‘The Hunger Games’ Never Addresses This Horrific Aspect of the Capitol

Movies


The Big Picture

  • The Hunger Games movies fail to capture the essence of the Capitol and lose a crucial part of the story by excluding the Avox, who represent the ruthlessness and oppression these citizens face.
  • The absence of the Avox, along with other changes made in the films, diminishes the impact of the saga as a work of social critique, making the Capitol appear less threatening than in the books.
  • The removal of the Avox and other important aspects in the movies, such as the hardships faced by characters like Katniss, results in a more generic story.


First envisioned by Suzanne Collins as a series of three novels, The Hunger Games sure stands out among other young adult dystopias of its time. Set in a world torn apart not by arbitrary rules that emulate the patterns of high school cliques, but by natural disasters and class disparities extremely similar to the ones that exist in our reality, the series creates a bleak universe in which children are victimized by hunger, war, and the elite’s lust for vengeance. However, as it was adapted for the big screen, a lot of what makes Collins’ creation so unique ends up getting lost in translation. A good chunk of the more gruesome aspects of the Capitol’s violence towards the people of Panem was left out of the original four movies in the Hunger Games film franchise, diminishing the saga’s impact as a work of social critique. One of the most important elements that is not explored in the film franchise is the existence of the Avox.

The Hunger Games

Katniss Everdeen voluntarily takes her younger sister’s place in the Hunger Games: a televised competition in which two teenagers from each of the twelve Districts of Panem are chosen at random to fight to the death.

Created by
Suzanne Collins

First Film
The Hunger Games

Latest Film
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

Upcoming Films
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

What Is an Avox in ‘The Hunger Games’ Movies?

the-hunger-games-mockingjay-part-2
Image via Lionsgate 

Introduced by Collins in the first book of her series, Avoxes are people who have been punished by the Capitol by having their tongues removed. They are usually rebels or so-called traitors who are subsequently enslaved, doing tasks that the richest in the Capitol deem to be beneath them, such as maintenance and sanitation work. Their inclusion in the series is an essential part of everything that communicates the cruelty of the Capitol. Apart from the Hunger Games pageant, the Avox are the main reminder that there is indeed very real oppression going on in Panem and that those guys in white uniforms with weapons aren’t just there for show. To essentially cut them out of the story is to lose a huge portion of what makes the world of Panem so scary. But, alas, that’s exactly what the movies did.

This should come as no surprise. After all, the Hunger Games films are known, at least among fans of Collins’ novels, for shying away from more unsavory aspects of their source material — aspects that are more complicated to discuss and might have earned the movies a higher rating. In the books, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) mentions that it isn’t unusual for poor, starving girls to exchange sexual favors with Peacekeepers for food, which never finds its way into the plot, despite being a perfect example of the level of poverty in District 12. Likewise, the fact that Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) loses his leg after leaving the arena in The Hunger Games is also completely ignored, even though it helps paint a picture of how gruesome the whole competition is. Thus, the absence of the Avox from the movies isn’t just an issue in and of itself, but also an encapsulation of how the films fail to capture the essence of Panem.

Who Are the Avoxes in ‘The Hunger Games’?

There are at least three important Avoxes in the Hunger Games books. The first one is a girl named Lavinia, whom Katniss witnesses being captured by Peacekeepers as she tries to escape District 12 (before the events of the first novel). Later, Katniss learns Lavinia was turned into an Avox when the girl is put in service of the District 12 tributes during their brief stay in the Capitol. Lavinia isn’t exactly absent from the first movie of the franchise, but she’s reduced to a background character with whom Katniss has little interaction. Those in the know, however, have no trouble recognizing the silent girl in red who stands behind Katniss and Peeta as they discuss their strategies for the upcoming games.

Being downgraded from a named character to an extra sure stings, but at least Lavinia got some semblance of recognition. The same cannot be said for Darius, a friendly District 12 Peacekeeper in the novels whom Katniss encounters under similar, yet possibly more unpleasant circumstances in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Both of them, according to Peeta after his release from the Capitol’s prison in the books, were murdered due to supposedly helping the District 12 tributes plan their escape from the Quarter Quell.

