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Hunger Games: A Metaphor Gone Too Far

In PG-13-rated Hunger Games, children watch children kill each other.  The killings are graphic, brutal, ruthless, and at times even lustfully enjoyed by the bloodthirsty teenage killers.  And then we wonder why we have Columbine High School massacre and the case of Trayvon Martin.


By portraying humans who have lost their humanity, the creators of the movie must have aspired to fight the evil of complicity, the heartlessness of a dictatorship, and the horror of finding yourself in a situation in which the only way to survive is to kill.  Yet, by employing such powerful cinematic tools as it does to make its case, the film ultimately feeds the very beast it takes on.


The movie is based on Suzanne Collins’ bestselling Hunger Games trilogy, and places the viewer in Panem – a post-apocalyptic space once occupied by North America.  The name of the country reflects the values of its current society, referencing a phrase coined by Juvenal in 100 C.E. to describe what kept the Roman populus happy and therefore at bay:  panem et circenses, or bread and spectacle

In Panem, whatever is lacking in the former, is made up for by the latter.  The spectacle of choice are the gladiator-type games, in which two children from each of the 12 districts are chosen to fight until death to the point where only one victor emerges.  Though the American Constitution makes it almost impossible to define treason, it was this very crime that resulted in a system where the entire country is forced to watch 24 of its children fight to death on TV.  The 12 districts that revolted 74 years ago are now paying an annual price by throwing their young to be devoured by the beast of the spectacle-hungry mob of effete decadents living in the Capitol.


“This is how we remember our past,” says a propaganda movie shown to the districts each time before the children, or the “tributes,” are chosen for the games.  “And this is how we safeguard our future.”


The main heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), is a huntress who has mastered the use of bow and arrow to kill animals in order to feed her starving family.  When her 12 year-old sister is chosen to compete in the Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to go in her place. 


Katniss is taxed with the difficult task of being liked both by the audience of the movie and by the audience inside the movie:  in an insidious, twisted plot line, she must win the favor of a few “sponsors” if, during the course the games, she wishes to receive supplies that might aid her survival.


Unfortunately, Katniss fails on both accounts.  Perhaps it is because the character she was given borders on schizophrenic, saving the life of a fellow “tribute,” Rue (Amandla Stenberg) one moment – and ruthlessly murdering other children the next.  Perhaps it is because her heroic behavior often borders on painful clichés like singing to a dying young girl or bickering with her emerging love interest, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) about who needs the wound-healing ointment more (guys, there is no need to play martyr:  there is enough in the jar for both!).  Or perhaps it is because the violence, gore and monster-like heartlessness of the society portrayed in the movie are so disturbing that we almost fail to “get” the message.


The movie’s ultimate failure is the failure to protect young children in the audience from the bloodbath depicted in it.


“It’s not going to be an R-rated movie because I want the 12- and 13- and 14-year-old-fans to be able to go see it,” said the movie director, Gary Ross, in an interview to Entertainment Weekly. “This book means too much to too many teenagers for it not to be PG-13.”


In the meantime, the Hunger Games’ record-breaking $189 million gathered in just the first 7 days after the theatrical release may provide the real answer to the question of why young children are allowed to watch the movie that makes a supreme spectacle out of children killing other children.


In the first three months of this year alone, five school shootings took place in the U.S.  Eight children were killed, and three others were wounded.  As long as the movie industry continues to ignore the damage it inflicts on impressionable young minds, let us not act surprised as we watch more of these unfold.  After all, it is all a big entertainment game that this country has been teaching the world how to play since its formation.  As for the children?  In the words of the intended-to-be-despicable emcee of the Hunger Games, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), “may the odds be ever in their favor.”

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