Things in The Hunger Games you only notice as an adult

How many times have you binge-watched all four of The Hunger Games movies in a row? If you’re me, the answer is probably too embarrassing to admit, so obviously quite a few. I’ve also attended The Hunger Games: The Exhibition not once but twice, scoping out the original costumes and fawning over life-sized posters of Finnick. But more than a few years have passed since Katniss first captivated us with her unvarnished charm, fierce loyalty, and righteous archery skills, so you might have noticed that you pick up on more and more about the movies as you re-watch them. 

Instead of being dazzled by the Capitol, are you a bit queasy? Feeling mad about Alma Coin’s thirst for power? It’s not surprising, given how prescient and layered Suzanne Collins’ writing is, even though it appears deceptively simple on the surface. Here are some things you only notice about The Hunger Games if you’re an adult. 

All four movies pass the Bechdel Test

If you don’t know about the Bechdel Test (aka the Bechdel-Wallace Test), the rules are pretty simple. A film or other form of media passes this test if three boxes can be checked: there are at least two women (with names) featured, they talk to each other at some point, and when they talk they talk about something other than a man. Sounds simple, right? But it’s clearly not, as there are thousands of movies that don’t pass it, not to mention that there are scant movies that feature a revolution-starting, tyrant-slaying, and arrow-slinging queen bee who runs the show. And when it comes to all four of The Hunger Games movies? No spoiler here: they all pass the test. 

In the first movie, Katniss has conversations with her sister Prim, Effie, and Rue (though Rue does mention Peeta) about a variety of things not men. In the second film, Katniss talks to Prim, Johanna, Mags, and Wiress about everything from fish hooks to clocks. In the third film, she talks to Prim about becoming a doctor, and Cressida about making “propos,” and in the fourth film, she talks to Alma Coin about battle strategy and Lieutenant Jackson about assassinating President Snow. Factor in the record breaking profit of the franchise, and that’s quite the accomplishment!

Katniss and Peeta swap traditional gender roles

You might not notice it if you’re too wrapped up in the drama of the games, but Katniss and Peeta don’t exactly conform to traditional gender roles in The Hunger Games. In fact, they essentially swap places, with Katniss being strong, stubborn, and heroic, and Peeta being kind, deferential, and submissive. 

As Linda Holmes, a pop culture blogger noted on NPR, “Much has been said, and rightly so, about Katniss Everdeen and the way she challenges a lot of traditional narratives about girls. She carries a bow, she fights, she kills, she survives, she’s emotionally unavailable, she’d rather act than talk, and … did we mention she kills?” 

All of those traits are almost always ascribed to men in Hollywood films, making Katniss a true outlier. Then there’s Peeta, a baker and cake decorator, who openly expresses his feelings, wears his heart on his sleeve, and follows Katniss’ lead throughout the films and books — decidedly feminine traits in most movies. Given how successful the franchise was, perhaps more movies would cash in big if they broke the mold more often.

Gale can be a jerk

Whereas Peeta defies traditional gender norms, Gale embodies them fully. He’s a tall, brooding hunter who works in the mines of District 12, as well as a provider for his family — pretty masculine stuff right there. However, sometimes his confidence clouds his judgment, rendering him somewhat insensitive, sometimes even condescending. In other words, Gale can be kind of a jerk to Katniss, whether he’s interrupting her or ignoring her best interests for sake of the revolution. 

For example, in the opening scene of the first film, he interrupts Katniss when she’s trying to hunt a deer, causing the deer to take off. He acts like she wouldn’t know what to do with it because it’s reaping day, but she had a plan to sell it to peacekeepers. Then at the beginning of the second movie she suggests that they run away, which would have been a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but he talks her out of it, more interested in the revolution. And in the third film, he has no sympathy for Peeta, who has been tortured and brainwashed in the Capitol, despite Katniss telling him how horrific the Capitol can be. He even bemoans the mockingjay song when they sit with Pollax by the river, griping, “Oh great. Now they’ll never shut up.” Was that really necessary?

Hegemonic monogamy forced Katniss to choose one partner over another

The Gale-Katniss-Peeta love triangle may seem pretty basic on the surface, but after a few viewings you might start to realize it’s more complicated than Katniss simply picking the person she likes more. 

