There is a scene at the end of the movie “The Hunger Games” in which Peeta and Katniss are staring out the window of a high-speed train. The two characters have just won a deadly competition in which twenty-four children fought to the death in a man-made, televised arena. The two both look to be in shock as they ask themselves the question, “what do we do now?”, and debate whether they start the process of trying to forget, or forcing themselves to always remember the horror they endured as members (and survivors/champions) of the Hunger Games.
The scene sticks with me because it seems to be a central question to the process of recovering from trauma. Should a person try to forget atrocities, in order to return to a “normal” life? Or is it necessary to always remember, in order to honor the experience and the way it has changed the individual? Where is the line drawn between actively forgetting and actively remembering? Especially when there are severe changes in context that call for intense emotional adjustment, it may be difficult to find an appropriate and healthy balance of forgetting and remembering. In the movie, Katniss and Peeta must endure the difficulty of emotionally processing the Games while simultaneously returning to their hometown, families and friends. In the second book of the Hunger Games series, Katniss struggles with symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, such as debilitating nightmares. In our own society, combat military veterans returning to civilian life must adjust to civilian life while processing experiences of war. They too must adjust to a return to a once-familiar life with an identity scarred by trauma, and potentially deal with aspects of PTSD themselves.
I was struck by how realistic this moment on the train, between two fictional characters in a post-apocalyptic world, could be. Not only do horrors like those portrayed in “The Hunger Games” exist in our own world today, but this central question of remembering or forgetting exists for many people who have encountered those horrors. Indeed, any person who is forced to change after experiencing trauma must face the question.