After Seeing Hunger Games…

“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:

  • Is this story glorifying violence or inappropriate sexual situations?
  • Is this story making “bad” look “good” or enticing?
  • Does this story irresponsibly display imitatable attitudes and behaviors that our kids will absorb and eventually emulate?
  • 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.

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.

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over a dozen books including the new Get Your Teenager Talking, The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket, The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenager, and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers, Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation, and the 10-Minute Talks series. 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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24 Responses to After Seeing Hunger Games…

  1. Andy says:

    Thanks for the review. I wasn’t sure about this movie. Gonna take my teen group to see it tonight!

  2. Randi says:

    I have read all of the books and thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I have long been a fan of the Twilight series as well (the books – not Hollywood’s version), but this series blows Twilight out of the water completely. Katniss is brave and beautiful and she displays a type of love and loyalty for others (and not just family – people, in general) that is often lost in Hollywood. I thought of SO many parallels that could be used in a biblical sense to teach kids about the way that God loves His people.

    I really thought this film was well made and I was actually surprised by the discretion that was shown with the violence shown on screen (despite some parents’ reactions) in comparison to other films that have recently hit the big screen ….

  3. BJ McMichael says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I have read the book (thought it was well written) and plan on seeing the movie. Right now this beginning to be a big topic with our parents, however, the loudest voices are the ones who have not read the book, nor have seen the movie. Which means they are speaking out against it w/o an educated/informed position.
    This troubles me because the truth is, A LOT of teenagers who are NOT Christ-followers have read the book and/or watched the movie. If we as believers just take an uneducated stand against it (which unfortunately we are way too good at doing) and not willing to join in the conversation, then we might be alienating yet another group of teens. If we just dismiss the story on the account of violence then who’s to say they won’t have good reason to do the same with it comes to God’s word.
    If we say to them God is a God of love and mercy, yet they “hear” about God allowing the first-born son of Egypt to be killed because of Pharaoh’s hardened heart, who’s to say they won’t view God as a monster and decide to not take the time to read God’s word for themselves. We know that God’s grace is bigger than man’s sin, and we would be disheartened that on account of one story they would dismiss all of God’s word. We might even be offended, but aren’t we doing the same thing if we don’t take an educated/informed approach to culture.
    Well…just some of my thoughts too…thanks for putting this out there!

  4. Love this review. I haven’t read the book and I was curious as to what the movie was like since I was shocked at hearing the storyline was about “kids killing kids” (or so I thought). This cleared up a lot and now I want to see the movie! Thank you!!

  5. Chris says:

    When I realized that over half of my youth group had either already read the book and/or were going to see the movie (most at midnight), I quickly bought the book and read it over the weekend. I really enjoyed the book, with the exception of the ending cliffhanger that propels you into the second installment. On our next outing, I think I will take them all to see it and have a discussion of Biblical parallels that can be taken from it. I did the same with Lord of the Rings. Thanks for the review, Jonathan.

  6. Pingback: Monday’s Media: The Hunger Games Phenomenon | YMParenting

  7. Tracey says:

    What a great review! I’ve seen it twice now, both times with one of my daughters. In the first show, the theater was mostly teenagers, I was definately in the minority. I’d say there were 5% adults. The way the movies starts, it was dead silent for a very long time, and where you say people gasped, ours laughed. That was an awful moment for me. My daughter agreed. Our second show was almost all adults. No laughing in those inapproriate moments. My daughter said that the reaping scene was hard for her, it reminded her of the Holucaust. We’ve had very good discussions about it, from both a Biblical perspective and a secular one. When I wanted to read the books, she was against it. Said I wouldn’t like them. Would not talk to me about the books while I was reading them. Now, she loves that I get it, and that it is more than just a story about the youth forced to fight in the arena. BJ McMichael is right, we need to be educated about these things this new generation of kids is participating in. Please, people don’t judge it by what you “hear.” Check it out for yourself. I am looking forward to the next one.

