremberg Stadium scene from Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will" (As in your historical picture above).

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    1. Oh, I like that! I didn't even think of the blood-taking as being anything other than creepy. But of course, that's a detail that isn't in the book, so of course they added it to the movie for a reason. Thanks for the insights, Librarian!

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  5. Incredible that both Guardian reviews make NO reference whatsoever to Nazi Germany. To me the movie (and perhaps the book) is trying to show a freakish world that would have existed had the Nazis prevailed. Ok, the second half is a major departure from this idea but the thrust of the argument comes across very powerfully.

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    1. I was a bit surprised when I wrote this post that so few major reviewers mentioned it. I honestly thought it was probably too obvious for them to mention.

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