03.25.2012 10:47 AM

Hunger Gamesmanship

I’ll leave the movie reviews to my betters, like Paul Wells.

I’ll only say this: saw it yesterday with Son 3. He loved it, I hated it.

It is basically a movie about children murdering children. That makes it despicable enough. But what makes it worse is that it pretends to disapprove of children murdering children – while simultaneously profiting from precisely that.

It is a disgrace. It will be a huge success.

58 Comments

  1. Cory MacDonald says:

    All in the Family must’ve infuriated you, eh?

  2. William says:

    I don’t plan on seeing it but when I heard of it I immediately thought of LOTF

    And then sure enough,

    http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-03-02/the-hunger-games-is-the-new-lord-of-the-flies

  3. James Bow says:

    First of all, I have to ask, with the utmost respect, why on earth did you bring your 3-year-old son to see this movie? I know the book peripherally (I haven’t read it, but my wife has, and we’ve talked about it), and while my wife appreciates what the book has achieved, there’s no way we were going to bring our children (aged 6 and 3) to this movie. Even if I wasn’t aware of the book the movie was based on, I’ve heard the warnings about the violence, and the nature of that violence, and I wouldn’t bring any child younger than 11 to this film. What motivated you to do this?

    That said, the PG rating is a mistake, in my opinion. The rating should be PG-13.

    But as to the subject matter, I wouldn’t call it a disgrace in the abstract. The book is about a dystopian future, and its central theme is how (or even if) one can survive in such a violent world without being corrupted by the violence. It is a book with a strong pacifist message, that criticizes voyeuristic violence without itself being voyeuristic. The book succeeds at doing this, as far as I know. It’s an open question whether the movie has (or can) achieve the same effect. I am intending to see the movie in order to see for myself. And, no, I’m not taking the kids.

    I’d caution against attacking the film or the book behind it in general terms just on the basis of the message. The book absolutely disapproves of the violence on display, but it is a dystopian future, it can’t avoid the fact that such violence exists (both in the real world, as well in the fictional). Trying to deal with the issue by saying one can’t write about the issue is both a limiting response, and one which ignores the problem of such voyeuristic violence without actually dealing with it. At least, that’s my opinion.

    • Warren says:

      Utmost respect, eh? Watch your step. He’s 11.

    • Tim Sullivan says:

      This is funny. If it was “son, 3”, it may be arguable that WK as a father sucks. But, knowing he is a writer with some comprehension of punctuation, this thread could devolve into a real belly splitter.

      … like the guy who wrote on an on about the really bad advice he received to save water. He complained that the brick he was advised to put into the toilet just caused problems. Paper would get stuck to it, the brick became imbued with feces and was awkward to clean after every Number 2.

      Funny stuff.

    • The rating system is backwards.

      In an effort to expand the audience base the studio dials back the violent deaths. So whie the bodies pile up they do so in a less gory way and with less impact, especially to younger viewers,

      Isn’t that the exact opposite of what we want?

  4. James Bow says:

    Sorry. I misread you. You said “I’ll only say this: saw it yesterday with Son 3” and I read that as “saw it yesterday with Son AGED 3” not “Son #3”. Sorry for my confusion.

  5. Jen says:

    OMG, I didn’t know the child actors were actually KILLED IN THE PRODUCTION OF THIS MOVIE!

  6. James Bow says:

    Makes a big difference on one’s interpretation of your post, I’m sure you’ll agree. But for a # sign…

  7. pomojen says:

    It’s interesting. I suspect my reaction to the movie will be similar to yours on a personal level. But when I was 13, I think I would have eaten it up and I can see how this has become a massive thing with adolescent readers etc. I don’t think teen lit has never been so front and centre. In some ways, that’s great. More encouragement to read, think, discuss, deconstruct etc. For us non-teens, not so much…films like Hunger Games pretend at being sophisticated and intellectually challenging when they are neither. While i haven’t read the book, I get the feeling that the book was never intended to be either of those things. Just stimulating, thrilling, visceral, etc…like a roller-coaster ride.