  8. Pingback: Media Monday: The Hunger Games Phenomenon | YMParenting

  9. Jeff says:

    Well I’ve enjoyed reading your emails and articles through the years however I’m not 100% with you on this. I think every Christian should filter all he watches, listens to, and reads through God’s word. I feel you would agree with that. Philippians 4:8-9 says “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
    What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me-practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” I have heard some of the thoughts behind the message the author was trying to drive home however while I see it now it was only because it was pointed out in post movie blogs defending HG and it’s message.
    Also when my wife and I left the theater there were scores of kids acting out on each other stabbing and cutting each others throats. There are several sets of 10-16 yr olds talking of how they would have killed that little girl that was murdered by the group of tributes. One teen acting like he was stabbing another kid hit him so hard that it started everyone around us. Also Cain did kill Abel however Abel was chastised and a mark put in him for life. To use th

  10. Jeff says:

    Sorry I did not finish, also a correction. I’m typing w 2 thumbs on an iPhone with auto spell corrector. God chastised Cain not Abel, sorry. To use this as an argument for or a parallel to HG is not comparable. Romans 12 says we should present ourself to God a living sacrifice, don’t be poured into the image of the world, be transformed, by the renewing of your mind. The only way(my opinnion) I feel it might be ok for a Christian youth to see this film is with MUCH discussion,prayer, and preperation before the movie and with clear communication of what God says regarding the issues seen in this movie. In the end regardless if it somehow(not an overwhelming one for sure) sends a message of no tolerance for corrupt Govt. and a message to hate violence(hard to see that, but in part may be there) you MUST line it up and filter through the Word of God and when we do that it fails to meet God’s standards.

    Just the thoughts of a Father of 4 & 21 years as a Youth & Family Pastor
    Blessings To All

  11. Just Me says:

    I always have a hard time recommending movies to friends; don’t go see many of them. So, I have to ask, using http://www.dove.org as an evaulating tool, if the movie is using God’s name in vain three times, how does that fit in the general context of suggesting that your Christian friends should see this? Acutally, I was wondering why this might not have been mentioned as a concern in your review. You say the movie didn’t “sell out,” yet is breaks this Commandment. Is that selling out? I know, it’s not a “Christian movie,” but if this post is about recommending movies to Christians and families, is this something at least worth mentioning so you can not be surprised by it? One commenter speaks about death recorded in the Exodus story, but Exodus does not record for us any inappropriate words used in the cries of the Egyptians.
    The article above speaks of “discernment;” is language like this even a concern, or do we overlook these things when talking to our Christian friends? I guess I’m wondering why this aspect isn’t even discussed; that’s my real thought. ‘Cause, kids repeat what they hear.

  12. Barb Miller says:

    I am a youth director and rarely view movies–I relate to my teens I am not in favor of the ‘Twilight,’ series, and have never finished viewing ‘Harry Potter,’ (I usually fall asleep). I did attend the movie ‘Hunger Games,’ and I am very glad I did! This is an excellent movie to discuss many topics regarding the evil and good in our society and youth culture. The violence was depicted with great discretion-more so than most T.V. movies and programs. Many Biblical and scripture can be related, as well as comparisons of the Holocaust and the Roman arena galdiator games, can make for great discussions. Blessings to All

  13. jd says:

    I have not read the books or watched the movies but my comments are not really pointed towards them anyway. Although I do think that a person can judge something without reading it or seeing it. How many thefts do you need to see to judge them wrong? To use an extreme example to support a conservative point, does one need to watch a pornographic film to judge it bad? All that to say that the “see it before you judge it” argument often doesn’t hold up and so maybe we can table that one for now.

    I do have a comment on how we as a people decide how much violence a person can or cannot handle and how that should influence how we look at violence in general.

