3 Stars – Troubling

One of the most horrendous schemes devised by any community throughout history is killing their children in a misguided attempt to keep peace or assure prosperity.  Whether it is sacrificing infants to appease a demonic deity or creating a lethal game to enable a corrupt government to stay in power, there is nothing more evil than the killing of our young.  This truth is graphically presented in Gary Ross’ “The Hunger Games”.

A veteran writer, having written the screenplay for Pleasantville and Seabiscuit, Ross is joined by Bill Ray (Hart’s War and Shattered Glass) and the novelist who wrote the original story, Suzanne Collins.  The first of three novels, the setting for The Hunger Games is in a futuristic nation that is brutally enforcing peace on twelve districts who once tried to rebel against it.  Like the brutal Caesars of ancient Rome, who not only used deadly contests in the coliseum for the entertainment of the masses but also used roadside crucifixions to warn against rebellion, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) presides over the 74th televised “hunger games” competition.

The plot is simple yet sinister.  Each of the 12 districts must enter their teenage children’s names in a registry in order to get food.  This registry is then used in an annual drawing to choose the names of one boy and one girl from each district, and these 24 teens are forced to fight one another to the death in a televised coliseum-like event complete with colorful fans and manipulative sponsors.

Against this evil background are the children themselves.  The love and courage of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) compels her to volunteer to take the place of her younger sister Primrose (Willow Shields) when she is randomly chosen.  Katniss’ deep love and morality is in stark contrast to the world in which she must survive.  Having learned to shoot well with a bow and arrow in order to hunt and provide food for her fatherless family, Katniss has developed skills that help her in the primitive combat required of her.

Also chosen to represent District 12 in the games is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson).  Having grown up with Katniss but too shy to express his love for her, Peeta does not have her hunting and survival skills.  It is this relationship that demonstrates the power of love in its self-sacrificing form to overcome whatever evil attempts to do to destroy them.  As Peeta expresses clearly to Katniss, we must not allow evil to make us into someone we are not.

Though the film is well done and includes some redemptive elements, The Hunger Games is not an easy film to watch.  Extremely violent and intense due to its ability to help us identify with the vulnerability and moral dilemmas of Katniss, Peeta and a few of the other young combatants, we do not recommend this film for young and sensitive viewers.  The situation presented is so intolerable that it almost turns us as viewers into the same voyeuristic spectators as those portrayed in the film who watch murder for entertainment.  The fine line such a film must walk is not easy, but the deep moral courage of Katniss and Peeta redeems it to some extent.  We will wait to see how the next installments negotiate this important boundary.

Discussion for those who have seen this film:

1. The practice of sacrificing children for adult advantages reveals a community that has lost its soul.  In what ways do you see this happening in our world?

2. When Katniss realizes that her little sister has been chosen, she immediately volunteers to take her place and save her life.  Would you have done the same?  Would you have done it for a stranger?

3. Every person is deeply affected by the larger culture in which we live, including our television entertainment.  What do you think our TV and film entertainment reveals about the soul of our nation?

Posted on January 7, 2014 and filed under 3 STARS, TROUBLING.