    I remember that at the height of my imaginary play days, I was constantly playing out dystopian, violent and otherwise horrifying themes. I remember being embarrassed at the level of intensity and seriousness we brought into our play when we were discovered by adults while playing these games. We used to bandage my stuffed animals, pretending that they were casualties of war. We used to play “run away” and build forts in the woods to live in and make elaborate plans to grow and hunt food etc in order to “survive”. We conjured up magical creatures that could/ would kill us if we did not follow certain rules, cross certain boundaries…. Some of what I remember was really and truly twisted. But me and my friends thrived on it in secret. And I have run into plenty of adults who remember similar themes in their past play and kids today who do the same thing. Not everyone plays like this, but a significant chunk of us did (and have children who now do this).

    From where I sit now, I sort of view all this as processing/ attempts to comprehend notions of good and evil, struggle and victory, heroes and villains, all the archetypes and stories that have been ubiquitous to humanity since the beginning of our time on this earth. It’s developmental.

    Your son is lucky to have a Dad who can talk about a film with him, dislike it while allowing him room to like it, process it, ask questions, share thoughts etc., allow him to think about it from his own perspective. Helps him grow.

    Hard though. Sometimes I just want to take a scythe right through the crap my 6 year old is sometimes attracted to. Serenity now.

    • Pat says:

      You should read the book. It is actually sophisticated and intellectually stimulating. In fact, no “action” happens until the final 1/3 of the book, up until that time it is more of a prolonged discussion of violence as entertainment (and how it is stupid), while simultaneously commenting on the modern culture of watching reality TV (people watching don’t really care about contestants, they just want to be entertained, so they applaud when hearts are broken).

      It actually isn’t really a visceral roller-coaster ride.

      The reason this book (series) has sold so well is that it appeals to a VERY wide audience. Although it is targeted at teens, I certainly wouldn’t call it teen fiction. My wife and I are 25 and both thought the books were amazing, same with my 30 yr old brother and his wife, my in-laws and my parents. Oddly enough, one of the few people in my family who hasn’t read it is my only teenaged sibling…

      • pomojen says:

        Have you seen the film? Is it shite compared to the book? Just curious since i would have likely skipped the book and seen the flick (easy) rather than the other way around (harder – time is precious).

        Might pick it up … thx for the tip and the reply. I acknowledge I don’t know what I am talking about in terms of the book, but the topic interested me.

        • Pat says:

          I haven’t seen the film, but based on the complexity of the book, I don’t know how they could make something that makes sense fit in the limits of the silver screen. Based on reviews, it did a decent job of sticking close-ish to the book in theme, but if the above is what Warren got from it, then it must not have done a good enough job.

  8. Mandos says:

    You could make that charge against any dystopian fiction. Half the sci-fi genre is off limits now.

  9. allegra fortissima says:

    You know you grew up in the 60s when you had only three TV channels. You ate home cooked food. You wound cassette tapes with a pen. Stores were closed on Sundays. You drew peace signs all over your sneakers. You were bummed out that you were too young to go to Woodstock. You watched “The Flintstones”. You ripped up your bell bottoms and sewed patches all over them. You were never asked over the phone “Where are you” – you didn’t have a handy. You called the school principal “Sir”.

    And when you look back, you still love it!

    • Jan says:

      I’m old enough to have gone to to Woodstock, but didn’t but went to see the movie on Granville St. with my then husband. Lineups arpund the block, people with guiters, people singing. weed being discreetly being smoked. The police had snipers on the surrpunding roofs, poised to take us out at a minutes notice. Just so ridiculous, we were typecast on hair and clothing and taste in music. Anyone who looked like a ‘hippie’ got hastled all he time. You couldn’t go to a mainstream rock concert without getting hastled. We gave up going to them because it wasn’t worth the hastle.

  10. Rob Carter says:

    I saw the movie – read the books of the trilogy. I’ve talked about violence with others before your review and they have had the same reaction as you Warren – basically – how violent especially for a child’s book. Can’t say I totally disagree about the violence. Maybe I’m too desensitized to the violence in movies and books because my reaction wasn’t as disgusted as yours. In the movie at least we only see the aftermath of the violence…not the same quantity or detail as the books.

