The Hunger Games – already on its way to being the next Twilight – slaughtered both the competition and expectations this past weekend raking in an estimated $155 million. Everyone was hungry to see one thing – what does a battle to the death between teenagers look like? My answer, not as gruesome and disturbing as many expected. Yes, the idea of youths killing each other is disturbing, but for different reasons. This is the controversy surrounding the movie: is the violence committed against children too gory? Why would anyone want to see such a thing? What does such a movie say about a society that would pay so much to watch teens brutally kill one another?
First I will address the violence – it is implied. The violence is suggestive. You don’t see the details of a death from start to finish. And the time spent viewing these fights is minimal. There are no bloody impacts, no blood spatters on the screen. There is blood but the site of it implies that the victim is dead. I wondered what it would be like to watch a youth die in hand to hand combat. Honestly, I wasn’t troubled by it at all. The violence is negligible compared to many other movies. But violence isn’t the issue; teens killing each other is the issue. The concept of children locked in a violent melee is unpleasant in that it is unfortunate but many people can recall reading a book in school entitled “Lord of the Flies”. In it young boys find themselves in a very adult situation where the necessity of leadership, survival and conflict resolution are suddenly thrust upon them. They fight to survive, they even fight each other and some die. This is considered a classic novel and is required reading in some schools.
Content vs Context
What many people may struggle with in this movie is what I call the “content vs context” dilemma. This is the dilemma that people suddenly experience when they see content in a context that they don’t like, but that same content would be acceptable in another context. Here is an example: You have Saving Private Ryan and you have the Hunger Games. In the first we don’t see children engaged in violence or die but every type of violence, blood splatters, heads exploding, painfully detailed and violent deaths are shown. Compare that with the Hunger Games with a minimal amount of blood and violence and there doesn’t actually seem to be much of a comparison. However, not many people are offended with the violence in Saving Private Ryan but many are stumbling over the “twisted” and “disturbing” premise of the Hunger Games. This is an example of the content vs context dilemma: it is a contradiction.
What’s The Point?
In my opinion to pass judgement on this film as some unnecessary sick fantasy of violence is similar to accusing Holocaust movies as unnecessarily awful and horrible depictions of something we don’t want to see. Yet we watch them. Yes, the Holocaust really happened and the Hunger Games have not, that is, yet. And I think that is the point of the movie. The Games take place in a futuristic society and culture that was founded upon violence – an uprising that was crushed and the people placed in quasi-concentration camps in subjugation to a cruel Capitol city. The movie depicts a select society of opulence with a gluttonous appetite for physical and sensual pleasures and all at the expense of others. It depicts a society so calloused and indifferent to violence and human suffering that death is a Game eagerly anticipated and celebrated. Human life has little to no value. Even the Tributes (those chosen to fight) are curiously resigned to their fate and somewhat indifferent to the deaths of those who have died before.
It is twisted and sick that a culture would use violent Games as some celebration of national unity or a “remembrance day” to understand the past and thus appreciate the future. But the movie is not glorifying the violent deaths of children. The Hunger Games is just another story of oppression and struggle, an underdog becoming a hero - a classic tale really. The fact that youths suffer in the movie is simply a startling reminder that the most vulnerable among us often suffer for the appetites and decisions made by the powerful. I am not fixated on kids killing each other because they are forced to in the Hunger Games – the real issues to be concerned with are the abuses of power by those who have it, the control and cruel treatment of those who cannot defend themselves and the death that thrives and is relished in an environment devoid of freedom.
Whether you like the movie or not, the violence really isn’t the point.