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The Hunger Games full movie sensation (first the book, now a blockbuster film) is, at its core, about how a government utilizes the media to control its population. In this fantasy future world, an annual lottery forces 24 teenagers (called “tributes,” from 12 districts) to participate in a reality television spectacle called The Hunger Games, where they will be forced to kill one another. The reason stated for these Games is to remind formerly rebellious districts that their government is still firmly in control.
This weekend, millions of Americans will be piling into theatres and mirroring the film’s fictional audience that cheers for their favorite tribute and bets on on who will kill all the other teens. Our own money is on Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence)—after all, she’s the movie star and the one on the poster, plus she’s the only character who the filmmakers portray as having anything passing for depth. It’s clear from the beginning, she’s in no real danger of losing her life. The ultimate question is: what types of deaths are we going to get to witness without jeopardizing the all-mighty PG-13 rating?
The decadent, gaudy audience members depicted in The Hunger Games are painted as heartless seekers of entertainment at others’ expense; we’re meant to judge them for their callous disregard for life. Except that going to the movies counts us among viewer willing to pay for the privilege of watching youngsters kill each other as a form of sport. The main difference between the audience for The Hunger Games film and The Hunger Games TV show (watched by hideous people with bad hair inside the movie) is that we are being cued to feel bad for a few of the deaths (but not the “mean” ones) although we know that Katniss only prevails if everyone else falls.
So how do the filmmakers help us empathize with a main character who is forced to violently kill others? They make sure that all the killing she commits is for self-defense or as a way to try and help someone who is “innocent.” They give her a sister who she saves from participating in the Games, plus another cute little girl to try and protect. They also introduce killer insects and dogs that can do the dirty work for her, so that paying audiences won’t feel any qualms about rooting for her to survive through killing.
So, if you’re reading a review of this film on a Christian Web site right now, odds are that you call yourself a Christian and may be wondering if you should go watch The Hunger Games or take your children. Perhaps you would want to know how violent it is, whether there’s cursing, nudity, etc. Honestly, I can’t remember any swearing. Nor is there any sex or nudity.
The violence is frequent and awful, but the filmmakers use a handheld camera and edit away violence that might seem too upsetting. In this style, when a little kid receives an arrow in her abdomen, she doesn’t scream or plead for help while she’s suffering. It’s a relatively clean death with a little bit of red makeup on her shirt that’s supposed to be blood. She dies quickly and peacefully while the music swells, plus she’s cute, cuing us that we’re meant to feel bad about this character’s death—even though she earlier helped end the life of another character via attacking insects.
When a mean character is getting eaten alive by monstrous dogs, there’s no screaming from him either—he’s one of the “bad” kids who delights in killing others by snapping their necks. People might call these uses of violence appropriate, but for my part, it’s profane. In this film, it is a means to an end—setting up the character of Katniss for two more blockbuster sequels without giving us any pause to question her choices or character. Since this is a kill-or-be-killed arena, we are supposed to accept that she has no other choice.
Hundreds of years ago, crowds would gather to watch Christians getting torn apart by wild animals or burned alive. Today, the American culture deemed “Christian” by much of the world, is gathering to watch fictional characters end each other’s lives in creative ways. The fact that there’s another audience featured in the movie for us to criticize about their enjoyment of the reality TV murders may appear to give us some moral distance and license to stay in our seats and keep enjoying the killings, too. But while watching it, I could not help learning that I was condoning the behavior illustrated onscreen by showing up and paying to watch it, and I felt guilty.
One character interestingly theorizes, “If nobody watches the Games, then there’s no reason to have them.” Like so, if you choose not to sit and watch kids participate in the bloodbath called The Hunger Games, you may want to send a message that there’s no need to make two more sequels. At the very least, you’ll be able to keep some disturbing images out of your head and be able to better meditate on what is true, noble, and pure.
Perhaps the most disturbing moments showed the two heroes moving toward suicide to achieve a goal and, later, another “evil” character being pressured to kill himself—being locked in a room with poison. If you’re reading this, you may still be able to exercise the choice not to enter a room/theatre where there’s only poison to digest.
Editor’s note: The above reviewer read The Hunger Games before viewing the movie. The Hunger Games is the first part of a trilogy series of young adult books by Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay. The first book, on which this film is based, aims to establish the characters and depict the depravity of a totalatarian government that sacrifices its own children. The following books reveal rebellion, civil war, romantic intrigue, and the end of The Hunger Games.
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