    In doing some reading on the affects of violent images a person might happen across “killology” or, the study of killing. Without dropping statistics I think its safe to say that violence affects everyone (unless you are a sociopath.) I think that is a good thing to keep in mind that whenever you watch movies or read stories with violence them you will be affected by the violence.
    Desensitization is the natural response to violence. The brain has to be able to keep functioning so it acclimates itself to particular threshold levels of violence. But with successive interaction with violence not only does that threshold get higher, but the person loses the ability to tell how much the threshold has changed. They are not bothered by what used to bother them so they are not bothered. Or at least they will probably not realize that its all the violence they are watching that is bothering them. This is the really strange thing and I think it is probably what we should be talking about more than whether the violence in the book is below an imaginary line.
    There is no line. We should be affected by violence. It is by its nature something that should disturb us. If you find yourself disturbed by violence you can rest assured you are processing it correctly. If you find that you don’t notice violence, or find yourself saying “violence doesn’t bother me” you should probably investigate that.
    No one is safe it would seem, hence all the debate.
    So, I definitely do think its possible to read books like the Hunger Games and not walk out and shoot an arrow into the first person you see. I feel better hearing that people mourned some of the deaths. They should.
    I wonder about the books being a good social commentary on society. It would seem like the man who wrapped himself up in a robe to see the sunset only to find out that it was morning. We as a society have been here for a very very long time. Why do we need fiction to tell us about the sadness of the world. I find reality sad enough without making up sad images to fill my head with. I know if I ever saw a child kill another I would never be the same. I don’t think I need to practice going through those particular emotions.
    I do believe that violence is justifiable, but I also think that it will always affect the soul. If I am free to watch violent images (which I believe I am) I think I should watch clear cut, idealized, images of good killing bad, so that I can unashamedly cheer for the good guy. If I want to know about the other kind of violence, I just watch the news. Then I can mourn with my whole heart. If there is a problem with sad violence in fiction, it’s that you can always mentally distance yourself from it .
    It will probably always be the gripping book that ends up being the toe hold for my heart. The stupid, insipid things are always easy to put down. I think a good test is to ask oneself “have I ever put down a book I really liked because I sensed the messages were not good for me?” If you can answer that, then I think you are able to pick up anything from Mein Kampf to the Berenstein Bears, The Hunger Games included. But if you can’t….. well you might have done something to that still small voice.
    Thanks,
    JD

  14. Stasi says:

    Unfortunately in my theater there WAS cheering, at the moment when Clove died. I was deeply disappointed in the audience, but I also think that it is nearly impossible for a filmmaker not to glorify violence even when trying to say it is wrong (see: Natural Born Killers, etc). I did not think the director succeeded because you did feel a palpable sense of relief but also joy when that little girl was killed (because she was killed in a heroic way by Thresh, saving Katniss). Yes that is how it was in the book, but in the book, you could read Katniss’s internal dialogue about how awful the whole thing felt. In a film, you don’t get that…it is simply a problem with the medium.

  15. Stasi says:

    P.s. I am a former filmmaker and film buff so I have no problem violence in general, I just disagree that it was not glorified here. In that moment, it was. And bc there were cheers around me, that underlined the point for me.

  16. Ron says:

    Phil. 4:8 says, “Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise.”
    We should never justify improper behavior and call it entertainment. Shame on you for promoting it.

  17. Sue Weaver says:

    I am trying to find out if there is Profanity in any form…I am convicted about listening to anyone taking God’s name in vain, and also the use of certain vulgar words. Please, can you tell me if ‘the religious exclamations” I read about in IMDB are of that nature??
    I need to know as soon as possible. My grandson wants me to take him (he’s 15) You can e-mail me if you like

  18. Hope Griffin says:

    I did not pick up these books until it was apparent that everyone in my youth group had read and reread them several times. I’m glad I waited till all three books were out. I don’t think I could have stood the wait between book two and three.

    I enjoyed the movie and because my teens were so enthralled we developed a Bible Study around it for the month following it’s release. I highly encourage everyone to pick up the book The Hunger Games and the Gospel: Bread, Circuses, and the Kingdom of God. It opened my eyes to a lot of things going on in our society I did not know about, and convicted the teens and myself to live differently. It opened up the world of Christ’s day in a way that the kids could actually visualize and interact with.

    No matter how we feel about a movie it is our job as youth leaders to research what our teens are watching and listening to and shine the light of Christ into it. Jonathan, thank you for an excellent post!

  19. Eric G says:

    This is a MUST-SEE film for youth pastors/parents of kids who already know this series intimately. I recommend watching the commentaries on the bonus disc as well. The only people who won’t “get” the movie and see the bold separation of good and evil with no gray area are people who haven’t watched or read with a non-biased attitude. Adults, you had better know what’s going on in culture because your kids do whether you like it or not.

  20. Mike Mullen says:

    Thank you for your review and your 4 question test. I agree that the movie has a number of redeeming, teachable points. So much in fact that I directed a week long summer camp session using The Hunger Games as the basis for our teaching program.

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