Saturday, March 24, 2012

Movie Review::Hope and The Hunger Games

We drove up to the movie theater this weekend, my pre-teen in the passenger seat, this long-awaited date night to the Hunger Games becoming a reality.  I've never seen more cars in the theater's parking lot.  My eldest son is ironically who introduced me to the popular series.  "You have to read these books, Mom.  You have to read them."  Juvenile fiction?  I'll pass.  I read big-girl books, thank you very much.  He continued to beg.  When my firstborn son said, "Mom, I'll babysit for you while you read the books" I quickly rethought my position.  Free babysitting and book reading in the middle of the day?  Surely I could force myself to make it through these books with such an attractive offer on the table.

Surprisingly, there was no forcing my way through the series.  A few chapters in I was hooked.  Teeth brushing, house cleaning, dinner?  I could only vaguely remember what it was like to care about those daily parts of life once I was introduced to Katniss and Peeta.

I can't tell you how much sick enjoyment I get when people ask me what the books are about.  "Oh you know...kids living in poverty, fighting to the death on a reality TV show for entertainment purposes.  It's fantastic!  You should read them!"  Sounds horrifying, doesn't it?  And it is.  It definitely would be if kids killing kids is really what the books are about, but they aren't, and that's what makes this series brilliant. The deeper messages and how well they have been received are also what fill me with a lot of hope as a parent.  As I read the books, Aaron would check on me every once in awhile.  I hadn't brushed my hair in a week, so he mostly kept his distance, but when he would check in, I'd look up from my book and say something profound like, "Suzanne Collins is a freakin' genius."

After I finished reading the series, we sat around the dinner table one night. I asked our oldest son what he thought Collins is really trying to say in her books.  What's the deeper messages?  His response?  "These are books about the rich using the poor for their own entertainment and greed."  Aaron's jaw dropped.  We were stunned when Anson began explaining how this is sort of like, "You know...fair trade chocolate, Mom.  How we want cheap chocolate even if that means children are being abused, enslaved, and dying."

Only a literary work of art can use themes of violence and oppression to cause the reader to despise violence and oppression.  Suzanne Collins does this beautifully in her books.

Last night we arrived at the movie theater an hour early.  We bought our tickets days in advance.  The line to get in the theater wrapped around the building.  Arriving an hour early with tickets in our hands, 18 hours after the movie debuted, we found ourselves forced to sit on the fourth row of the theater.  Standing in line and sitting in the packed theater, I felt too hopeful for my son's generation to be irritated about the wait or my neck ache.

Uncountable young people (and old people) will stand in line to watch The Hunger Games this weekend.  The story of Katniss and Peeta will stir deep disgust towards The Capitol of Panem, a system of government built on fear, greed, intimidation, and lies.  The audience will join Collins in mocking the residents of the Capitol, who are caught up in the latest, odd fashions, dressing their pets in people clothes, living wasteful lives, completely removed and unaware that outside their city the rest of the world suffers and barely survives.  Readers and movie watchers will resent the Capitol residents for their flippant disregard for the struggles and pain of the people outside their city.  My son, along with millions of American teenagers will feel intense anger towards the Capitol residents who coldly oppress and exploit the poor in order to maintain their lush lifestyle.  The audience will root for Katniss and Peeta.  They will cheer when these children of poverty and slavery rise up and tell their oppressors, "We will be free.  You. Do. Not. Own. Us."

I've heard the Hunger Game haters say these books are vile and send a horrible message to young people.  They are uncomfortable with the society Collins depicts.  "It won't be long and this world could be as evil and inhumane as the world in the Hunger Games," they argue.  To this I say, as long as innocent children are kidnapped and enslaved to make our chocolate and eight year olds are killing other eight year olds so that we can wear shiny rocks on our fingers, we are already living in the world of the Hunger Games.  Welcome to Panem.

The plot of the Hunger Games is so moving, and the characters so easy to fall in love with (or hate), that Collins allows us to see ourselves in both the underdogs and the oppressors.  Since these difficult topics are wrapped in well-written fiction, we feel safe and can explore these subjects without shame or judgement.  Without shame, we are free to be open-minded about who we are in the story.

I have to believe our love for this series is rooted in the truth that we were created to hate oppression and love freedom.  We were created to care deeply about human life, to love others like we love ourselves.  Collins touches something human and deeply spiritual in each of us as we root for a world where Katniss and Peeta can live safe and free.

That long line of "young people" wrapped around the movie theater, waiting hours to get in to celebrate this story of peace, freedom, and justice may be one of the most hopeful moments I've had for my son's generation.

38 comments:

D.L. Mayfield said...

So what did you think of the movie itself? Of course it wasn't as good as the books. The relationships felt a bit flat. And I thought it was a bit too "meta" to pay a bunch of money to go watch the actual games. Sigh. It was great to hear what Anson thought, because I don't actually know anyone besides adults who have read the books! And sometimes I wonder if that message made it all the way through. I am so glad to hear that it did. I linked to this review because I thought it was so helpful in explaining to people why I LOVED the books!

mbs said...

Can't wait to get on FB tomorrow and share this :-)

But even more: CAN'T WAIT TO GO SEE IT next weekend. (thought we'd give it a week to "cool off")

Hendrick Family said...

We really liked the movie. I was expecting it to be very different from the book (as usual) but on the way home from the movie we talked about how well the movie was made. Most impressive...the characters. They are exactly what we imagined. We actually liked the movie version of Haymitch more than the book version.

Sally @ A Blessed Existence said...

I LOVE your post on this. I came across a post today saying the books lacked hope, and I just couldn't agree with that at all.

My mom and I were talking after watching the midnight show that it might be a fiction story, but there are so many people around the world being victimized by their government (or the rebels trying to help) that this story is not far fetched. Just because it isn't happening here does not mean it isn't and hasn't been happening around the world for centuries. Great post!

Allison Jennings said...

love love love this. i'm hoping there is an illegal copy here on the streets in a couple of weeks. :)

Dan O. said...

The Hunger Games has as much to say about oppressive politics and the bloodthirsty, heartless media as it does about the internal struggle among the combatants. Still though, everybody here is great, especially Lawrence in a star-making role, and definitely has me pumped up for the sequel. Good review. Check out my review when you can.

Elizabeth said...

I don't know you, but I feel like I know you because I read your blog, and I just KNEW that you and I would be on the same page about The Hunger Games. Your description of the plot is right on, and I love that they books are required reading for so many middle schoolers I know. My 13-year old and I have had the best conversations since reading the books together. I wish the people I know who won't let their kids read the books could hear some of them. I think they'd reconsider when they realize all the truth in the story.

Megan said...

Yes, Yes, Yes! Heather- this is everything that I was thinking on this whole series all wrapped up in a nice, neat little package. Bravo!

Turtle Mom said...

I had no interest in reading the book or seeing the movie. I think you have convinced me how wrong I was. I am thrilled that your son, whom I believe to be much more mature than a lot of kids his age (due in part to his Haiti experiences and largely due to GREAT parenting), understands the big picture. Wow! I know some adults who just don't get it! Thank you for blogging and for opening my eyes and my mind. You and your family inspire me to be a better person!

Brandon and April said...

perfectly worded! couldn't agree more.
I've been astounded by how many people say they've enjoyed the books because they are so "creative", or so "out there." I don't feel like it's "out there" at all. I feel like it's right here, right next to us, like we're already living it and wrapping fur coats around us while the rebels fight (some literally to death) so that we can.

I've heard rumors that the movie won't be coming to theaters in our part of the world because of propaganda issues. I can see the truth in that and how uprisings toward an oppressive capitol might not be exactly something that communism condones. Sad day (on multiple points)...I was hoping to see it in a theater!

Cathy said...

Very, very well put! Thanks for articulating this so well!

Michelle said...

I couldn't agree more with you about the books. Our family went to the movie last night and it was well done but I felt lacked the ability to really stir up those themes you mention as well as the books did. (Of course, that's no surprise). I just keep encouraging people to read the books because I found myself very uncomfortably identifying with "the Capitol" people while reading the book. Honestly, it shook me up reading this series.

beth lehman said...

I loved what you said and what your son got out of it.... I can only pray I am leading my kids to think the way you are leading yours... about injustices, etc. Also, can your son marry my oldest daughter many years from now?

mandi said...

I can't wait to see it! John was invited to go today with some of our boys and I almost died! I mean, I have loved these books for OVER A YEAR now and he gets to see it!?!? Marriage counseling here we come!