But, the most important Avox doesn’t make an appearance until the final book. Played by Elden Henson in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 and Mockingjay — Part 2, Pollux was indeed included in the films and his backstory is briefly mentioned. However, the context in which he lost his voice is completely absent, leaving fans in the dark about what exactly happened to him. A camera operator who accompanies Katniss on her tour of Panem as they film propaganda videos for the resistance, Pollux used to work in the underground tunnels beneath the Capitol until his brother, Castor (Wes Chatham), managed to pull some strings and get him “promoted” to a less taxing position. It is unclear why he had his tongue taken by the Capitol and how exactly he joined the District 13 crew, but his knowledge of the tunnels is invaluable in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2.

Not Exploring the Avox Defangs the Capitol

Elden Henson as Pollux in The Hunger Games
Image via Lionsgate

Avoxes are a great representation of the ruthlessness of the Capitol when it comes to dealing with its critics and opponents. Faced with dissatisfaction that might be expressed in the form of words or of a break for freedom, the government of Panem chooses to simply and literally silence its detractors. After this demoralizing treatment — and, we suppose, a great deal of torture — these political adversaries of the ruling party in the world of The Hunger Games are put to work upholding the order that they sought to combat in the first place, whether serving its most powerful figures or cleaning the pipes that allow the whole structure to remain functional. By removing Avoxes from the story, the films erase one of the most poignant social critiques made by Collins about how political opponents are treated in dictatorial regimes. The Capitol ends up being less threatening in a series of movies that don’t show the full extent of its power and violence.

This problem doesn’t arise exclusively from the absence of these underrated characters and the concept of being an Avox. From the aforementioned scrapping of Peeta’s lost leg to the failure at depicting famine in the districts, the Hunger Games movies fail to fully communicate the horrors of living under the Capitol, to the point in which some wonder if a reboot is in order. There are several examples of this in the books that are not translated to the screen, like Peeta having one of his legs amputated and Katniss suffering partial hearing loss (which is later repaired) due to their time in the 74th Hunger Games. This is important because it shows that even those who emerge from the games as victors still lose something of theirs along the way — not just on a psychological level, but also a physical one.

Similarly, Collins devotes multiple pages to explaining just how destitute Katniss and her family are. Katniss hunts illegally in the woods around District 12, risking death or becoming an Avox herself, because they can’t afford food. This helps to create a stark contrast between her reality and the Capitol’s hedonism and emphasizes the horror of the franchise. Yet, in the movies, there is barely any mention of Katniss not having food to eat, and we never see her react in shock to what is offered to her once she’s taken away from District 12. She isn’t overwhelmed by what she sees in the Capitol, nor is she offended by such opulence as she is in the books.

‘The Hunger Games’ Films Also Leave Out Other Horrifying Details About Life in Panem

Jennifer Lawrence in 'The Hunger Games'
Image via Lionsgate

Much to the fans’ chagrin, there are two other important aspects of this bleak, dystopian world that were cut from the Hunger Games movies: tesserae and the wolf mutts. Tesserae is a form of food ration offered by the government to struggling families in exchange for their children greatly increasing their odds of being chosen in the Hunger Games lottery, a commentary on how the poor are punished for being poor. The latter, in turn, are genetically modified creatures made to resemble the bodies of the other children who died in the 74th Hunger Games, set free in the arena to kill the remaining tributes. (While the wolves are in the first movie, they don’t resemble the tributes.) It’s unclear if the tributes’ actual bodies were used to create the mutts, but these mutts serve as a metaphor for how the Capitol weaponizes the deaths of Panem’s children in order to maintain its power and how it pits the districts against each other. There’s also something there about how nobody is actually free from being destroyed, used, and humiliated by the Capitol.

But, while the Avox are not alone in being cut from the Hunger Games franchise, their removal from the films is definitely the most noticeable one. After all, their existence and the explanation that accompanies it serve as the backstory of at least one notable character in the saga. Plus, it wouldn’t have even required much to include this aspect of the story. A few lines from Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) explaining the dark history to Katniss would have sufficed. Instead, the Hunger Games movies opted to ignore it. It was a bad move and one that, accompanied by other unnecessary changes, helped make the Capitol a little more harmless. By doing so, they also took away from the story’s edge, making it into something more generic and detracting from its social critique.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is now in theaters. The Hunger Games movies are available to watch on Peacock.

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