In this essay, I will discuss how mise-en-scene can operate as part of the narrative. I will be analysing the film, The Hunger Games (Gary Ross, 2012), to support this statement. I will be discussing the use on mise-en-scene by looking specifically at: lighting, colour, setting and costumes of both District 12 and the Capitol.
Lighting is a key aspect in films, as it can lead to suggestive readings of characters or settings. The opening scene of The Hunger Games (Gary Ross, 2012) is an interview between Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) and Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley). These shots use high key studio lighting, which is typical of a reality TV show, which is what the Games have become. The use of the artificial lighting also portrays the reality of the artificial world of the Capitol. The three-point lighting illuminates these two characters, putting them on display, and the focus of attention. This is similar for the interview with the interview with the tributes, as the tributes are on display throughout the games.
The colour in the opening scene is quite blue and dark, potentially symbolising how cold and calculating the Capitol and the games are. The colouring is different in the tribute interviews, as the background is red. The difference in colour highlights the contrast between the Capitol and the Districts. The colour red may symbolise war and danger, perhaps referencing the uprising of the Districts causing the Games to take place. Alternatively, it may also be motif for strength and determination, foreshadowing Katniss’s (Jennifer Lawrence) rebellious actions in the Games, and ultimately becoming the champion.
Furthermore, the contrast between the wealth and power of the Capitol and the poverty of District 12 is apparent through lighting with the shots directly after the interview in the opening scene. The character Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is seen comforting her sister Prim (Willow Shields) after having a nightmare about being chosen as the tribute for the Games at the Reaping. The use of low key lighting in this scene illuminates the protagonist’s face, putting Katniss as the centre of attention in that shot. The darker areas in the shot also help to frame her face, therefore pulling the audience’s attention. As our attention is pulled towards Katniss, the audience are able to see her as a caring and dominant character from the start of the film. However, this may also manipulate the audience’s experience, as their attention is being drawn away from the background, which may be hiding some details, as the audience are shown the characters before their surroundings. Alternatively, the lack of light in the background may also symbolise the bleakness of District 12 and the totalitarian state of Panem.
Additionally, the contrast between the Capitol and the Districts are also presented through the use of lighting, as the scenes depicting District 12 all have natural lighting, therefore making the rural and agricultural location seem more realistic to an audience.
The settings used in this film are also very significant in terms of the narrative, as it communicates to the audience the vast differences between the Districts and the Capitol. District 12 is a very poor coal mining district, which is represented by the dull and old-fashioned setting. This is also represented as their is a lot of dirt and coal residue around the setting of District 12, therefore reinforcing the poverty of the District. Due to the poor rural setting of District 12, it has been described as “a parody of 19th-century pioneer austerity” (Peter Bradshaw, 2012), which is perhaps why the setting seems old-fashioned. Furthermore, ‘The Hob’ shown in District 12 towards the start of the film, reinforces the poverty of the district, as it is poorly built, grubby, and chaotic, therefore showing that little care has gone in to building it and it is there for the needs of the citizens.
Another important setting in District 12 is the woods where Katniss and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) often hunt in order to trade at The Hub. Within this setting, the audience are able to see the protagonist use her skills to provide for her family, also showing her to be caring, but potentially dangerous as she is skilful with a weapon. Furthermore, as the audience are able to see her skills with a bow and arrow, this may foreshadow that she may be chosen for the Games, as she is shown to already be a hunter. As well as this, the wooded setting mirrors the wooded setting chosen for the arena for the Games later on in the film, therefore this character may feel slightly comfortable in the arena as she is used to the surroundings.
The setting of the Capitol is the complete opposite to that of District 12, as it is quite futuristic and over-extravagant, advertising their power and wealth, and expressing their “class and capitalism” (Danny Leigh, 2015). “The Capitol of Panem itself is excessively grand in scale, a somewhat cold city with colossal classical elements that is reminiscent of ancient Rome” (Katherine Wikoff, 2012), therefore symbolising the strength of an empire and their totalitarian control in the narrative of the film. In addition to this, “the baroque fashions of the Capitol” (Danny Leigh, 2012) perhaps reflects that of the people who love there, as they are also shiny and glamorous on the outside, but are actually vane and corrupt on the inside, therefore creating a mood and atmosphere of the setting of the Capitol of Panem. The audience get a brief glimpse at the scale of the extravagance of the Capitol with the train that transports the the tributes to the Capitol.
Furthermore, there are multiple settings within the Capitol that represent their more sinister side. An example of this is the control room for the arena of the Games towards the end of the film. This setting is also futuristic, and the advanced technology does express the wealth of the Capitol. However, this setting is also quite blue which makes it seem quite cold, and reveals the cold and calculating nature of the Hunger Games. Additionally, as the Games have a control room, it shows how easily the Capitol can manipulate people, as they are able to start a forrest fire in order to get Katniss to move to a more dangerous location.