Love what Anson said. He is so right on. And I am bewildered that anyone could read these books and not see the parallels that already exist in our world.

sabrina said...

I love the books but was disgusted with the group I saw the movie with. Overall Katniss is not into the killing of her peers and hates what is happening in the books (which shouldn't we all be? And I won't even go into how often I saw our own current world being reflected in this "make believe" society). But the movie theater was filled with young teenagers, cheering when one of the contestants died. I understand being for the hero of the story but overall, the story is about children dying and I was upset by the actual children around me cheering when there is brutal murder on the screen. Let me not go into the banter that I listened to waiting in line. Teenagers gossiping about their peers, what boys want to have sex with them and which ones they might actual let go that far....The sad part is that I don't know if they have parents such as yourself reading these books and discussing it with them.

Ryan said...

I don't have a problem with killing per se or violence. Harry Potter movies are fine. But this movie is different. Somewhere it crosses a line. I get it that Katniss is not part of the game she is placed in and she is fighting injustice, ya da ya da. But, really, the movie probably wouldn't sell many tickets if it didn't devote more than an hour to the actual American Idol death match. And devote more time to the indulgent costumes and super cool interior design. Isn't this what the teens love? The cool fire dress and all the extravagance of the Capitol city. There are already websites to buy Panem makeup and other that ask you to dress up as your favorite Panem character. And how easy it was to make District 1 kids stuck up brats so now we can conveniently feel better about killing them. And how great it is that Katniss has two hunky guys in love with her. I'm not sure that the movie isn't selling exactly what it wants and then making a moral justification for it. People are not recoiling in shock at the selfishness of Capitol City and it's indulgences, they like the show and are trying to emulate them. What are people really excited about with this movie? And please don't say I need to read the books because most people seeing the movie haven't.

Anonymous said...

The level of oppression and sacrifice described in the books has happened many times before in history. See the history of Rome, History of the feudal system, Mexican indians, Ghengis Khan, Nazi Germany, and so on. Question is - will the powerful always dominate and abuse the weak? Especially in stressful times including but not limited to war, famine, natural disaster.

Jeremiah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeremiah said...

Your review is spot on.

I was in Rome a few weeks ago and the movie (and books) remind me of how close we already live to the Arena (Colosseum). After watching it I wrote a short article on the movie on Young Evangelicals Speak (YeSpeak.com) that said:

"You may learn more about yourself watching it, or you may learn that our culture is not far removed from the culture of Panem. "Panem" is Latin for bread, a nod to the "bread and circuses" of the Roman empire. Depending on who is watching, Hunger Games is either a warning against building Colosseums or it is a Colosseum where you can watch the brutality of humanity while cheering and picking favorites."

Jamie S said...

Just watched it last night. I love hearing your son's observations! I was curious how those who have not read the books viewed the movie differently than those who have.

And I was struck by the eery similarities the directors gave the Capital of Panem to DC. The Jefferson Memorial, the Capital Building and the Mall with the Lincoln Memorial were all evident to me.

Cossette said...

Ryan, it's very rare that I would say "shame on the viewer/reader" rather than "shame on the writer," but your criticism of the books actually points to the audience rather than the book. The book has its message, and proves its own point with the number of people who don't get the message. It doesn't pretend that these things haven't happened before (Collins took inspiration from the myth of Theseus) it just points out that they are happening now.

Anonymous said...

There are good talking points in the books, and the events can be easily related to actual historical events and current events in our world. The scenario is not "far out"--it is disturbingly plausible in our world today. The books are clean as in no foul language and no sex. The violence is a central part of the books. If it wasn't, it wouldn't be described in such gory detail and so much of the book devoted to it. The author herself said she was inspired partly by her love of reality TV, which is not one of the better aspects of our culture. There is a deeper message, but it wouldn't be nearly so interesting without the disturbing violence. The characters are realistic in their attitudes--some show signs of worthiness, others are totally reprobate. The author is an excellent writer, and the books are engrossing; it is almost impossible to put them down once begun. I also got sucked into them. Upon honestly evaluating myself, however, it wasn't the deep message that captivated me; it was the riveting excitement and the vivid descriptions. In short, what makes them so appealing is our human fascination with disaster and horrifying events (fiction or real). These books are more about entertainment than about conveying a deep message. There are plenty of real-life horror stories which we can and should teach our children and learn from without filling our and our children's minds with more fictitious godlessness, humanism,and unnecessarily detailed and disturbing violence. The real-life stories are called 'history', and unfortunately, most people aren't interested in studying it because it isn't 'exciting' enough. Most of us are desensitized to violence, thus it takes more disturbing and graphic accounts to keep our attention. These books definitely provide that. But how is that a good thing?

