Real or Not Real? The Hunger Games Movie is Good For Teens….

***SPOILER ALERT: SOME PARTS OF THE END OF THE STORY REVEALED BELOW

To read Janie’s review of the book, see Hungry.

Today, the much anticipated The Hunger Games movie hits theaters nationwide.  If you or your kids didn’t attend a midnight run, you may be wondering–should we see this?  As part of my job writing movie reviews for World Magazine, I saw a screening on Wednesday.  WORLD has actually just posted my article The Hunger Games as a web extra, if you’d like to read it.  On our site today, I’ll do a more detailed treatment, complete with discussion questions for folks you know who love the stories.

Unlike the movie of The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo (see my review here), which I recommended no one see based on the brutal violence and disturbing content, I do think The Hunger Games is worth consideration.  Here are a few points I hope will help you decide whether the movie is right for you and your family:

  • According to the MPAA, The Hunger Games is rated PG-13 for “violent thematic material” and “disturbing images”.  For a complete list of what went into that rating, see here.  What is meant first and foremost by violent thematic material is the basic plot.  In Panem, a country which occupies what was once the U.S.A., the government seeks to quell any further rebellions with The Hunger Games.  Every year, a girl and boy representative are taken from each of the 12 Districts (states) and forced to fight to the death in a televised sporting event.  Only one will emerge victorious and earn his life back.  REAL OR NOT REAL: What the MPAA rating alone won’t tell you is that this isn’t nearly as dark as many classic, violent stories read by high schoolers–for instance, Native Son or A Clockwork Orange.   Or some of the violent or perverse clips your kids can watch on Youtube.  The heroine of the movie, Katniss Everdeen, displays real heroism, risking her own life to save other kids and mourning over some who don’t make it.  Her love interest, Peeta, is even more idealistic, hoping aloud to maintain his humanity among such barbarism.  Yet it’s still very intense, even to the level of a horror movie at times, with a pack of youngsters hunting the weaker kids.  Be forewarned, also, that this movie is part of a trilogy, and it’s going to get darker from here.  If the movie-makers follow the books, Katniss will actually be so broken by the end that she’ll vote to continue the games, putting other kids through the horrible ordeal she’s just been through, and finally attempting suicide.  There is some light at the end of the tunnel, but this is no Lord of the Rings where the heroes get to go home at the end.
  • And the disturbing images?  Let’s see, there was a kid stung to death by something akin to yellow jackets, a sweet, very young girl with a spear sticking our of her stomach, lots of folks getting knived or hatcheted, and perhaps most notably, a boy slowly mauled to death by computer generated dogs–until Katniss shoots him to relieve his suffering.  That’s not all, but it’s a start.  REAL OR NOT REAL: I give the film-makers a good bit of credit here.  Where the makers of Dragon Tatoo and the protagonist seemed to revel in the violence it contained, in The Hunger Games, we are spared most of the gory details.  The camera shakes and goes blurry for most of the fight scenes.  Instead we might see a bloody shirt or brick, and then a kid lying on the ground with glassy eyes.  It’s clear he or she is dead, but we don’t have to see all the flayed flesh.  That doesn’t mean it’s not disturbing.  Sometimes, the sounds are actually more disturbing than the images: screams from kids being stung by yellow jackets or hatcheted to death just out of eyesight.  I’ll admit I was a little relieved, though, because it could have been much, much more graphic than it is.
  • We know the games are immoral.  That’s clear from both the author’s and the movie-makers’s perspectives.  But is it immoral for the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, to even fight in these games?  Should she just give in and be killed rather than participate?   This is the argument of the esteemed Christian writer, Douglas Wilson, and I think it’s a good question to ponder.  Especially given all the Christian martyrs in the Roman Coliseum games, as well as black Christians who were lynched right here in America less than a century ago.  Rather than give my answer, I think it’s a good enough question for you to wrestle with on your own.  (You’re welcome to tell me what you think in the comments!  I’d love to know.)  I will, however, pose another question to go along with it: if Katniss is stronger than some of the other contestants, and has the ability to protect them, is she obligated to try?  If I as a Christian were in her position, would it be more Christ-like to fight to protect myself and weaker kids around me, or should I simply disengage?  I think these are worth mulling.
  • What’s NOT in the Movie?  It’s notable that there is no sex, only a few kisses, very little cursing (I noticed one “damn”) and hardly any bare skin.  Which makes it cleaner than many films for kids today.
  • From a Purely Artistic Perspective, is it Good? If I’m going to sit through a bloodbath, besides wondering about the moral component, I want to know whether there is some artistic skill being displayed.  Does the storytelling itself add value?  Personally, I think so.  It’s not par excellence, but it’s good, solid film-making.  Too slow in a few parts, and it petered out a little toward the end.  The climax wasn’t all it could have been, in my opinion.  But overall, it hung together, and I found Katniss actually more sympathetic in the movie.  (In the books, she can be pretty snarky, but here she’s just mostly quiet.)  Most of the early secular reviews affirm that point of view.  The Huffington post reports that “The reviews are in for “The Hunger Games,” and it looks like the film is as popular with critics as it is with its young fans. “Hunger Games” already boasts a 88 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
  • What’s it All About?  Sometimes it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees.  I’ve read reviews that cast the story as anti-government, anti-war, pro-woman, anti-reality TV, and lots more.  In fact, one of the best things about this story is that the conflict is simple but very layered and rich.  There are lots of people involved in the bad stuff going on, and they have lots of different reasons for their involvement.  When I try to “crack” a story and find out what the author really means, I start with the climax.  Then I ask, what conflict or problems made that conflict meaningful.  And how does the climax resolve those problems.  In this case, I won’t give away the ending completely, but my best guess is that it’s about survival.  Not romantic love–that’s only part of it, and it wouldn’t solve the problems even if they could get together.  Not war–war is bad, but even when the war ends, the problem is still there.  My feeling is that the final scene in which the heroes triumph isn’t even about beating the government, though that’s involved.  The great hope of the the story is simply surviving, with some level of dignity.  And that’s actually not far from where I think our society is–we don’t believe in heaven or hell (not as more than a fantasy land that has no impact on our daily life), don’t believe in transcendent Truth, or that history is going somewhere.  We just want to live out our lives and die with some dignity left, not having sold out or given in to the dehumanizing forces around us.  And that’s where, if I were discussing this with non-Christians or young people who were really grappling with it, I would place my emphasis.  That’s where I would try to show Christ.  That He affirms our sinful and broken condition, but He offers us so much more than survival.  He offers redemption, ultimate redemption, for both the sinner and the sinned-against in our culture.  If we really want community, radical community, that’s where we’ll find it–in a shared righteousness that no one can earn and will keep us, and our dignity, through the bleakest hours.

