The Hunger Games film is an adaptation of the first book in the bestselling series by Suzanne Collins. In its opening weekend, it established itself as a box office smash by bringing in over $155 million dollars in the United States alone.
In my review of the Hunger Games book series, I talked about how they deal with some dark themes and ideas: Namely, children and teens are forced to kill each other to the glee of the viewers in the Capitol. The point of the stories, as I said then, is not to celebrate evil and violence, but to see them for what they really are.
Fans of the books will be pleased the movie stays very close to the original storyline, typically diverging only because of time constraints. The movie begins with a brief history of the Hunger Games instituted by the Capitol, in a dystopian future society. Life in District 12, where Katniss and her family live, is very reminiscent of some small Appalachian towns, with the newest technology being electricity. Everyone is extremely poor and malnourished. Katniss and her family are able to eat because she illegally hunts in the woods for small game animals. (Just a warning: During scenes of running you may get a bit nauseous with the jarring camera movements following Katniss’s running through District 12.)
Life is interrupted once a year by the “reaping,” where names are chosen from the children and teens of the district to compete in the deathly Hunger Games. At first, Katniss’s younger sister, Prim, is chosen. However, Katniss sacrifices herself and volunteers as Tribute to go to the games in her sister’s place.
What about the content? First, what you’ve probably heard already: There is a lot of violence. However, the content in this movie is extremely toned down. Many times the deaths themselves occur offscreen, though it is obvious what has taken place. The entire point of the games established by the Capitol is to watch the “sport” of young people killing each other. It is disturbing—as it should be—to see people in the Capitol (and some viewers in theaters) cheer at the deaths of Tributes, as if they were watching nothing more than a touchdown in a football game.
And the nature of the deaths is disturbing as well. One of them is especially psychologically disturbing, since this character’s transgressions of killing friends and enemies are plaguing him. (Other violent incidents in the film include a riot that is broken up by “Peacekeepers” (police) who beat up or hose down the offenders.)
But despite the purpose of the games, not all the participants are out to kill each other; they just want to survive without compromising who they are as individuals. This brings a refreshing aspect to the competition and the imminent danger Katniss is constantly dealing with. There are people who have compassion and they try to keep hold of that attribute, but some of them have to compromise to protect ones they have become fond of or to save themselves.
In keeping with the Orwellian nature of this world, President Snow, the story’s ultimate villain, comments to Seneca, the overseer of the games, that a little hope is a good thing because it makes for good drama within the games, but too much hope is bad. Even though Katniss and Snow rarely meet face to face, there is a lot of tension surrounding them because he knows that she has the potential of destroying everything he has tried so hard to keep together. His “violence” is more of the verbal nature, since he is the driving force behind making the games “better” and more controlling.
Sexualityis almost non-existent in this film since the “romance” aspect is not the focus of the story. There’s a bit of drinking and swearing, but not enough to call the film’s PG-13 rating into question. It is surprising that in this area Hunger Games was much cleaner than many evening television programs on basic cable. (I will mention that there is a lot of high-pitched screaming in terror from various people. This could frighten or be a trigger to those who are emotionally impressionable.)
For viewers who have not read the books, there is a lot of significance lost in several moments in the movie. The books really delve into the characters around Katniss, so the depth of some acts of kindness comes out much more in the books. I would strongly recommend at least a quick read-through of the first novel, or taking a friend who has read the book so he or she can help you during times where context for certain actions is needed. It’s important to know that even in Katniss’s brutal world, there are moments of love and grace that hint that something more than brutality might be possible.
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