Franchises like The Hunger Games, the Divergent Series, and Maze Runner, as well as other one-off films like The Giver, may tell different stories, but the emotions of the protagonists are the same. Like real-life adolescents, these characters are fraught with confusion, insecurity, and budding individuality, desperate to find their unique place in a world in the midst of hormonal changes. Furthermore, their dystopia is heavily structured; people are stratified and defined by seemingly arbitrary characteristics of which they have no control, such as their station of birth (e.g., district), or another unyielding characteristic determined by a test (e.g., factions). In this world, concepts like fairness, individuality, and even free will are disregarded for the greater good.
The protagonist in the dystopian tween drama suffers from this stratification, either due to their lower status (e.g., The Hunger Games), their skill (e.g., The Giver), or their lack of adherence to the organized system (e.g., Divergent). We the audience watch and marvel as she acknowledges the system, dismisses her individual needs for the greater good, and fights this arbitrarily assigned disadvantage by any means necessary. However, even in this narrative of self-sacrifice, the protagonist is heralded and her individuality is reinforced at every level in order to progress the dystopian fairy tale.
The feelings of teen angst, or anxiety regarding one’s life or situation especially during adolescence, are palpable in these films. The need to overcome the dystopian world justifies the feelings of oppression present in all teens desperate to be their own person while still living in their parents’ house. These films give flesh to these feelings and teen angst is no longer irrational. The system is against me, and I deserve to be more than a cog in the machine.