Scripture says we should fill our minds with things that are "honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report." It also says we should be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" and "innocent concerning evil." I believe that means we are to be aware of evil and its consequences without obsessing over it and filling our minds with it--especially as entertainment.

Ryan said...

I agree with Anonymous. It's not that this movie has to be more Christian. It's just that it really isn't that deep or profound. The movie is simplistic. It's teen drama. There are other movies far more "realistic". It's really teen euphoria. Love triangle, the heroin is gorgeous, she gets beautiful dresses, she achieves super celebrity status, she wins, she is smarter than her mom, and has nothing to learn from her authorities, but everything to teach them, her petulant outbursts to get noticed are rewarded, and she does kill other teens to save herself. And after winning, when back on stage, she doesn't tell her audience, "I wish I didn't have to go through that", she just accepts the adulation. The movie panders to the teen who wants to live in the Capitol City and be the belle of the ball. In a movie like Narnia, future success is based on the character development of the young heroes. The hero has something to learn. But not Katniss, she is right and all her authorities are morally corrupt. If there would have been a renunciation of the privilege that Katniss received, then I could respect the movie more. But there wasn't. I mean Spiderman is more realistic to be honest. The hero has to deal with broken relationships that he has caused, his own limits, and his own internal issues, and sometimes to see the enemy as human and suffering.

Hendrick Family said...

Ryan,

Obviously you're welcome to your opinion. I always want this to be a safe place where people feel free to disagree. In that spirit, I'll disagree. I think these are unfair criticisms from someone who hasn't read the books and has only seen the first movie. I see some truth in what you are suggesting, I just don't see the themes you are arguing as dominate in the books or even in the movie. I will admit it's hard to argue the movie alone. I've read all the books, so I'm sure I see what I want to see in the movie based on what was inspiring about the book series.

Flower Patch Farmgirl said...

With this, "I have to believe our love for this series is rooted in the truth that we were created to hate oppression and love freedom" you have made me want to see the movie. And maybe - maybe read the books. (But I'm still kinda scared! Weird. I know.)

bye.

Ryan said...

Hendrick Family,

It's not like the movie is the end of the world. I will relent. I truly do hope the books are more meaningful than the movie was. My commentary is entirely based on the movie, but the movie alone is reality for most people. The movie just seems hypocritical and shallow. Maybe I should blame the director/screenwriter. If the books offer more depth, maybe you should too? Take care.

Janice said...

I would give Anonymous a hearty amen. Why fictionalize these issues and show such violence to our children? Why not expose them to the REAL issues and promote compassion for the real people instead of desensitizing our children to something so awful?

Sharon Wheeless said...

I just finished reading Mockingjay last night, and I was initially disappointed. I guess I wanted more hope and healing at the end than Collins provided. Then after I thought about it, I realized that she had included as much of that as she could given what the characters had been through. She certainly didn't pull any punches, but I'm glad. I can honestly say that I think the violence and gore was artistically appropriate because she didn't put a rosy spin on it or try to glamorize it. Thoughts?

Alicia said...

Sharon - Shelia Gregoire, in the comments on her Hunger Games post said this -
...I agree with you absolutely that Collins was not trying to have a Christ figure in the books at all, or any kind of Christian worldview.

But I actually LIKED the fact that there wasn’t really any hope–or any emotional healing for those who had suffered. I thought that was really rather realistic. Because without Christ, how can you really receive healing for something that traumatic?

I guess what I’m saying is that I found them very realistic, and what I said to the girls afterwards was that I was glad she didn’t sugar coat things or have an overly happy ending. (It was a satisfying ending, but not really a happy one). Because that’s what life without Christ is like. Even when we triumph in the human realm, our hearts still won’t be healed without God. You know?

http://tolovehonorandvacuum.com/2012/03/the-hunger-games-are-coming/#comments

I think she nailed it.

Cossette said...

