If you are not sure about taking your child to see this movie because of the much publicized violence, perhaps you should not; however, if you are brave enough to take your ten-year old (or older only) you will have found an object lesson for the day, week, and month, and maybe even years to come. It’s that powerful!
The Hunger Games is scary, not Halloween or Friday the 13th kind of scary, but rather frightening in the sense of the possibility that it could happen one day in real life and how children would suffer most. Feelings of emotional heft and abject sadness filled me as I watched this film with my daughter, holding her a little bit closer during certain scenes, and understanding full well why she would hide her eyes during others. I might have wanted to myself but the film is so riveting, so well crafted, it would have been hard to turn away.
Director Gary Ross has made a film that is like the precocious child of the film The Running Man and the book Lord of the Flies, and the heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is someone we root for throughout, despite the hardship she endures and the ugly things she is forced to do in the name of the game. The “game” is that 24 young people (the youngest being 13) are brought in, briefly trained, and set against each other to kill or be killed until the last one is standing. The fact that all of this is propelled by “hunger” in every essence of what that word implies is evident in the most brutal scenes. It is like a play on those sign holding “Will Work for Food” people, but here it is “Will Kill for Food.”
Lawrence is more than a revelation; she is beautiful, broken, ugly, brave, frightened, and frightening in alternating shafts of illumination. Ross has done well to build the tension, the ratcheting up of the kill or be killed game, the cat and mouse where the rodent is just as dangerous (perhaps even more so at times) as the feline. As she learns the ropes and bonds with her fellow contestant Peeta Mallark (a terrific Josh Hutcherson), it seems increasingly possible that Katniss will fight to the last man or woman is standing.
The supporting cast is fantastic; in their strange make-up and powdered wigs, Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci shine and are emblematic of this warped future world. Woody Harrelson brings much needed comic relief as Haymitch Abernathy, an advisor for Peeta and Katniss who once won the Hunger Games long ago, but now is a jaded drunk who doesn’t think they have much chance of winning, or does he? Donald Sutherland impresses as President Snow, the extent of his evil gradually revealed as the film progresses, and we learn that he controls all and will only tolerate deviation from procedure to a point.
All of this becomes a lesson for kids who have too much, have it too easy, and think the world revolves around their iPods and computer screens. As we watched the movie, I was taken with how many people were munching popcorn and slurping sodas in the theater. In a movie like The Hunger Games, where a loaf of bread thrown to pigs in the rain and to a starving girl turns into an important element, it seems incongruous how people could keep the feedbag on throughout, but that may be the whole point.
The Hunger Games teaches a lesson very well, one that drove its points home to my child long after we left the theater. She asked insightful questions, wondered about what she saw, and was deeply impressed by the film. She saw the horror (and there are numerous brutal scenes of violent death) but she also saw the love that develops between Katniss and Peeta, a selfless love that in the end not only overcomes all the brutality but may take them together into the other world instead of winning the contest by killing one another.
This film teaches lessons so well, much the same as did last year’s A Better Life, which should have won an Oscar for best picture because it told an amazing story about an immigrant father’s love, about overcoming the odds, and fighting for what is right. Like The Hunger Games it is a movie that you don’t just walk away from, and we need more of that – much more.
If you want to teach your (older) children well, and you are up to the challenge of taking them to a film that will get you talking and thinking, The Hunger Games is for you. It is not an easy film, and there is a harsh reality that it depicts and the explanations will take time afterwards, but I guarantee you that it will be worth the effort.
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