Themes of Oppression and Empowerment in "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent"
The 2012 film “The Hunger Games’ by Gary Ross and the 2014 film “Divergent” by Neil Burger use a range of similar and different techniques to explore the themes of oppression, empowerment and rebellion and its impact on individuality. Ross and Burger’s sci-fi thrillers both convey the lives of their protagonists’, who experience similar struggles to surpass the dystopian regime to achieve individuality. The harsh reality of the dystopian society is conveyed through characterization, symbolism and cinematic techniques to explore the injustice of classism and immerse the audience in the widespread condemnation within society. Both directors suggest that individuality provides the power to overcome and fight oppression within an oppressed state.
Directors Ross and Burger use symbolism and setting to show how the tyranny of the dystopian regime can impact individuality. Ross uses the 12 segregated districts to symbolize the oppression the system maintains over society. The oppressive regime is demonstrated through the inequality in which the children of the poor from the districts are challenged to their deaths in yearly games for the entertainment and political benefit of the rich. The government believes that punishing the people of Panem will serve as a reminder that rebellion against the government is wrong, thus will be punished severely. “It was decreed each year the various districts of Panem would offer up, in tribute, one young man and women, to fight to the death in a pageant of honour, courage and sacrifice. The lone victor, bathed in riches, would serve as a reminder of our generosity and our forgiveness “. The disparity is notable between the rich and poor through the setting of the districts in which the poor live amongst compared to the rich, who live in the capitol. The setting of the districts is colourless and distasteful, as residents must search for their own food and depend on the wilderness for survival. Essential foods such as bread are a luxury to the residents of the districts. Whereas, the rich live in the capitol and are accompanied by lavish feasts and elaborately prepared dishes. The yearly games symbolize the oppression and control the government has over society; it serves as a reminder for the rich and poor that the government will not be defied and will be kept in power.
Similarly, within 'Divergent' the effect of a dystopian regime on individuality is symbolized through the factions and inanimate objects. Burger separated society by utilizing factions as a means of control for the governance, to prevent war. “Decades ago, our ancestors realized that it is not political ideology, religious belief, race or nationalism that is to blame for a warring world. Rather, they determined that it was the fault of human personality – of humankind's inclination toward evil, in whatever form that is. They divided into factions that sought to eradicate those qualities they believed responsible for the disarray of the world.' The governance in divergent believed that war was a result of human emotions; thus, society was split into five factions to keep the peace. The societal factions are Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the kind), Erudite (the intelligent), Abnegation (the selfless), and Candor (the honest), citizens were classified according to their aptitudes and values.
Like 'The Hunger Games' the factions symbolized the control and oppression the governance has over society thus preventing individuality. However, Burger utilized inanimate objects to symbolize the oppression the government had over society. The aptitude test is taken at the age of 16 and is the support required to hold up the faction system within the dystopian regime. The test states which of the five factions the individual belongs to; however, the individual is not obligated to choose the faction appointed by the test. Divergents are the individuals that are appointed to more than one faction. They are considered a threat to the governance as they can be brave, kind, intelligent, selfless and honest, all of which are basic human emotions that were thought to have caused war. The divergent individuals are murdered as opposed to the threat they have on the government by having the ability to defy the faction system. The amplitude test is a symbol of social stratification and the control the faction government has over society. The Divergents symbolize the oppression within the dystopian society as individuals are killed if they possess more than one faction. The directors use of symbolism if further emphasized by characterization to explore the theme of empowerment.
Ross and Burger both use characterization to explore the main characters, Katniss and Tris personal development of individuality through the empowerment of rebelling against the oppressive regime. In 'The Hunger Games', ross uses Katniss’s characterization to show how her experiences within the games allowed her to develop the power to rebel against the oppressed regime she lived in. Before Katniss became a tribute to the hunger games, she strived to take care of her mum and sister using her archery and hunting skills taught by her father. However, the capitol sees her strong and kind instincts as a liability to the power the capitol holds as it provides citizens of the districts with hope. Katniss’s independent personality allowed her to play the games to her preferences and become a starring winner despite the capitol’s dictators. Katniss gave citizens of the district hope when she decided that both she and Peter will eat the poisonous berries, in spite of the capitol. There has not been a winner in the history of the hunger games, forcing the capitol dictators to allow two winners, Katniss and Peter. Katniss’s berry act threatened the game's rules which withholds the capitols power over its citizens. This act of rebellion allowed citizens to have courage and opinions again. This type of individuality provides the power to destroy the dystopian regime in which the citizens of Panem are held. Katniss's characterization is a heroic, independent, strong women that attain individuality by the trials and tribulations she faces in the games, leading to the destruction of the dystopian regime. Where Katniss lives the revolution against the capitol continues, “No one will forget me. Not my look, not my name. Katniss. The girl who was on fire.”
Similarly, within 'Divergent' individuality is characterized through Tris, whose personal development is attained when defying the oppressive regime of the Districts. Tris is another heroine who learns she is more capable than she ever suspected, much like Katniss from The Hunger Games. At the beginning of the film, Tris is projected to be smart and stubborn when raised in the abnegation faction; the faction focused on selflessness and humility, however she didn't feel like she could be herself there. Although members of factions are trained not to express individual desires, Tris attained individuality and threated the faction system when she dwelled on her unhappiness within her faction and wished to be in another. Burger portrayed Tris's desire to be in another faction when she was continuously caught watching the dauntless jump off the train. When Tris senses her difference from the other citizens, she feels guilty and defiant, which is exacerbated when her amplitude test is taken. Burger utilized 'divergent' to emphasis on Tris's uniqueness of individuality within a society that prohibits personalities that are not required by the faction. Tris's characterization of divergence allows her to infiltrate the Dauntless compound to stop Erudite taking over the governance by exterminating the abnegation faction. The act against the faction system will enable Tris to develop her individuality and uses that power to topple the dystopian regime. It is the characterization of her divergence that allows her to infiltrate the faction system.
Characterization of the characters differ the movies as the characters face different challenges in order to show defiance against the government and become the powerful women that led them to empowerment. Both directors use characterization to portray similar messages, outlining how in order to overcome a dystopian society, one must be empowered through individuality. The director's use of characterization is further emphasized by cinematic techniques to explore the theme of rebellion.
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