I had my fill of bows and arrows after watching the film “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” A pity, really, considering that archery was one of the few sports I excelled at during summer camps enjoyed during a decade when students snuck cigarettes rather than weapons onto school grounds. A teen girl poising her bow and arrow was all I knew of “The Hunger Games” before today. My kids, all in college now, never had much appetite for “The Hunger Games” books — so I had little reason to read them.
When the film based on book one of “The Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins was released last week, I felt certain I didn’t want to see it. Violence is awful. Child-on-child violence is ghastly. I’d hate to condone anything that suggested otherwise. But I woke up this morning with a change of heart, after reading an article in TIME magazine exploring the debate over film ratings. Seems lots of folks are wondering why the yet-to-be released “Bully” carries an R rating when “The Hunger Games” garnered just a PG-13 rating.
Best to check it out myself, I thought — though I’d pretty much decided ahead of time that I’d hate “The Hunger Games.” But at least I could see the darn thing, and warn parents as needed against disturbing content. When our children were younger, we sometimes went to see questionable fare ahead of time, so we could judge whether it was approriate for their age and maturity level. Best not to rely on others’ judgement about such things, and “The Hunger Games” is the sort of film that warrants parent perusal before giving the go ahead.
I’d have nixed it for elementary age children, and insisted on going along were my kids still in middle school — though I respect the right of every parent to make such decisions for their own families. While “The Hunger Games” does depict youth killing one another in a future-world where that’s the only way for some to survive, there’s less violence than I’d imagined — and the scenes that felt most brutal were those that involved taunting and verbal brutality. Hearing a teen yell “Kill her, kill her” is plenty disturbing even if the intended victim escapes with her life.
Still, many of the youth called on to fight one another in a pageant meant to punish uprisings during a prior rebellion display remarkable feats of loyalty, tenderness and integrity. To hear some accounts of contemporary youth, you’d expect them all to kill for the chance to prove their power or snatch the pretense of popularity. But that’s not the case as a single boy and girl from each of 12 districts compete in a game that’s rigged from the start by adults who use their strength to pit the weak against one another. Instead, “The Hunger Games” give some of the 24 “tributes” an occasion to exercise compassion, sacrifice and teamwork. Even true cleverness in service of the good.
The violence feels less real, I suppose, because it transpires in a world that looks in some ways far different from our own. But some similarities are glaring. A small group of individuals seek to control the fate of the many. Some among the masses attain safety and creature comforts like food by adopting the ways of the oppressors. Watching others suffer is a form of entertainment. Cruelty wears a smile, and a bright sparkly outfit. And big brother does more than just watch.
I rarely journey into science fiction fare — unlike my husband James, whose bookshelves are still filled with sci-fi classics from teen and college days. I just about lost it when I felt the movie theater was vibrating during a giant sandworm scene in David Lynch’s 1984 film titled “Dune.” Yet another reason I expected going into “The Hunger Games” that I’d hate it. But the story is compelling, the cinematography skilled and the music a lovely lure. Especially the lullaby written by Collins.
My only challenge in entering the world of “The Hunger Games” was seeing so many familiar actors there. Think Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci and Woody Harrelson. I’d have preferred a cast of lesser known faces, if only so I could enter more deeply into “The Hunger Games” fantasy. But then, I suspect, it might have felt almost plausible. Let’s hope we never really go there.
Note: Click here to watch a Charlie Rose interview with “The Hunger Games” director Gary Ross — who reflects on the movie’s themes, including entertainment as oppression and oppression as entertainment.
Coming up: What makes a good poet?