Science, Shakespeare, and Katniss Everdeen

Minor Spoiler Alert: if you have not read the first two Hunger Games books (or seen the movies) OR read/seen Shakespeare's Coriolanus, there are some spoilers in this post.

For the past two Hunger Games films, but especially this latest installment, Lionsgate has been doing some really incredible advertising. There are the usual trailers and page takeovers, sure. But most of their marketing is set up as if it’s coming from the Capitol, the totalitarian center of Panem, the fictional dystopia created in Suzanne Collins’ novels and the subsequent films. They’ve created propoganda like what the Capitol employs to fight the spreading rebellion. So when I saw that they were partnering with YouTube celebs to create these “District Voices” trailers, I was pretty excited. Take some time to watch it here:

So when I opened up this Nerdist post this morning and watched the video, I was expecting something really good. And the video was more than that; it was truly excellent! The electricity generation technique outlined is the real deal, and it’s quite a fascinating concept, though a simple one once you can get your head around it.

But something in particular caught my eye in this video: the name of the power plant.

Let me explain.

Earlier this year, my friend Kaiti and I drove to Macon, Georgia to see a live broadcast of Coriolanus. The show ran at the National Theatre in London, and it featured two of my favorite actors: Tom Hiddleston and Mark Gatiss. So naturally I jumped at the chance to see it live, if not in person.

And it certainly did not disappoint. The show was mesmerizing. I may have been an English major, but I didn’t have as good a handle on Shakespearean language as my colleagues. But the way the actors performed the piece, the language was easily interpreted, so this show was amazing to me.  I understood every word and, for the first time, was able to actually appreciate the themes and characters found in Coriolanus rather than just translate the whole time.

But not only that, the show itself was phenomenal. The acting was amazing, the effects were on-point, their use of the space (the unique Donmar Warehouse) and minimal set was incredible, and MAN were the fight scenes breathtaking. It was one of my favorite experiences I’ve had in the theatre, and that’s saying something.


So, naturally, when the words “Coriolanus 9” came on the screen in the District 5 video today, I perked up. I waited for a reference or quote the whole time, but none came. “Certainly that wasn’t random,” I thought. “Surely there’s some kind of symbolism there.”

My first thought was that it must have been Lionsgate’s idea. There must be some connection between District 5 and Coriolanus, the character or the play. So I started Googling, and there is a surprisingly small amount of information given about District 5. Nobody betrays anybody, nobody runs for office. There’s no apparent connection at all.

But then I started to wonder if the Coriolanus reference wasn’t Lionsgate’s idea but rather that of Derek Muller, the face in the video and the brain behind YouTube science channel Veritasium. So I started looking at the scientific content, and there it was.

Known as Kelvin’s Thunderstorm, the contraption featured in the video is a very real scientific possibility. It works like this:

There are two streams of falling water, each passing through a metal ring and a section of metal mesh. The rings and mesh are connected in an X formation, with the left ring being connected to the right mesh and the right ring to the left mesh.

Water is usually a neutral substance, but when falling it can become momentarily positively or negatively charged. Let’s say the water on the left becomes momentarily negatively charged. This will cause the mesh on the left to become negatively charged as well as the water pulls its negative ions in order to balance out. This makes the rings on the right negative as well, attracting the positively charged water to pass through it. This makes the mesh on the right become positively charged, causing the rings on the left to be positively charged and attract more negatively charged water.


So the idea is that a slight imbalance at first is perpetuated by a cycle set up to increase the disparity in charge until the system reached its threshold — in this case, 20,000 volts — and a spark occurs.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Now, for those of you who aren’t as familiar with Coriolanus, the storyline revolves around a soldier-turned-public figure. Caius Martius is a born soldier, and he’s been training his whole life for battle (something his mother is very proud of). A form of democracy has just been introduced after the king was overthrown. Martius singlehandedly wins a critical battle for the city of Corioli and is given the name “Coriolanus” as a reward.

When he gets home, his mother presses him to run for office. He does, but along the way he has to kiss some serious plebian butt, and he really doesn’t like that (and he makes it known that he doesn’t like that). He’s pretty classist in general. So some of the other politicians start riots to get him in trouble, and they eventually succeed in getting him exiled.


So Coriolanus decides to go to his arch nemesis and the antagonist of Rome: the Volscian Aufidius. He intends to offer himself as a sacrifice to the man’s spite, but they end up teaming up to go after Rome. Then Coriolanus’s mother begs him not to, so he doesn’t. And then they decide to go after the Volscians, but Aufidius’s men kill him the second he returns to the city.

Are you starting to see the connection? No?

Okay, let’s break it down.

Coriolanus is a very easily polarized man. He loves Rome, and then he hates it. He loves it again, and then he’s exiled. He turns back to it, and then he dies.

Coriolanus acts as the charge in the story, while the rest of the characters alter his charge from one extreme to the next. It’s not their fault; Coriolanus was a little out of balance to begin with. But each time he becomes more extremely charged in one direction or the other until the threshold of the system is reached, and he’s eventually killed.

That’s a pretty cool analogy if you ask me.

But let’s not stop there. Let’s go yet another step further. There’s no way Lionsgate is letting this video exist without understanding every detail, so surely they know about the Coriolanus reference. And what does that have to do with The Hunger Games?

Well, maybe nothing. Or maybe EVERYTHING. Muahahaha!

Okay. Dramatics aside, there are some pretty interesting connections between the storylines. You have a power struggle for sure, but that doesn’t switch back and forth very much. In fact, none of the relationships really go back and forth too much, maybe with the exception of Peeniss (sorry, couldn’t write a blog post about The Hunger Games without throwing that one in there). But there is definitely an exchange of charges happening.


Maybe this example goes a little more macro. The Capitol has been manipulating people for years. They’ve been sucking resources and spirits from the people of Panem while force-feeding them peppy propoganda that couldn’t contrast more heavily with what the majority of Panem citizens experience on a daily basis. So the Capitol and surrounding districts have become richer and more brainwashed, while the outer districts have become more impoverished and disgruntled. These tensions can only exist for so long before the threshold is reached. And that’s where Mockingjay comes in.

Mockingjay picks up the story at the point where everyone is saying, “enough is enough.” The Capitol is saying, “enough insurgence, outer districts. You WILL conform to what we want, or we will crush you in the least humane way possible.” And the districts (13 included) are saying, “enough manipulation and inequality. You WILL give us what we want, or we will rise up and take over.”

The spark occured in Catching Fire when things aptly caught fire for the first time. Mockingjay is looking at what happens when these charges become really powerful. Just how big of a conflict can this tension of charges sustain? What is the breaking point? Which charge will win out, or will things just neutralize in the end? How much damage will occur before that can happen?

I, for one, am excited to find out.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s