Interested in other Christians’ takes?  See John Kwasny’s post over at Reelthinking.wordpress.com.  Here’s a review from Focus on the Family.  Or this one at Breakpoint Youth Reads. And of course, don’t forget my World article!

Are you a blogger or writer with insight on The Hunger Games?  Please feel free to post below with you comments or a link to your post.  I’m very interested to hear other folks’ opinions on this one.

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6 Responses to Real or Not Real? The Hunger Games Movie is Good For Teens….

  1. Janie March 30, 2012 at 3:48 pm #

    Betsy: Thanks for the link–I enjoyed looking over your blog! And will return!

  2. Susan R March 30, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    Great post, and thanks for all the links.

    The great thing, IMO, about dystopian fiction is the hard questions it raises about dealing with a worst case scenario. The nightmare worlds of this genre offer characters 3 basic choices- give in to evil and do whatever it takes to survive, avoid conflict and choose the lesser evil when possible, or fight for Truth, Justice, and The American Way, even if it means your death.

    It is interesting that the author of the HG trilogy credits her idea for the books from putting together Big Government and the obsession with entertainment, especially reality television. It also sounds a bit like the myth of King Minos sending seven Athenian boys and girls to Crete every nine years to face the Minotaur.

  3. Betsy March 29, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

    I finally wrote my thoughts on these books (having read them a year and a half ago). My post is at http://literaritea.blogspot.com/2012/03/aahh-hunger-games-finally.html.

    I like your review; I plan to wait on the movie (maybe forever). I just can’t get over the irony of it all. We are totally like the citizens of Panem watching violence for sport….

    I agree with Renee’s point, too–the writing in these books is not stellar. And I loved that post she linked to! Hilarious.

    Finally, in regards to the question about whether Katniss should fight: I think the key is that she is not a killer. And, by Panem/Games standards, that automatically makes her a victor. She wins because she is a survivor–not because she is a killer. And, throughout, she extends help to those in need, thinks of others, etc. The first book in this series is definitely the best of the three. But Katniss is not the best role model!

  4. Heather Watts March 29, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    Hello Emily,

    My son is 13 & really wants to see this movie but we have a rule about reading the books first. Is this one where you would recommend that? I’m thankful for Redeemed Reader so that I can make informed decisions about what my children’s hearts & minds consume.

    Blessings,
    Heather

  5. Janie March 23, 2012 at 10:55 am #

    Great stuff, Emily! Thank you. I think I can wait to see this movie, though.

  6. Renee Mathis March 23, 2012 at 10:14 am #

    Hi Emily,
    My students and I have had a great deal of discussion about this topic this week! I’m looking forward to more of the same now that the movie has come out.
    My take on the series is a slightly different one:
    http://www.mrsmathis.com “Hungry For a Game?”

    I don’t think the book is supremely well-written nor do I believe the measure of a book is “well at least kids are reading.” I supposed I’m still enough of an idealist to believe that it is possible to have a wonderful plot, noble themes, and stellar writing.

    Thank you so much for your work on this blog. You are a blessing!

    Renee

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