Images of freedom often involve fireworks, flags, and protests; but these aren’t the acts of freedom most people witness on a daily basis. Instead, human freedom is expressed through the personal choices and small decisions we make in our everyday lives. The 2012 film The Hunger Games, based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, shows how small choices individuals make enable them to preserve their own personhood in the face of outside pressure―in this case, that of a tyrannical state.
In post-apocalyptic North America, the nation of Panem is ruled by a wealthy city surrounded by 12 poorer districts. In Panem’s early history, one of the districts led a rebellion against the Capitol. The unsuccessful rebellion resulted in the destruction of the district. But that wasn’t the only memory left to discourage other districts from future rebellions. An annual television event was created as a punishment “and as a reminder of the power and grace of the Capitol.” For the event, called the Hunger Games, each district randomly selects a teenage boy and girl to fight to the death, with only one of these “tributes” surviving to claim victory and spoils for his or her home district.
For Katniss Everdeen, born and raised in District 12, becoming a tribute is not just a matter of being chosen in the lottery. Instead, when the name of her little sister is drawn, Katniss volunteers to take her place, saving her life. Being an avid hunter, illegal in Panem where people are given food rations by the Capitol, Katniss becomes a major contender in the year’s Hunger Games.
Contestants are expected to kill each other without mercy; but Katniss hides, simply trying to survive without attacking others. Katniss and Peeta, her fellow tribute from District 12, work together to stay hidden and alive. Having grown so close in friendship during the Games, Katniss and Peeta can’t bring themselves to kill each other when they find themselves to be the last remaining contestants.
The name “Panem” is derived from the Latin phrase for “bread and circuses.” The ancient Roman saying refers to the practice of government buying the support (and votes) of citizens by offering spectacular―and cruelly violent―forms of entertainment and free grain, lulling citizens into relinquishing their decision making powers. In a society where rules and oppression define the lives of its citizens, the fictional Katniss shows that freedom is not completely lost, despite the external constraints on her freedom. She still has the will to make choices based on what she believes to be right and wrong, often in defiance of the expectations of her government.
Even in the darkest of circumstances, personal choice and liberty can prevail if only we don’t cave in to the immoral expectations of our leaders and peers. Good can overcome evil, one small act at a time.