Ryan, I understand that you are going strictly off the movie. But I really, really disagree with your interpretation of the movie. Katniss did *not* want to go to the Capitol, did *not* want to fight in the games, did her best to only kill in self defense, and the only reason she was *not* denoucing the games is because that is a pretty efficient way to get herself and her family and everyone else she holds dear killed. She is not a hero yet, in this story she is not a martyr. Call that a character weakness, but it doesn't make this movie fluff. I think the movie did a fine job portraying the games as bad and your interpretation is pretty diligently ungenerous. I've read and talked to several people who didn't read the books, who still got the point of the movie and don't see Katniss the way you do. The whole movie portrays the whole pageant of the games--pretty dresses included--as horrifying.

Anonymous, you said that you were drawn in by the thrilling action and descriptions in the books--you say that's bad. Yet you got the point of the book. Do you think anyone would read enough of the book to get the point if it wasn't well written? If it didn't draw them in? That's the point of a story--you draw people in, yes, you entertain them, and get them comfortable so that you can deliver the point. The books worked perfectly for you. That is how you should react at the end. In horror.

*kendra lynn* said...

I didn't read the books, just watched the movie, and I know I can't speak for everyone who didn't. But I personally am recoiling in shock at the selfishness of Capitol city. It does make me more aware of the real-life horror stories. Yes some of which are history, but many are going on right now and will probably never even be told.

Michael said...

I have yet and to be honest dont even know if I would see the movie let a lone read the books but you are an excellent writer and I might just have too :) Maybe you will write books for your sons generation!

Kelli said...

Wow! Wonderfully well written- thank you for such a great review! We live overseas so I haven't experienced all the hype surrounding the movies but my oldest daughter and I read them over a year ago and have been so looking forward to the movie! I've been disappointed in general by the response I've seen from the Christian community as a whole ( at least in my circles) and you very well verbalized such a great response to all the criticism I've heard. Thanks!

Texascece said...

I am laughing because my son HOUNDED me for a year (as well as my 7th grade students) to read it and I didn't want to because the cover didn't interest me. Ha ha. As an English teacher and a Christian, I loved it. There were so many themes, too many to discuss, that I would ramble on about, but the one that struck me was Peeta's struggle to save Katniss and Katniss's rebellion. I loved it. The movie was wonderful. I was waiting for the big scene with Thresh and Katniss at the end...and it was kind of a let down but other than that-it was good. The books will always be better. This struggle between good and evil has always been there but this author puts children in the mix and adds fight to the death...she is a genius. And don't be fooled. The kids that read this book...get the deeper message. THEY GET IT and are debating it, talking about it and pondering!

RachelDeAngelis said...

I really enjoyed reading your review of the Hunger Games! I'm living in China now, and I'm pretty certain that the books are banned here just because of their overt themes of rebelling aganist a very communist-like government and reclaiming rights for the individual. I've seen a lot of translated YA fiction on the bookshelves here--a lot of Twilight (which the Chinese really love), some werewolf stories, even a Francine Rivers Christian romance novel! But no one here has ever heard of the Hunger Games, and I bet they never will.

My husband and I watched the movie on our computer (I know, shame on us...we would have paid to see it in theaters if we could have), and as Katniss was walking around her village in District 12 at the beginning of the film, it looked a lot like China to us. The Chinese government also kind of reminds us of Panem. Right now, the monks in Tibet are protesting and marching for freedom aganist the capitol in Beijing, but if you watched the evening news here, you'd never know it! The media portrays Tibet as being happy as clams over there in the mountains, just singing the praises of the Chinese government. It feels like a real-life Hunger Games!

cat said...

I am not a Hunger Games "hater."

I just have a problem with the portrayal of children being randomly selected to kill other children. It's a personal issue, and I totally take it for that. I know the story and context and I TOTALLY AGREE WITH YOU that we are already living it! And, it could get worse if we don't watch out. That's why this type of fiction is so important! These themes are vital to our continued advancement as a society. I LOVE that your son totally got the message. That is so kewl!

But, please, just because some of us have a problem with the way the themes are portrayed, don't call us "haters." We simply have a different point of view about what we can personally handle in fiction.

Some of us are more sensitive than others to certain issues. I don't hate the Hunger Games, I just don't want to read the books or see the movie. It's a preference not a political stance.

Thanks so much!

Amiel said...

Naturally, the novel would offer more depth to the story. There's just so much more that can be packed into books!

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