Friday, June 22, 2018

The Hunger Games: Sequence Two Breakdown (Gathering the Team, Mentor, Into the Special World)

by Alexandra Sokoloff

I'm finding my breakdown of The Hunger Games scarily relevant in this week of forcibly taking children from their parents and incarcerating them to use as pawns in a chess match of authoritarian control. And other dire consequences of giving power to insane game show hosts.

If you missed Sequence One, here it is.

And on to Sequence Two, which begins 20 minutes in.


In a sequence that begins with very strong echoes of the first Harry Potter book/movie, Katniss and Peeta journey to the Capitol (sic) by high-speed train. 

Katniss and Peeta are escorted by armed guards to the train, and we get another image that echoes the Holocaust: they first enter into just a metal box/boxcar – an ominous, fear-filled moment. That entry then opens up into a luxuriously appointed lounge car. Stepping into this lounge is the first INTO THE SPECIAL WORLD moment: we see Katniss and Peeta reacting the shocking luxury of the car, the gleaming metal and saturated colors, the sumptuous food (however, we can still see the stark metallic walls; the luxury is just set dressing for the cattle car that train is.).

This visceral moment is especially effective because of the deliberate visual CONTRAST to the ORDINARY WORLD, the bare-bones, subsistence-level poverty of District 12 that we saw in Sequence 1. Remember, drama loves contrast, and visual contrast is a great technique for engaging the interest of your reader or audience.

Just as in the first Harry Potter, this train scene GATHERS THE TEAM: Haymitch, the MENTOR, Peeta, the ALLY, and the ever-unhelpful magenta nightmare, Effie, who will nonetheless be able to help with endorsements.

And Peeta vocalizes the next element of the PLAN: he and Katniss need to get as much information out of their designated MENTOR as they can. After all, he did once win the Games.

MEETING THE MENTOR: One of the many, many things this story does well is develop a unique and memorable mentor character, that often-crucial character archetype - so-called for the original mentor, named Mentor, in the Odyssey.

Haymitch is a past (distant past) winner of the games who is supposed to guide the two sacrifices—I mean Tributes—from his district to victory in the Games. But in this scene on the train, Haymitch is clearly hungover and goes straight for the alcohol on the bar. (In the book he’s even more pathetic: we meet him as he falls off a stage, stumbling drunk. In fact, he vomits all over himself on national TV. He has a reputation as a complete buffoon.)

Peeta makes a valiant try to get some helpful information out of Haymitch, but Haymitch responds violently and gives them mocking advice instead: “Accept the fact that you’re going to die and there’s nothing I can tell you to help.” Then he stalks off to drink alone in his room.

Not a great omen for his protégés, right? But doesn’t that up the SUSPENSE incredibly? How are Our Heroes Katniss and Peeta supposed to survive the Games with only this antagonistic loser to guide them?

[25:00] Peeta goes after Haymitch to try to reason with him, and Katniss goes to her own room, where she watches footage of an old Hunger Game being broadcast and analyzed by the commentators on TV (continuing the THEME of the Games being broadcast and analyzed as reality TV and the prescient condemnation of evil reality TV hosts). One tribute kills another to win the game, and we see Katniss’s INTERNAL CONFLICT: she is sickened by the idea of having to kill. This raises the question and FEAR: Can she kill to survive? And the important moral question: Do we actually want her to?

The next morning she leaves her room and finds the dining car, where Peeta is deep in conversation with Haymitch. Katniss has another brief flashback of the rainy day, Peeta feeding the pigs. He sees her shivering in the rain, and turns his back on her to go inside the house. Again, Peeta is being set up as a potential OPPONENT (which he literally is, because only one tribute will survive the Games). 

Haymitch taunts Katniss by telling her the most important skill in the arena is making people like you. This introduces another key point in the PLAN (and SETUP for PAYOFFS down the line): Katniss and Peeta must win endorsements in order to get emergency deliveries of food, equipment, medication during the games. Katniss finally gets Haymitch’s attention by flaring up at his dissolution, grabbing a cheese knife and plunging it into the table between his fingers. We see Haymitch is impressed.

This is the beginning of an important SUBPLOT: Haymitch realizes he might have a couple of survivors on his hands, and Katniss will learn at key points that she can actually rely on Haymitch’s sponsorship and guidance. They will develop an almost psychic bond, and Katniss comes to understand through her own growing success in the Games exactly what would have turned Haymitch into an alcoholic: she can see herself going down exactly the same road if she survives/wins (MENTOR AS MIRROR). In the end, Haymitch is the first one she will run to embrace, showing how deep the relationship has become.

Then we get another CROSSING THE THRESHOLD/INTO THE SPECIAL WORLD moment as the train enters of the Capitol – the contrast of city to village, hugeness to shacks, garish color to earth and natural tones.

