The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games posterThe Hunger Games. In payment for their past uprising, each of the twelve districts must offer as tribute to the Capitol one male and one female between twelve and eighteen years of age. These tributes are to participate in the annual Hunger Games tournament, which means surviving in a vast outdoor arena while they fight each other to the death — until only one remains.

When Katniss Everdeen’s younger sister is chosen to be the twelfth district’s female tribute, Katniss desperately volunteers to go in her place. She and the male tribute, Peeta, find themselves in a strange, new brutal world upon their arrival at the Capitol. As the Games draw closer, Katniss and Peeta train, get to know some of the other tributes, and try to learn just who they can trust — if anyone.

Then, after weeks of training and being mentored and publicized, the children begin the Games.

Can Katniss survive the harsh environment and keep from being murdered by the other, more experienced tributes? Can she outsmart the system as the game masters begin to manipulate the environment? And among all the horrors, can she maintain her character, her humanity… and her sanity?

“May the odds be ever in your favor”

There are many admirable themes at play in this intense, carefully-crafted story. Katniss’s courage and self-sacrifice in offering up her life in return for her sister’s is beautiful, as is the loving and determined way she cares for her sister leading up to that. Katniss also chooses not to play the game the way the masters want her to, and refuses to murder.

Whenever Katniss kills, it is in self-defense or the defense of others (with one exception that I’ll mention in a moment), rather than to advance herself in the game. This is one of the many ways she shows her recognition of the value of life in the midst of a society that greatly devalues it. She goes out of her way to protect the innocent, and even gives the best burial she can to one of the dead tributes.

It also shows that Katniss’s actions extend beyond just the game into the real world. People in other districts, watching her actions, are inspired to stand up against the tyranny of the Capitol. Peeta’s statement, “I just keep wishing I could think of a way to show them that they don’t own me. If I’m going to die, I want to still be me,” sums up his and Katniss’s attitude towards the game. They retain their humanity throughout all the horrors of the experience.

“A dangerous game”

Much of the film has the potential to be somewhat confusing. The story has gotten a good deal of very harsh criticism from the Christian community for its use of “situational ethics.” The setup — twenty-four kids put in a manipulated environment and told to kill each other or be killed — makes an ideal moral course of action difficult.

While nearly all of Katniss’s killings are in defense of herself or others, there is one “mercy killing” she commits at one point, shooting a tribute who is being eaten by wild beasts. The morality of this is difficult to determine. Also, Katniss at one point cuts down a nest of genetically altered wasps to fall on her ambushing enemies. While this is arguably in self-defense, since they’ll stay there until they kill her otherwise, it could possibly be called into question since she was not actively being attacked.

And whether the killing is morally acceptable or well portrayed or not, it has a high potential to disturb viewers. The killings are filmed tastefully, obscured by shaky camera, by cutting away before it happens, or by darkness, but can still be bothersome to many. A tribute is seen beating another to death with a brick on the television, and one tribute’s neck is broken by another. A character is stung all over by the altered wasps, dies painfully, and her swollen body is later shown briefly. Multiple characters are knifed to death, either onscreen or offscreen.

Besides the more brutal violence, there are also many other scary or potentially disturbing elements. Both Katniss and Peeta receive nasty wounds, they are chased by wild beasts, Katniss is stung by wasps that cause her to hallucinate, and is chased by fire through the forest. Katniss and Peeta nearly commit suicide at one point, to take a stand against being manipulated by the game.

While these things add to the valuable and thought-provoking message of the film, they make it difficult to recommend. While they disturbed me a great deal, I know many who were not bothered, because of the tasteful way the violence was portrayed, and how it contributed to the message.

The other potential concern is the romantic subplot. Though Katniss is good friends with a young man back in district twelve, and they are clearly interested in each other, Peeta admits once they get to the Capitol that he has had a long-standing crush on her. Eventually, the gamemasters decide to play up this relationship, and Katniss ends up kissing Peeta a couple of times. It ends up being hard to tell whether she is faking her love for him or not.

There is also a sprinkling of mild language throughout the film.

“I don’t want to forget”

While I’m glad I saw The Hunger Games, and I had a deep appreciation for the messages and warnings it held, as well as admiration for the excellent quality and storytelling, I cannot recommend it wholeheartedly. No matter how tastefully it is shot, the thought of kids slaughtering other kids, some of them enjoying it, is deeply disturbing. Some people may be able to handle this, but others will not.

On the other hand, I think there is a lot of value in seeing this film. It comes down to whether or not you can handle it. And that’s a hard thing to know without seeing it.

If you do see The Hunger Games, one thing is almost certain: you will be changed by it.

May the odds be ever in your favor.

  1. Excellent, balanced review. I have long awaited hearing your thoughts on this. 🙂

    • Have you seen it? I heard a review from Kevin Swanson that was none to positive. Gabe and Dad plan on seeing it for themselves when it comes to the dollar theater.

        • Grace Pennington
        • May 1st, 2012

        Oh yes, I’ve seen it. I am familiar with the Kevin Swanson review, and disagree strongly with it. 🙂

      • Well, I will wait to pass judgment, though I must restrain myself…

  2. Interesting.

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