Parenting: Hunger Games - a perspective

David Murphy saw The Hunger Games with his 13-year-old. Was it the right move?
March 26, 2012 7:11:24 AM PDT
Walking into a showing of the new film The Hunger Games on Saturday night with my 13-year-old son was a little uncomfortable. After all, the theme of the movie (which nearly everyone in the United States knows by now thanks to the Godzilla-sized media blitz accompanying the release last week) is kids fighting each other to the death as part of a futuristic reality TV show. Also along for this was my 24-year-old daughter, the only one of us who had read the trilogy of books that led to the film, and will almost certainly lead to two more.

However, I went for this gamely, based on assurances from my daughter that it was an interesting story, and the fact that I suspect my kids of being able to see a movie like this without getting the urge afterwards to imitate the proceedings with their friends (stranger things have happened, I know, but not in my family).

The verdict? I actually liked this movie. In fact, all three of us did. The premise, which sounds pretty ghoulish, is explained in the first sixty-seconds and if you have even the narrowest experience with film, you get the idea pretty quickly that this is more of a standard science-fiction piece than some pointless, chop-and-shock fest. It also helps that very quickly after the opening credits, young actress Jennifer Lawrence appears on screen as the central figure, Katniss Everdeen, an extremely talented performer who earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for the 2010 disturbing and riveting Winter's Bone. It's obvious that the film makers are at least taking a fair shot at quality and for me, that's enough to put aside fears about subject matter and give a film a chance. I feel the same way about my kids, once they begin exhibiting a certain amount of maturity. For example, I took my daughter to The Pianist and let her see Schindler's List as a young teen because she had a high interest in the subject matter and had suggested to me that she was ready for it. The Hunger Games, being a fantasy, doesn't come close to either of those films when it comes to disturbing themes and images.

Having said that, to those parents who simply can't abide the storyline, my message is simple: don't take your kids to this. I would also recommend that parents generally adhere to the PG-13 guidelines, because the theme could easily be a bit too much for, say, an eleven-year-old, especially when a character who looks like an 11-year-old gets picked to take part in the blood sport. But The Hunger Games will probably be okay for the rest of you and your kids for two reasons. First, the movie's director wisely avoids the typical Hollywood miscue of telling a violent story by making violence the star. Sure, there's blood. Katniss's favorite weapon is a crossbow and all the other kids seem to prefer ninja knives or swords big enough to slay a cow with one swing. You do the math. But the blood-letting doesn't get going until around the second half of the film, and after that, there's a lot of quick edits and off-camera suggestive stuff which makes the whole exercise easier to take. The other thing about The Hunger Games is that, in the end, this is pretty routine fare. Any kid who's seen Lord of the Rings is probably not going to be much worse for wear after seeing this, assuming they know the basic premise going in. In fact, the Middle Earth trilogy is far more violent than Part I of this one.

As for the story, it's actually an interesting premise and presented well, with a lot of clever build-up to the main event, although anyone even a few years older than many of those reading The Hunger Games novels will recognize some pretty familiar plot lines. If the idea of a futuristic world in which democracy has given way to a weird dictatorship with shadowy goings on reminds you of George Orwell's 1984, good for you. You win the "I-paid-attention-in-school" award. This is basically the same idea, with even the sadistic game show element borrowing pretty directly from other movies like Roller Ball and even The Truman Show. I also found the young cast's assertions in the hours prior to last week's release that The Hunger Games represents a significant social commentary a bit stale in retrospect. After seeing this thing, I can pretty much promise you that in fifty years, university professors will not be debating the story for all its deeper meaning. They will still have Orwell, H.G. Wells and maybe a reluctant Tolkien for that.

That criticism out of the way, however, The Hunger Games doesn't do a bad job of retreading this sort of age-old theme, and might even spur a little parent-child conversation about the whole Big Brother idea. The juxtaposition of the haves and have-nots is also entertaining, rather stunning visually, and different than anything I've seen prior (the make-up designers should win a special Oscar for "Weirdest Beard-and-Mustache Combo Ever Seen in a Movie"). Of course, what's never quite explained is why teenagers have to be given-up to the annual, fight-to-the-death ritual at the center of the story, rather than, say, criminals. Oh, wait. They already did that in Gladiator, The Condemned, etcetera, etcetera.

---David Murphy

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