It seems that these past few weeks have been insanely packed with travel, and some of it not particularly fun. As I await boarding of a flight to an editorial board meeting, I recall that a week ago I drove 200 miles to (and 200 miles home from) Grinnell College in Iowa (directly east of Omaha) for an invited talk and pleasant meetings with faculty and students.
I enjoyed my visit and returned to Omaha only to drive another ~200 miles in the other direction early the next morning to Grand Island, Nebraska, for another speech contest that one of my kids was participating in. While the contest was fun, driving there in fog as thick as soup (literally) and returning through driving rain, heavy winds, some light hail, and almost no visibility on the famed Interstate 80 was not so much fun. My muscles ached all week from straining forward to see through the windshield.
But rather than complaining, which is something I’m quite good at, I thought that I’d do something different (something I’m probably not very good at) in this blog and review a film based on a young adult fiction book that both my kids have recently read. I should note that as a child I never read any young adult fiction, stepping directly into adult fiction at quite an early age (and I recall being rather puzzled at sex scenes in some of them…).
The film is “The Hunger Games,” the first of a trilogy, and my 10 year old son was my companion. As I do not want to give too much away, I’ll make this a relatively brief review. The film (novel) is set in a futuristic environment (USA) in which the premise is that there is a very strong and powerful central “capital” that controls 12 poor and subservient territories (or districts as they are known). Having rebelled against the mighty capital many years earlier, as punishment the capital holds a gladiator-like competition every year in the capital collecting 2 youths (12-18 years old) by lottery from each of the districts. The competition is one based on survival of the fittest, with the contestants being required to kill or be killed, and the last-standing survivor of this horrific “game” being declared the winner and allowed to live on as champion of the “games.”
I have heard many negative comments about the film and book trilogy–that it is too ‘graphic,’ that children and youth don’t need any additional violent films to add to the growing repertoire, and so on. Having seen the film, I beg to differ.
Yes, there are graphic parts to the film. But at the same time, I see this as a highly critical and very educational portrayal of western society. The film depicts the gluttony and hedonism of those in the capital who are only seeking their next “fix” of entertainment in a world where attention spans are often measured on the second hand of a wrist watch. The audience and television commentators and interviewers who are mindlessly immune to the idea that lives are being lost in these games, and are merely plying for humorous and witty comments and ‘ratings’–along with their quirky hairdos and attention-seeking dress. These segments, in my humble opinion, are far more intense and difficult than the graphic fighting scenes of the youth in the games themselves (not that those are easy to stomach).
One of my first reactions to the film, watching the combination of thrill-seeking audiences and mind-numbing TV interviewers and commentators was today’s reality of “Reality Shows.” Not that I actually ever watch television and have ever seen them, but I know enough of what they represent to see that the author and director of the “The Hunger Games” has certainly taken offense at these new icons of popular culture and aimed arrows at them. As it turns out, in reading an interview with author Suzanne Collins, she notes that she came by the idea while channel surfing and seeing station after station presenting reality shows and images from the Iraq war.
So while this film may stretch the imagination a little far from present day life in the western world, the gladiator-like scenes combined with ridicule of the path of instantaneous make for a very compelling discussion with one’s children, or perhaps even just to serve as a reminder that our own adult lives should never be taken lightly as a point for amusement. This film has earned a strong recommendation from yours truly.
Note added April 22: I have failed to make perhaps the most important point that I had intended. This post was supposed to correspond with Holocaust Day–and while not addressing the 11 million Jews, Gypsies, communists and many others who were systematically gassed to death by the Hitler regime–the film does evoke a very pertinent question: “AT WHAT POINT IS LIFE NO LONGER WORTH LIVING?”
The concept of putting someone (or an entire country) in a situation of “kill or be killed” is a recurrent and critical theme in the film. And we all know that if this particular dilemma had been answered differently by those under the control of the Nazi murder machine, the outcome of Hitler’s attempts to wipe Jews and others off the map might have ended differently.