Based on the book by Suzanne Collins (first in a set of 3), the movie is set in future North America, where the citizens of Panem are forced by the Capitol to live in Districts in third-world conditions and to work backbreaking labor jobs that keep the Capitol and its citizens wealthy and well fed. Each year, these Districts must participate in the “The Hunger Games,” a ritual imposed by the Capitol as a reminder of the deadly consequences of trying to rebel. Each District is required to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to the Capitol, where they are put into an arena to fight to the death.
Reminiscent of works like George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, The Hunger Games books raise many questions about governmental control, morality, sacrifice, reality TV, and entertainment, to name just a few. Admittedly, Collins wrote these books for young adults between the ages of 10 and 20, so one should not expect such literary genius as can be found in these classics, but even the older readers will find the books compelling and hard to put down.
Interestingly enough, the emergence of the books seems a bit serendipitous in timing. There are many who believe that the US could already be in the early stages of a country similar to Panem. Even if one finds that idea a bit too far fetched, we must all recognize that such conditions currently do exist in North Korea, parts of China, and elsewhere. But even more difficult to swallow is the reality that the idea of people killing other people for sport and entertainment has existed for centuries, with the Roman Coliseum being most prominent. But how did the Romans get to the point where the masses had no qualms about watching others kill each other for fun? And is it possible that it could happen again? What needs to be done to prevent it?
Questions like these and many more should arise in one’s mind after reading the books. And since the movies are such close adaptations of the books, they have the potential, indeed the power, to ask questions and question assumptions in much more poignant ways. But the question remains: will they? And even if they do, will our youth notice these questions? Or will they be too “entertained” to notice?
Understandably, some students are not yet ready to tackle certain concepts and abstract ideas; only you, as the parent, can know exactly what your student is capable of handling. But if he/she is ready to handle them, then you are doing him/her a disservice either by not allowing him/her to watch it OR by allowing him/her to watch it with no questions asked. Both of these reactions are polarizing and extreme in the case of The Hunger Games. There is a middle ground, which is to engage the subject matter with your student. Rather than imposing more boundaries and rules, see this as an opportunity to allow your children to grow, mature, and live up to the responsibilities God has given them.
If you happen to have students who are begging you to see the film or read the books, use it as an opportunity to not only oblige them but give them some homework. That probably means you’ll have to read the books and watch the movie, as well as have meaningful, intentional discussions with your students about the content. But isn’t all the work worth it? Isn’t it much better to raise students who actively engage and think about culture, who could one day drastically change culture for the better or prevent a world like in The Hunger Games from becoming a reality? (A quick suggestion: tell your students that if they want to read the books, they must also read some or all of the classics that deal with the same subject matter.)
All in all, approaching the books and movies in this way means more work for viewers, especially parents. But since when were we, as followers of Christ, supposed to passively become part of (or disengage from) the world around us? To learn or not to learn from The Hunger Games? Maybe that is the question.
*poster comes from http://www.upcoming-movies.com/Articles/the-hunger-games-gets-yet-another-movie-poster/