For one, Gale and Peeta are very different, and complement different parts of her. With Gale, she can hunt and explore the woods, the two of them equally adept. And because Gale is so masculine, she can adopt more feminine qualities. On the other hand, with Peeta, she is a natural protector, which brings out her more masculine qualities. Given that she jives so well with each of them in complimentary ways, wouldn’t a third option of choosing both of them be a viable choice for Katniss? 

There are plenty of ethical, non-monogamous people in the world, some for reasons just like this. Plus, Gale and Peeta have looked out for each other, even though they’re obviously competing for Katniss’ heart, so ostensibly they would benefit from such an arrangement as well. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that polyamory was a possibility in Panem, so it’s likely that Katniss was not aware that having two partners was something she could do.

The PTSD of victors is totally understandable

Haymitch is an unapologetic alcoholic throughout the films (albeit dry toward the end) to kill the pain of trauma. Johanna grabs Katniss’ IV bag and steals her medicine after being tortured in the Capitol to calm her mind. And Katniss wakes up from horrific nightmares, screaming. 

Licensed Clinical Psychologist Dr. Janina Scarlet wrote on The Mary Sue that, due to the many symptoms that Katniss and other victors demonstrate, it’s clear they are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. And after what she and the others had to endure in the games and at the hands of the Capitol, it’s completely understandable. 

For Katniss, it’s particularly acute. In addition to the nightmares, she has flashbacks and painful memories about the murder of Rue in the first film, the leveling of District 12 in the third film, and nearly losing Peeta multiple times, in addition to numerous other events. She’s also prone to moodiness, sleep disruption, and a tendency to be avoidant. Even at the tail end, while she enjoys peace with Peeta and their children, she still suffers, telling her infant that one day she’ll tell them why.

Katniss never “gets sexy”

The Hunger Games films were not the first to feature a fierce female lead by a long shot, given that powerhouses like Foxy Brown and the Alien franchise were produced a long time ago. But in those movies, as well as others like Tomb Raider and Underworld, the women had to be overtly sexy in some fashion at some point, whether that meant fighting an alien in skimpy underwear, or flaunting your figure as you seek vengeance. 

It was worse if you weren’t cast in a lead role — Milla Jovovich, for example, wore what amounted to glorified tape in The Fifth Element, so it’s clear that women’s bodies have long been front and center in big, blockbuster movies. But in The Hunger Games, neither Katniss nor J-Law have to drop any kind of trow to attract the attention of viewers. Rather, it’s Katniss’ ferocity, thoughts, and actions that keep spectators glued to the screen. 

That’s not to say she doesn’t look flawlessly hot throughout the whole thing, especially when decked out in flaming dresses with plenty of skin showing — she did. But that was completely secondary compared to her real missions.

It’s a comment on late stage capitalism

The first time the Capitol is shown on screen in The Hunger Games, it’s a dazzling array of beautiful people, bright colors, and opulence around every corner, accompanied by sturdy, concrete architecture and  sweeping, dramatic mountains. It’s a breathtaking site, as are the subsequent depictions of the wealthy Capitol (until it comes under the heavy shelling of the resistance). 

But when you compare it to the spartan drudgery of District 12 and the other impoverished districts, you might find yourself getting a bit perturbed. As Peeta says quietly to Katniss in Catching Fire, after being offered an elixir to induce vomiting and go on eating, “People are starving in 12. Here they’re just throwing it up to stuff more in.” And that’s just one example of how unequal the districts are to the Capitol, especially Districts 11 and 12. It’s an unsettling comment on late stage capitalism as well, as is the entire franchise, because of the way it depicts drastic income inequality, the absurdities of excess, and an unequal labor market. 

District 11 is a direct comment on American slavery

District 11, the district that produces crops for the Capitol, is one of the poorer districts along with District 12. But unlike 12, nearly all of the residents of 11 have dark skin, prompting a deeper investigation by the viewer as to why that is. And frankly, it doesn’t take much digging to notice that District 11 is a direct comment on American slavery

Along with its residents having dark skin (whereas other districts are mostly white), there’s an electric fence around the perimeter, preventing anyone from leaving — they’re held there by threat of violence. There’s also the brutality of the punishments on behalf of the peacekeepers, such as public whipping if you’re caught stealing or running away. Additionally, residents of the district have to labor in fields for long hours, but the goods that they produce are all sent to the Capitol so they’re not well-nourished. Clearly, the parallels are there. 

