Last week I both read The Hunger Games and saw the movie. There’s been a lot of discussion about this story, and since several people have asked me what I think about it, I’m devoting a blog post to my take on The Hunger Games.
The Hunger Games is about the dystopian country of Panem. Every year the Capitol of Panem selects twenty-four kids ages 12-18 to participate in The Hunger Games, a game broadcast on live TV where all the “tributes” are placed in a large outdoor arena and forced to fight to the death. Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl, volunteers as tribute in order to take her younger sister’s place, and the remainder of the story tells of her fight for survival in the Hunger Games.
While the subject of The Hunger Games is horrifying, this suspenseful tale is not without hope. In the midst of oppression, violence, and death several characters display admirable qualities. Katniss is a true heroine as she cares for her family, volunteers as tribute to take her sister’s place in the Games, recognizes death as sacred, and risks her life in the arena in order to help a wounded tribute. It is because of this light shining through darkness that The Hunger Games is a book I enjoyed and would recommend to others, and I would say the same about the movie since director Gary Ross did an excellent job of staying true to Suzanne Collins’ novel.
However, this is not to say that I don’t have a concern with The Hunger Games, though my concern is not with the story itself, but with how people are responding to it. Let me explain:
A couple weeks ago Parade magazine included an article on The Hunger Games that included some of the most popular books for young adults over the past several decades. Almost a century ago The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew were standard fare for teenagers. These stories were about young people who solved mysteries, and I don’t think any of the crimes ever involved murder. They were suspenseful, yet innocent, fast-paced, but still somehow reserved.
Flash-forward to last Friday night when millions of teenagers flocked to the theaters to see the movie of their favorite book about kids who are forced to brutally murder each other in front of live television. I went to see the movie myself last Saturday evening, and as I walked through the mall to get to the theater I saw The Hunger Games plastered on every person, place, and thing in sight. There were movie posters in retail clothing stores, several different Hunger Games themed magazines displayed in Barnes and Noble, and many of the teenagers who passed me wore Hunger Games T-shirts.
While watching the movie in the theater I was surprised by how disturbing I found the images on the screen. The book is told in first person, according to the view of Katniss, so while I was reading I was her; I felt her terror and detested the games of the Capitol. But while I watched the movie I wasn’t Katniss anymore, I was just an observer, and I found this very uncomfortable. There were several times I had to fight back tears and look away from the screen as I witnessed teens ruthlessly seek to kill one another, and it was then that I thought perhaps there was something strange about our uber-enthusiasm with The Hunger Games.
There are two scenes that stick out in my mind from the movie. The first is of a group of tributes in the arena who team up to kill a fellow tribute. Once the murder is done they go tromping through the woods, making fun of their defenseless victim. The second scene I remember is of Katniss decorating a dead tribute with flowers, honoring a life that has been so brutally taken.
My concern with The Hunger Games is that our society is reacting to the story like the heartless tributes of the first scene I mentioned, not like Katniss who recognized death as sad and sacred. Instead of being horrified by the brutality, we are reveling in the excitement of it all. With all of our giddiness and “Hunger hype” we prove we are far from the Nancy Drew days and on our way to becoming just as desensitized to death as the citizens of the Capitol.
Jennifer Lawrence, the actress who played Katniss in the movie, said The Hunger Games holds up, “a terrible kind of mirror: This is what our society could be like if we became desensitized to trauma and to each other’s pain.” In a way, the carefree attitude many people have about this story ironically proves Lawrence’s point, and this reality is more chilling than any piece of fiction.
All in all, The Hunger Games is a worthwhile book/movie to read/watch for those who are age appropriate. However, let us consider the weighty topics of violence and death with thoughtfulness and not give in to viewing them for entertainment’s sake.
If you’re interested in reading more about The Hunger Games, here are a couple articles I found helpful: