Hungry for The Hunger Games? It seems as if millions of Americans are – both children and adults.
The Hunger Games is a trilogy of books authored by Suzanne Collins and geared toward adolescents of all ages, but is equally popular among older elementary ‘tweens,’ too. And the draw of The Hunger Games has spread to the adult world as well, with many adults getting caught up in the phenomenon.
The first book of the trilogy has now been made into a movie and is a huge blockbuster success. We’ve heard glowing, positive acclaim for the movie, and we’re read concerning critiques about it as well.
Christians are also caught up in The Hunger Games craze, drawing millions to the theater. There are even Bible study materials developed for churches bases on The Hunger Games.
With a movie that is obviously greatly impacting the culture, we at ADA decided to see what all the hoopla was about. So, with notepad in hand, I went to watch the movie. Believe me, taking notes in a darkened theater is rather difficult. Before seeing the movie, I researched the book, but have not read it.
This is a synopsis of the story. The Hunger Games is set in a futuristic, godless society led by a ruthless totalitarian government. The nation is divided into 12 districts and, as a form of government control, once a year each district must send one adolescent boy and one adolescent girl to participate in “The Hunger Games” – a competition where the teenagers fight to the death until just one is left alive. Beginning at the age of 12, the names of all youth are put in a lottery system and those chosen are sent off to the capital as the competitors in the hunger games. The teens participate in all the pomp and circumstance we would associate with the opening ceremonies of our Olympic Games. The Hunger Game contestants train for the event, are paraded around to media interviews, and treated as celebrities. The “games” are televised across the country to a rapt audience of viewers as the ultimate in reality TV. The games take place in a huge outdoor arena – a woodland setting of forests, streams, and fields – where the kids are to survive the elements as well as the other kids trying to kill them.
Now, for my take on the movie. To be blunt, I found The Hunger Games to be very disturbing. There were several elements that I found very dark and troubling, but one theme specifically was most concerning.
Keep in mind, this movie is geared toward teens, even young teens, but is also hugely popular with younger children as well. Just recently a Barbie doll was created based on the female lead character, Katniss. The doll is even accessorized with weaponry.
You might think the actual depictions of violence are what most concerned me. The games begin with each teen in on his/her starting block in an open field with a pile of weapons and survival gear in the center. Weapons include machetes, spears, knives, bow and arrow, etc.. At the start, the kids run to the center trying to be first to the weapons and supplies. There, several of the young people are slaughtered by their peers. While the imagery is not as graphic as it could be, images are shown of blood splattering, one’s neck is slit, another impaled with sword, later images of one teen having his neck snapped, a young girl approximately 12 years of age is killed by a spear.
And while I found these scenes to be disturbing, I’ve seen scenes that I would consider more “gory” or explicit in other movies – even movies I would recommend. The Lord of the Rings comes to mind. Another movie geared toward kids which include battle scenes is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – a movie I would highly recommend for young teens. And so, it’s not the battle scenes per se that greatly bothered me. However, there is a big different between The Lord of the Rings and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Those battles in Middle Earth and Narnia were distinct battles of good forces vs. evil forces. In The Hunger Games the battle is not good vs. evil, but kids killing kids.
While watching this movie I was overcome with that thought – these are children being turned into killers of other children. Littleton come to life.
Many fans of the The Hunger Games – and believe me the defenders are many and fierce – claim this story is about good and evil as well. While it is true there are definitely elements of good and evil, however the contest portrayed in the movie is not a battle good vs. evil, but one merely of survival of the fittest.
Yes, there are underlying themes and symbolism that I can read into the storyline as an adult viewer. I can see the point the author is making about the evils of totalitarian rule. Viewers recognize and applaud the noble character traits of the heroine of the story, Katniss, who volunteers to participate in the hunger games in place of her younger sister. And one can’t help but be outraged about the inhumanity and unjustness of these bloody games.
Yet, in spite of the “thought-provoking messages” of the film, one can’t get past the fact that the story unfolding before your eyes is of kids being turned into cold-blooded killers. What do you think young viewers are really going to get out of the movie? Will they contemplate the threat of totalitarianism, or make a correlation between the impact of media upon culture? I highly doubt it. Kids are caught up in the story, the action, the characters, and the star-crossed young lovers.
Betsy Bozdech of Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization group that rates films, is concerned about the impact of the movie upon children and young teens, stating:
“We all have vivid imaginations, that’s for sure, but it’s very different to see a kid spearing another one, breaking another one’s neck, smashing their head in, than it is to read about it. It’s just a more visceral experience.”
Psychologist Brenda Hunter, PhD, and education writer Kristen Blair, authors of “From Santa to Sexting,” have also issued a strong warning about The Hunger Games.
“Americans were horrified recently when a 17-year-old boy shot and killed students at an Ohio high school, yet middle schools across the country will take students on field trips to see this movie in which kids slaughter kids to survive.
“Why this cultural disconnect? We are playing with fire. What children watch and read matters greatly. It seeps into their hearts, minds, and souls. Research unequivocally documents the connection between media violence and aggression in children. Yet tweens and young teens today are exposed to graphic violence through video games, television, movies, and books. Collins’ novels, slated for 12-year-olds on up, are nonetheless being devoured by elementary school children.”
As stated above, a trip to the movies has become a fieldtrip of choice for schools all across the country, tying it into a book read in thousands of classrooms. Yet educators, too, have turned a blind eye to the concern of violent themes and imagery upon children.
According to a report from CBS News, Rafael del Castillio, the principal of one school taking students to see the movie, stated: “It’s clearly a pretty violent book. But I do wonder why we collectively are so worried about violence in this particular book and this particular movie,” he added, noting the pitfalls of video games and other media kids consume heavily.
So, this educator’s rationale is that since kids are exposed to other forms of violence in entertainment media, what’s one more?
As a former public school teacher myself, I could give numerous examples of entertainment shaping kids’ behavior, language, and actions. For example, I began my 11 years of teaching first graders when the cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was first popular. When we teachers were outside for playground duty, what do you think we saw acted out by young students? You guessed it, the karate kicks, antics, and verbiage from that much-watched cartoon. As stated above, what children watch and read does matter and does impact hearts, minds, souls – and behavior.
Col. David Grossman, a former West Point psychology professor, Professor of Military Science, and an Army Ranger, is a leading expert addressing our understanding of killing in war, the psychological costs of war, the root causes of the current “virus” of violent crime that is raging around the world. He authored “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society” and his works also include: Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie and Video Game Violence.
The summary of “Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill” states in part:
“There is perhaps no bigger or more important issue in America at present than youth violence. Jonesboro, Arkansas; Paducah, Kentucky; Pearl, Mississippi; Stamps, Arkansas; Conyers, Georgia; and of course, Littleton, Colorado. We know them all too well, and for all the wrong reasons: kids, some as young as eleven years old, taking up arms and, with deadly, frightening accuracy, murdering anyone in their paths. What is going on? According to the authors of Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill, there is blame to be laid right at the feet of the makers of violent video games (called “murder trainers” by one expert), the TV networks, and the Hollywood movie studios–the people responsible for the fact that children often witness literally hundreds of violent images a day.
“Authors Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and Gloria DeGaetano offer incontrovertible evidence, much of it based on recent major scientific studies and empirical research, that movies, TV, and video games are not just conditioning children to be violent–and unaware of the consequences of that violence–but are teaching the very mechanics of killing. Their book is a much-needed call to action for every parent, teacher, and citizen to help our children and stop the wave of killing and violence gripping America’s youth….”
This is my greatest concern regarding The Hunger Games. Children are being desensitized to killing – even killing their own peers. Humanity is diminished. Teens forced to participate in this grotesque game of murder are reduced to inhuman, amoral killers.
When Katniss is about to go off to the capital city to “compete” in the hunger games, a boy she leaves behind encourages her to use a bow and arrow in the games which she regularly uses to hunt for game to provide food for her family and is an excellent marksman.
He tells her: “You know how to hunt.”
She answers that yes, she knows how to hunt – “animals” – she states.
He replies: “It’s no different.”
I wanted to scream at the screen, “Yes it is different!” However, this is the message young viewers may easily take away – a relativistic view that turns humans into prey. There is no view that human life has intrinsic value based on our Creator who made us in His image. The value in The Hunger Games is in being the sole survivor.
Ted Baehr’s highly-esteemed Movie Guide had this to say about The Hunger Games:
THE HUNGER GAMES is an exceptionally dark movie where the audience literally watches as children kill each other in a bloody maniacal fashion. The movie portrays society as wanting this sort of killing, which implies the same thing for real human society, including the people who might watch the movie or read the book series on which it’s based. Though this is a point the movie is making, it only has a negative impact on society. In the Sudan, for instance, children are being taken, desensitized by watching violence, given a gun, and killing. So, why would you want to watch the same thing happening in a Hollywood Blockbuster? Taking death so lightly will desensitize the audience in a very dark way.
With a strong humanist worldview, THE HUNGER GAMES has no depiction of God or the supernatural world. It’s all up to the movie’s heroine to win the game, but, eventually, she too has to hurt other people to win. Thus, there is no solid depiction of good and truth in THE HUNGER GAMES and no implication of a greater Hope. Ultimately, the story seems overly cynical and dehumanizing.
Years ago I had the opportunity to tour Italy and one vivid memory of that trip was a visit to the Coliseum in Rome. I remember being overcome with the thought that on that very spot, hundreds of years ago, Christian martyrs were killed for the amusement of a watching audience.
However, unlike in The Hunger Games, if those Christian martyrs were told to kill each other for the chance to survive, I highly doubt any would do so.
Who do we Christians most resemble – those martyrs who would not compromise their faith to save their lives or those being entertained by their deaths?
Suzanne Collins, the author of The Hunger Games, has stated she got her inspiration for the books in part by watching reality TV as well as reports of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars. She stated: “If there’s a real-life tragedy (on TV), you should not be thinking of yourself as an audience member …”
Yet isn’t that exactly what this movie is doing to viewers? Turning them into a voyeuristic audience watching a gruesome contest of murder? Fans of the movie can list a myriad of “lessons to be learned” from the film, but the bottom line is The Hunger Games is about kids killing other kids while the audience – both those depicted on the screen and those sitting in the theater – watch.