District 12 was inspired by Appalachia

Suzanne Collins drew on a diversity of source material for inspiration for the novels, from the gladiatorial games of Rome to the Iraq War to reality television. Additionally, each district in Panem, with its dominant, signature resources and professions, can be linked to specific places in the United States — though the map has been altered due to catastrophic climate change. 

The Capitol, for example, is nestled in the Rocky Mountains near Colorado. District 2 sits directly beneath it. And District 12, with its tall, deciduous trees and rich coal deposits, sits squarely in Appalachia. This is not surprising, given Katniss’ rich descriptions of the region in the books. But exactly where in Appalachia is subject to a bit of scrutiny. 

Elizabeth Baird Hardy, a senior English instructor at Mayland Community College in North Carolina, weighed in, telling the Times of West Virginia, “The weather, plant life and food practices make eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia or West Virginia likely candidates.” That jives with everything in the books and movies, too, though plenty of people have differing opinions.

Cinna sparked the revolution

There’s no question that Katniss volunteering to save her sister at the reaping was brave — no one will argue that. But that bravery alone wouldn’t have been enough to ignite the revolution, especially given Katniss’ cool attitude and propensity for bluntness. 

Enter Cinna, whose stylistic genius and devotion to Katniss are the perfect catalyst to turn her into the Mockingjay. For one, he’s one of the first people in the Capitol who is genuinely nice to her. He comforts her and becomes her friend. And as he says, he’s not going to do the same thing stylists always do with tributes from District 12, which is dress them as coal miners. Rather, he dresses Peeta and Katniss in flames and attracts the attention of not just the Capitol, but all of Panem. 

Then in Catching Fire, he designs a wedding dress that, when she whirls, produces flames and turns into a mockingjay dress, which turns out to be a capital offense for him as he pays for it with his life. Whether he was in on it or not, which is up for debate, he outfitted her for the revolution.

Finnick’s really nice to Katniss and Peeta

Finnick Odair first appears on screen almost halfway into Catching Fire, decked out for the tribute parade. He’s a career tribute who won the games some years back, and has enjoyed a life of luxury ever since. But even though he enjoys the high life, being a victor, for him, has had some darker strings attached. And while they don’t go into it much in the films, Finnick has been sold for sex to wealthy Capitol patrons by President Snow. 

He alludes to it in his first conversation with Katniss, when he talks about secrets being the ultimate currency — he’s collected quite a few from the people he’s had to sleep with. And all those secrets about the proclivities and perversions of Capitol bigwigs certainly are worth a lot. So if you’ve ever wondered why he is so nice to Katniss and Peeta, as well as willing to fight for the revolution, that’s likely a big factor.

The Capitol’s beauty standards are rough

Ever notice that everyone in the Capitol is attractive and preened to the nines? That’s no accident, as good looks can get you a long way in the Capitol. But if those good looks run out, you just might be out of luck. Consider the case of Tigress, who hides Katniss and the rebels from Capitol forces, ensuring their safety. When she and Katniss meet in Mockingjay Part 2, Katniss remarks that she knows Tigress, that she was a stylist in the games. Tigress removes her cloak and remarks, “Until Snow decided I wasn’t pretty enough.”

Given how slender, statuesque, and adorned Tigress is, it’s insane that President Snow would yank her out of her position, but that’s just one of the ways he reigns with a cold, iron fist. Maybe if he had been a little more lenient and a little less ruthless, Tigress and others would have been more loyal.

President Snow bleeds from the mouth

If you’re not watching carefully, you might miss it, but President Snow sometimes has a bloody mouth. At first you might wonder if he has some sort of respiratory condition like tuberculosis, but that’s not the case. And because they don’t discuss it in any of the films, you have to go back to the books, where Finnick explains to Katniss what happened. 

President Snow rose to power at a young age. And he did it by poisoning anyone who got in his way, whether they were friend or foe. In order to deflect any suspicion cast on him, he drank from the poisoned cup as well. But that had consequences, as he acquired sores in his mouth from the poison that will never heal. That’s also why he wears perfume-scented roses, too — to cover up the smell of blood that reeks from his mouth. 

Moves and countermoves

Clearly there is a lot going on under the surface in The Hunger Games, whether it’s commentary about gender, the fog of war, or remarks about wealth, power, and beauty. That’s part of why the franchise is so successful, as the movies are brimming with poignant observations and biting social critique. So once you’ve seen the movies as an adult, and can avoid being distracted by the sheer spectacle of it all, you really can dig deep and make a number of astute observations you might have missed previously.