And we see the aspect of celebrity, a running THEME in the story: citizens of the Capital are lined up to catch a glimpse of the tributes. Peeta shows his SPECIAL SKILL of evaluating a situation and working it to his advantage as he smiles and waves to the crowd, making them like him, and setting himself up as an OPPONENT to Katniss, who lacks social skills (her WEAKNESS, and SET UP of her CHARACTER ARC). Peeta encourages Katniss to join him, but Haymitch hands her back the knife and says, “Better keep this. He knows what he’s doing” – underlying the threat Peeta is to Katniss’s survival.

[28:00] There are more ESTABLISHING SHOTS of the Capital, emphasizing the decadence in fashion and people. The architecture and set design is Romanesque, harking back to the gladiator games and also the fall of a corrupt society.

Now we have a MAKEOVER SCENE (very common in the TRAINING SEQUENCE, especially in romance genres) in which along with the other tributes, Katniss is primped, coiffed, and beautified by a team of stylists. But the laboratory setting and the cold, clinical efficiency of the technicians make the obviously painful beautifying seem a bit more like assault than a trip to a day spa.

Finally Katniss is left lying on a table, alone in an exam room.

She meets her key stylist, Cinna, who will become another MENTOR and ALLY, perfectly played by the beautifully empathetic and Lenny Kravitz. There’s an otherworldly kindness here that makes Cinna a true fairy godmother. He immediately apologizes to her, that this his happening to her, and praises her bravery in volunteering to save her sister. We see Katniss soften for the first time as she realizes he means it.

Cinna is there to dress her for the opening ceremony, the Tribute Parade. It’s customary to dress tributes in costumes of their districts, but Cinna has something bigger in mind. He’s going to help her make an impression. (He repeats an important aspect of the PLAN: to stand out so she can get endorsements).

30:48 The CLIMAX OF SEQUENCE TWO is the Tribute Parade, with the chariot ride and the flaming costumes. Again, the Roman columns and decoration, and the chariots in which the tributes ride are visual echoes of the gladiator games. Also all of this is broadcast over huge screens with elaborate multi-camera shots, continuing two VISUAL AND THEMATIC IMAGE SYSTEMS. One emcee trills: “The importance of this event cannot be overstated!”, announcing the STAKES for the scene.

And this climax employs other climax-building techniques we saw in the climax of sequence one: a huge crowd gathered, an elaborate set, special costuming, a long preparation for the event, the spelling out of the stakes (Katniss must win over the crowd to get endorsements and improve her chances of winning).

We get brief glimpses of the other Tributes who will be Katniss’s OPPONENTS (and one ALLY, Rue).

And we meet a key ANTAGONIST, President Snow, in person as he is introduced at the ceremony. He watches the parade of chariots imperiously as the MCs babble excitedly. And then everyone sees the final chariot. Katniss’s and Peeta’s capes look like they’re on fire.

The emcees are thrilled with the spectacle. But Snow is disturbed by it, and by the crowd’s ecstatic reaction. He knows he’s got a problem on his hands. It’s always a powerful moment when the antagonist of a story recognizes the strength and implicit threat in the heroine (see The Silence of the Lambs for another great example.)

Again showing his media savvy, Peeta grabs Katniss’s hand and lifts it in triumph. When she tries to pull away, he says, “They’ll love it”, and she reluctantly goes along. And as they ride to the cheering of the crowd, Katniss looks up into a reflective banner (or maybe it’s a screen with a close-up on her face, I’m not sure) and sees herself as regal, surrounded by flame: a SET UP of who she is to become, and a great glimpse of her inner power.

The chariots come to a halt in a semicircle (and the fire of the capes goes off) as Snow gives his speech. Note that Katniss is carrying a red rose, which puts her in visual opposition to Snow, who is visually associated with white roses. Red roses vs. white is a historical reference to the Wars of the Roses, a series of civil wars in the 1400’s for control of the throne of England between the House of Lancaster – red roses – and the House of York – white roses. Also symbolically, fire opposes snow. Snow is filmed from high above, looking down on the tributes and the entire arena, magnifying his power.

In the tag to the scene, Effie is effusive about how they’re in the game, now. Katniss makes a barbed joke about Haymitch’s drunkenness and Haymitch is about to scathe her back, when he catches a glimpse of Cato, one of the professional tributes, who train their whole lives to win these Games. Cato’s arrogance and Aryan looks make him an obvious SECONDARY OPPONENT (and his Roman name aligns him with the Capitol and Snow). Instead of disparaging Katniss in public, Haymitch opts to take them up to their suite (CHARACTER ARC).

In her high-tech room (more luxury), Katniss uses a remote control to change the wall-sized screen to various views of locales. She stops on an immersive video of a forest, and we see her homesickness (but also are reminded that she is at her best in a forest). Then emotionally, she turns off the screen. [36:45]


All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks.  e format, just $3.99 and $2.99; print 13.99.

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1 comment:

Joanne Irwin said...

Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Any chance of LOVE tips coming out in book format? Thanks Jody, Wisconsin