Similarly, the setting used for when Katniss first meets Cina (Lenny Kravitz), her stylist, it seems very clinical, and quite prison like. This perhaps symbolises that there is no escape from the Games.
There are multiple costumes used in the film The Hunger Games (Gary Ross, 2012), which also represent the class divide between the Capitol and the Districts. When we are first introduced to Katniss, she is wearing a worn out, ill-fitted shirt, the complete opposite to the pristine suites worn in the Capitol in the opening scene. This shows the audience these characters perhaps live in poverty, and don’t have as much as those in the Capitol. Similar to the old-fashioned setting of District 12, many of the costumes also seem quite old-fashioned as well, thus furthering the idea of these characters living in poverty.
During the Reaping, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) wears a faded blue dress – similar to everyone else at the Reaping who also wear pale and faded colours. This makes all the characters blend together, symbolising that they have no identity. As well as this, the colours of the costumes “match the colour values of setting” (Bordwell, D., Thompson, K., Smith, J., 2017), therefore the use of “colour bleeding” (Bordwell, D., Thompson, K., Smith, J., 2017) in these scenes perhaps symbolise that the citizens of are part of the District that provides for the Capitol – similar to the premise of the Reaping and the Games as two tributes are chosen for the entertainment of the Capitol. This is similar with Katniss’ brown jacket while she is hunting, as the “colour bleeding” helps her blend in with her surroundings, and is also helpful for when she is hunting. This may also symbolise her ease within the woods. Moreover, the clean, expensive uniforms of the Peacekeepers contrast with the squalor of District 12, hence reinforcing the differences between the Districts and the Capitol.
Despite this, the character Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) wears white as part of his Bakery uniform. Here, the use of white perhaps symbolises this character’s purity, as he does not actually kill anyone in the games, and he states that he doesn’t want the Capitol and the Games “to change him” (Gary Ross, 2012).
Whilst in the Capitol, the tributes almost seem as a play doll for those in charge. The change on costume symbolises the transformation of the tributes being completely under Capitol control. This is especially seen in the tribute parade as the tribute are supposed to dress as their districts. Here, this supports the notion that they are nothing more than their districts, and the Capitol have absolute control over them, even something small as what they are allowed to wear – hence, they are being dressed by the Capitol for the Capitol, similar to that of a doll. As District 12 is a coal mining district, they are usually dressed as coal minors, however a spectacle is made of Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) as their clothes are set on fire, in order to make an impression on the Capitol. This costume is also where Katniss gets the title “The Girl on Fire”, a name given to her by the Capitol, therefore making her a Capitol icon. In addition to this, District 8 are dressed in a colourful costume, similar to that of court jesters, therefore making a mockery of them, and something for the Capitol to laugh at for their entertainment. The “Girl on Fire” is used throughout the film, as Katniss wears a red dress, also with flames.The combination of red and flames presents her as a dangerous character, supported by her score of 11 for her skills.
The Head Game Keeper, Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) wears a red and black suit throughout the film, symbolising evil and danger. During the tributes training, they also wear the same colours in their costumes, therefore wearing Capitol colours. The use of the colours on potentially links the tributes to the Head Game Keeper, bringing them down to his level of evil and danger, as they will have to kill each other in the Games. On the other hand, as all of the tributes are wearing the same costume, this also symbolises that they have no individual identity, and they are once again only there for the Capitol to play with. Additionally, the tribute’s training costumes all have their district number, therefore symbolising that they are defined by a number rather than as an individual.
In conclusion, mise-en-scene can operate as part of the narrative, as the elements of mise-en-scene help to create the world of the film. They also symbolise characteristics of certain characters, making it easier for an audience to read and sympathise with characters.Bibliography:
Bordwell, D., Thompson, K. Smith, J. (2017). Film Art: An Introduction, (11) New York: McGraw-Hill Education.
Bradshaw, P. (2012, 22 March). The Hunger Games – review. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/mar/22/the-hunger-games-review
Leigh, D. (2015, 18 November). How The Hunger Games staged a revolution. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/nov/18/how-the-hunger-games-mockingjay-part-2-staged-a-revolution
Ross, G. (Director). (2012). The Hunger Games. Film. Los Angeles: Lionsgate Films
Street, S. (2001). Costume and Cinema Dress Codes in Popular Film. (9). London: Wallflower
Wikoff, K. (2012, 25 September). Why “The Hunger Games” should win the Academy Award for Best Production Design. Weblog. Retrieved from https://katherinewikoff.com/2012/09/25/why-the-hunger-games-should-win-the-academy-award-for-best-production-design/