After Seeing Hunger Games…

Written by Jonathan McKee

 This post originally appeared in Jonathan McKee’s blog on www.TheSource4Parents.com  

“If no one watches, they don’t have a game!” –Gale

It’s a little ironic that some parents are objecting to the violent premise of The Hunger Games. “It’s kids killing other kids!” In actuality, The Hunger Games compels the audience to value life, mourn death, and literally gasp at violence.

It’s sad that The Hunger Games is being compared to Twilight and other teenage fodder, because truly…there’s no comparison. The Hunger Games has proven to be so much more. The film, based on Suzanne Collins’ best selling book, was powerful and thought provoking, an amazing social commentary about our society’s growing callousness toward violence.

If you caught my blog a few days ago, I shared four important questions I encouraged parents to ask about films to help them teach their kids discernment:

1. Is this story glorifying violence or inappropriate sexual situations?
2. Is this story making “bad” look “good” or enticing?
3. Does this story irresponsibly display imitatable attitudes and behaviors that our kids will absorb and eventually emulate?
4. Does this story needlessly sell out to showing “eye candy” like nudity or gratuitous violence?

Now that I have seen The Hunger Games, I not only vehemently express my approval for the film, I can also attest that it didn’t include any of those four inappropriate or irresponsible elements.

The film was superior on so many levels, but I think one element that resonated with me the most was the glaring contrast between the impoverished districts struggling day to day for a meager existence, fighting for mere scraps of food, while the haughty Capital City lived pampered, overindulgent lives. The Capital City’s condescending attitude was disheartening, but their callous disregard for human life is what took the cake. A gladiatoresque reality show featuring kids killing kids was pure entertainment to these monsters.

At this point I almost expect someone to scroll down to my comment section and suggest, “Aren’t we similar monsters if we watch the movie?”

Before you do, allow me a moment to propose two responses to this accusation:

First, are we never to tell any tales of such monsters?
Is it improper to tell a story about good and evil? Should we steer our kids clear of any of these cold realities about human nature?

The Bible is full of horrific stories of rampant sin and its consequence: Cain and Able (kids killing kids), Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and his daughters (Eeew!). Fairy tales have long told anecdotes about evil villains luring kids into ovens, deceiving young girls to eat poison apples, and even wolves disguised as Grandma enticing cute little granddaughters close enough to eat. C.S. Lewis told marvelous stories about kids traveling to an imaginary land where they fought bloody battles against an entire army and an evil witch. Several of these films have made it to the big screen.

Someone call Westboro Baptist. We should protest all of these stories!

Perhaps we should stop over-reacting, and instead, begin interacting with our kids about good vs. evil, even using some of these amazing pieces of literature as a discussion springboard.

Second, The Hunger Games film responsibly made good look good, and evil look evil.
Sadly, today’s media often makes bad look good. Not the case with The Hunger Games. This 2-hour-and-22 minute film will not only keep you on the edge of your seat, it paints a stark contrast between good and evil. It won’t take audiences long to recognize the many appearances of evil: hypocrisy, injustice, exploitation, complete disregard for human life…and plain ol’ murder.

Then there’s Katniss.

I’m not really giving away much of a spoiler when I tell you that Katniss, our heroine, begins the film by selflessly sacrificing herself, instead of a loved one, to take part in the heinous fight to the death known as the Hunger Games. Katniss demonstrates honor, mercy and self sacrifice throughout the film. Some might be bothered that she isn’t a pacifist—she does defend herself and others. But Katniss is a true hero, something we don’t always see or read about in stories today.

Social Commentary… without Selling Out
Let’s be real. The filmmakers had a tough job. How do you provide social commentary about a society entertained by “gladiators” … without becoming the very society you depict? I was impressed, if not amazed with director Gary Ross’ finished product. Ross artistically transformed the novel’s first person perspective so that audiences connected with Katniss, quickly empathizing with her, carrying her burdens…feeling her pain.

There’s a moment in the film where two lives are taken in one moment…and something happened in my theatre that I haven’t heard in years. The theatre literally gasped. Sadly, today’s movies are so chock-full of senseless violence, I’ve often heard laughter or cheers when someone is killed onscreen.

Not in The Hunger Games.

Ross created a mood that recognized the horror of killing. In The Hunger Games death is mourned. Noble heroes wept in this film. Many in the audience cried as well. I cried twice…but I cry easy.

In a way it reminds me of what Clint Eastwood did with his powerful film, Unforgiven. How often do films portray the mental anguish that one experiences after killing someone? In Unforgiven, we repeatedly see people experience the guilt and complete change of heart that occurs when they take someone else’s life. This is contrasted to a few characters who are numb to the effects of pulling the trigger.

Hunger Games paints a similar distinction. Killing isn’t to be taken lightly. Ethical lines are drawn in the sand.

Too intense for most kids under 13

And for the icing on the cake, Ross magically refrains from showing gratuitous violence. Don’t get me wrong. This film is probably too intense for most kids under 13. At times we see glimpses of the horror taking place, but Ross shows incredible discernment, making sure that his film doesn’t become a spectacle like the games themselves.

In short, The Hunger Games was heart wrenching, powerful and thought-provoking. I’ll be seeing it with my girls (14 and 16) this week with no hesitation. Will it make it to my Blu Ray shelf? The odds are highly in favor.

Jonathan McKee, president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of numerous books including the new Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent, and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers, Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation, and the award winning book Do They Run When They See You Coming? Jonathan speaks and trains at conferences, churches and events across North America, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan and his wife Lori, and their three teenagers Alec, Alyssa and Ashley live in California.

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3 Responses to “After Seeing Hunger Games…”

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Hi Amy, Thanks for your input on this discussion. I know that there has been a lot of talk around me about the “Hunger Games” book series and this movie. I think you are very wise to guard kids from excessive violence. It is the role of parents to know their children and help them make wise decisions as well. I do appreciate Jonathan’s four criteria to help discern what is of value and what is not. I don’t think everyone will use that same system and come up with the same answer and so you need to make the decisions that you feel God is directing to make.

  • Amy says:

    I don’t think this movie is good for kids, to much violence.So now its ok to send the message its ok to be violent? Which is nothing new these days but the more we expose our kids to violence the more accepting of it they are! I know people that have troubles and triggers from movies such as this violence is VERY UNaccelptable to those people. How would you like to be triggered by a movie? even the kind that don’t appear to be violent. A friend of mine paid for a movie and had to leave due to violence and triggers. Doesn’t exactly make for an pleasant night out. thank you Amy

  • B. Miller Brenda Miller says:

    Thank you so much for your commentary, Jonathan. I have heard conflicting stories on the hunger games, but yours is the first report I have had from someone who has seen the film first-hand. The Hunger Games is definitely a movie I plan to see, and I also greatly appreciate the four-point outline you give to parents to teach their kids discernment. These four points, I believe, are great to teach us all discernment, along wtih the greatest Discerner, the Holy Spirit! God bless you, Jonathan!

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