The Hunger Games: movie or book? Or Scooby-Do instead?

I read The Hunger Games to figure out why I was the only person in North America who hadn’t. Then earlier this week, I saw the movie because I unexpectedly had a babysitter and no plans. And here’s my assessment:

The popcorn was excellent. I love popcorn. But here’s the problem with movie popcorn: it’s so delicious that I inevitably scarf down most of it during the previews, and kernel parts get stuck around my teeth. Then I spend the movie trying to dig stuff out of my gums, and by the time the movie ends my whole mouth is sore.

What? Oh, right, the movie. Well, it was just sort of meh. I love that word.

I’ve never seen such a tame rendition of kids killing kids. Honestly, I’d even let the Diva watch it. Critics have been pounding it, in fact, for just that reason – not enough violence. They say that the killing scenes should be more gruesome for two reasons – one, to stay true to the book, and two, so that people don’t walk away from it thinking, Cool! Somebody should make a reality show like that!

In case you’ve been residing under a rock for the past few months, The Hunger Games began as a book by Suzanne Collins, who has said she dreamed up the plot while flipping channels between Iraq war coverage and an episode of Survivor. It’s a story set in a futuristic dystopian society in which North America is being ruled by a single wealthy “capital” surrounded by 12 districts. To punish the districts for a past uprising, every year two teens, a boy and a girl, are chosen from each one to compete in the Hunger Games. The 24 children are placed in a manipulated wilderness where their goal is to be the sole survivor either by killing the others or by waiting until they die of hunger or exposure.

Every move, each encounter is filmed and viewed by the rest of the population via a live video stream.

It’s a brilliant concept, well-written and transformed into palatable form for a young adult audience. It is as much of a hit with adult readers as it is with their children, and here’s why – it’s super easy to read. That’s not a disparaging comment – it’s supposed to be readable. Remember? It was written for young adults. So all you people who’ve been bragging about how you whipped through the book in two days, just shut up about that.

That’s also why the movie isn’t so violent – the audience is filled with kids. Frankly, I have to argue here with the critics: the book isn’t particularly grisly, either. Collins doesn’t linger over the death scenes gratuitously like she could. She writes them effectively and concisely, and moves on.

The whole Hunger Games phenomenon has been bothering me, though, and here’s why: I don’t hear anyone talking about the underlying themes of oppression and despair, which aren’t futuristic at all but rather are so contemporary that you need only turn on the news to see them personified.

In an odd coincidence, I’m currently reading the novel Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron, a story set in 1990s-era Rwanda during the very real war between the Hutus and the Tutsis. During that time, the Hutus ruled the country and began to punish the Tutsis for a past uprising. Government officials urged Hutus to turn on their fellow countrymen – Tutsis – and kill them. Tutsis were cast out of their homes and into the countryside, where they hid to survive.

Sound familiar?

In addition, The Hunger Games made me think about our own capitalist society, and the Occupy Wall Street movement, which opposes 1 percent of the population controlling the country’s wealth while 99 percent struggle to make ends meet. Hmm.

I loved The Hunger Games novel, and I enjoyed the movie all right. But one of the great aspects of reading is not only the ability to transport oneself to other worlds, but the opportunity to use that journey to reflect on existing circumstances. I would love for the 10-year-old Diva to read The Hunger Games, though I’m not going to force her to, because she still gets upset during Scooby-Do movies. But when she does decide to give it a go, you can be sure we’re going to talk about it – a lot. And hopefully, when she watches the evening news next time, she’ll see the stories in a whole new light.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *