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The Hunger Games are upon us. I’ve been dreading this moment since I heard that the first of the book trilogy was being filmed. Not because I didn’t like the books; in fact, I like them quite a lot. Several members of our household have lost a weekend or two, thanks to Suzanne Collins and her series. No, I have dreaded this because I was so afraid of how the book would be translated to film. More about that in a moment.

But first—the premise. The United States as we know it is no more; now called Panem, the nation has been divided into districts ruled by the Capitol and its sinister leader, President Snow. As a punishment for and a reminder of a past rebellion, the Capitol holds an annual event called the Hunger Games, in which a boy and a girl from each of the twelve districts are sent to an enormous outdoor arena to fight to the death. Meanwhile, the Capitol (whose people are exempt from the Games) considers the Hunger Games an exciting piece of entertainment, and the event is televised throughout Panem. If this sounds to you like a modern Rome and modern gladiators, you’ve got the picture.

Enter Katniss Everdeen, a teenage resident of District 12, which is apparently Appalachian coal mine territory. Her father has been lost in the coal mines, and she is the hunter and provider for her family in this hardscrabble district. At the “Reaping,” an event where the names of the Games participants are drawn by lottery, Katniss’s gentle younger sister Prim is chosen to compete in the Hunger Games. To save her, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her fellow district member Peeta are swept away to the Capitol, where they witness an excess of wealth and food that they have never imagined, and they enter a short training period to prepare for the Games. And then the fatal fighting begins.

The movie sticks closely to the book, though it leaves out tangential characters in an effort to maintain the focus of the story. While the story is violent, the violence is never glamorized. You will never find yourself cheering when someone dies—it is all horrifying. The violence that Katniss witnesses is painful and human, and the cameras move quickly, giving a very good idea of what is happening without showing every gory detail.

The performances and direction of this movie are excellent. Jennifer Lawrence makes a wonderful Katniss, as anyone who saw her in Winter’s Bone might have predicted. The film is suspenseful, the sets and scenery are perfect, and there are no flat notes in the acting. The main flaw is the lack of character development, likely due to time constraints. 

The themes from the book are all there: oppression, the inequity of some living in excess while others struggle in poverty, and the modern tendency to take a spectator’s seat to the horror that goes on elsewhere. One only needs to turn on the television to see the agony in Sudan, or the unspeakable events in Homs, Syria, to know that human beings are capable of inflicting much pain on each other. This story provides a way to reflect on what it means to be human in the midst of inhumanity.

What does that mean for parents whose children are eager to be part of this movie phenomenon? Well, first of all, I would recommend that parents inform themselves fully. In this film, people die, and you watch them die. Unlike a Mission Impossible or Transformers, where death counts are high but the people don’t really seem to matter, these ordinary teens matter immensely. These are no robots, orcs, or bad guys.

That’s both the beauty of the story and the reason it is so disturbing. It’s hard to believe someone could watch this movie and come away with a fist-pumping, adrenaline-fueled rush, certain that the good guys have won and the bad guys have been put in their place. Almost every character is portrayed as a human being, not a caricature. The challenge, then, is to be different from the people of the Capitol. The moviegoer should not be just another spectator, thoughtlessly enjoying the excitement.

If you have read the books, you know what happens on the screen. It is hard, sad, exciting, and it will make you think. There is the added visual dimension, which can be too much for some viewers, making the story too real. But I would recommend that if you do let your teens see this movie (please pay attention to the PG-13 rating), that you see it too. Many young people are going to be talking about it, probably seeing it multiple times, and this is an opportunity to talk to them about what it means to have much, what it means to choose right, what it means to be human. And, most of all, what it means to be a child of God in a broken and dying world.

About the Author

Kristy Quist is Tuned In editor for The Banner and a member of Neland Ave. CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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Comments

"The challenge, then, is to be different from the people of the Capitol." I couldn't help but think how reality TV is all the rage these days (still, after ten years of Survivor!)And yet this exactly what is going on in the Capitol... the challenge then is to be different from the people of the capitol - makes you think!

Just to be clear… "The Hunger Games" has nothing to do with anti-capitalism. It’s about a revolution that starts while under the oppression of tyranny. Its citizens are starving but they are required to provide all they have for the Capitol.
That is COMMUNISM…
Those who believe this could never happen in America only need to remember the atrocities that have already happened in human history… Gladiators, Nazi concentration camps, the Crusades, Gulags’ etc.

FYI: Approximately 200,000 North Koreans are in concentration/detention camps, and 400,000 have died in these camps from torture, starvation, disease and execution. Between 600,000 and 2,500,000 have starved to death while its COMMUNIST government leaders squander the nation’s resources on luxuries for its ruling elite. North Korea’s oppression and targeted starvation of its own people collectively constitute the world’s greatest ongoing atrocity and the most catastrophic anywhere on earth.

This really is a portrayal of mans inhumanity to man.

My recommendation would be not to let your teens see this movie.

"You will never find yourself cheering when someone dies—it is all horrifying." Thank-you, Kristy. I agree. Unfortunately, so many teens and young adults in our culture have already been so desensitized to violence, that this is exactly what happened when I went to see the movie. My husband and I took our two teens to see the 10:OO late show on opening weekend. We had all read the books, and thought the movie upheld the themes of the book extremely well. But the most disappointing moment for me was after the girl attacking Katniss was killed. A cheer went up from a portion of the (largely teen) audience. I like to think that it was a small minority, and that they quickly realized how ridiculous it was to be cheering on the girl's death...but I am afraid many of them had no such realization. I hope these books and this movie, as well as discussion about them, will bring back some awareness of the evils of violence to today's young people.

A nice review. I'm not familiar with this book but it's refreshing to see something that will hopefully make those who see it (kids or adults) think about how much most of us have in this country and the self-indulgence and instant gratification that comes along with it.

Saw this movie with my 15 year old son who had read the book. I think your review is right on. It was disturbing and the charachters were real. It made me think a lot about society and how society can "deconstruct" so fast. It reminded me of the romans and their "games". I know this fact did not escape my son and would recommend seeing this movie to anyone over 13 for the simple truths it reveals about what can happen to a society that chooses (or satan takes over?) to devalue human life.

This is very interesting as I have been reading and praying over the last years God has been showing myself and many others that our future in America will not be at all what the past has been..He has been showing Christians all over that horrors are coming to America and we best be prepared..the time is short..it is AWESOME that God is using these series of books to prepare our young folks that life may change..It will change there is no doubt..please call on God to show you how to prepare physically and spiritually..Ask him to show you who to talk to who knows about this and books to read..It is out there..all over..some may far fetched..but God will show what to do..please KNOW we are in serious days..and freedom may soon be a dream..Please Pray!