    Even with the violence, for me it was a sci-fi story. And I think when I was reading it…I was reading it as recco for a sci-fi trilogy and not a childrens trilogy. It was only after that I discovered this fact and gave the whole violence among/between children more critical thought.

    I’ve read that the author was pressured the books publishers to tone down the obvious romantic story lines of main character Katniss Everdeen. Of course this was done to avoid the protests of the christian right in the marketing of the books to their target demographic audience. I raise this point to suggest that there is pressure to influence content on sex but not violence. Hardly a surprise, but yet another example of the whole sex vs violence dynamic on the christian right.

    Would you have felt the same way if this was marketed / targeted towards a more traditional sci-fi audience? My answer would be no, but only slightly.

    Anyway…if anyone cares…from acting standpoint Jennifer Lawrence provides another great performance, probably the best of anyone on the film. Been a fan since Winters Bone.

    • Tim Sullivan says:

      Is “Christian right” comparable in degree away from the centre as “radical left”?

    • Jan says:

      Confusing I know Gord, with the likes of Newt Ginrich. I’m sure he’s anti-violence.

    • Ted B says:

      I must interject.

      This is a “dystopia” novel/movie or even “speculative fiction” as Margaret Atwood describes her novels of that genre.

      It is not, I repeat not, a “science fiction” novel/movie.

      They are not, I repeat not, the same thing.

      Thank you.

      Carry on.

      • Mandos says:

        Atwood’s books that she calls “speculative fiction” stand firmly within a long tradition of novels written by authors typically called “sci fi”. She just created that distinction because Famous Toronto Writer For Well-Read Upper Class People *CANNOT* be allowed to be marketed in the same genre as Star Trek novels.

        It’s really annoying. Atwood is a science fiction writer as the genre has always been defined.

  11. Dude Love says:

    It’s actually a rip-off of a Japanese movie called Battle Royale released in 2000 by Kinji Fukasaku. Problem is Hollywood strips out all the moral undertones of a movie and replaces them with love triangle crap.

    • Philip says:

      Based on the very good book by the same name written by Koushun Takami. Extremely well written and morally complex. I must say, I am a huge fan of dystopian SF and have been since my early teens.

  12. MetaKaizen says:

    Perhaps off topic, but I feel the same way about the media and a certain murder trial going on right now in Ontario. Lots of “warning, this article contains disturbing details…” and lots of tut-tutting about how awful the deed was- as if that needs debating- but in the end it all seems like it has been great for business, with no detail- no warped inner musings of an utter disgrace to the human race- too lurid and despicable to find it’s way into print.

    • Jan says:

      The public has a right to know what happens in these sort of trials. For decades we will be making public policy decisions based on what these accused are convicted on. Our ssociety needs to know what it’s really like, not what some people would like to think it’s like.

      • MetaKaizen says:

        I call BS that the media selected details of the coverage are defensible on “right to know”. The public- of all ages- is being fed the unfiltered gory details by the media for the specific purpose of ratings and eyeballs- not in the interest of future public policy decisions or any useful precedent.

        That’s why Warren’s original posting cued my veering off-topic. His quote “….it pretends to disapprove of children murdering children – while simultaneously profiting from precisely that.” has a very direct parallel here.

        Look for the media coverage to drop off noticeably for the parts where the lurid details are not the focus.

  13. I’m a published author. My first young adult novel hits bookstores this October. (Not about teenagers killing each other – it’s about a teen witch who is trying to save her mother’s life).

    The Hunger Games is a dystopian adventure – it’s all the rage right now and I think it has to be seen for what it is – a movie based on a series of novels that take place in a dystopian future North America. It’s also tame by comparison to a lot of other books that deal with the kinds of things that might make adults squirm if they give themselves time to think about them. The three books by Suzanne Collins are a massive, massive phenomenon – particularly with girls because it has a strong female protagonist as opposed to a doe eyed protagonist in that other book/movie phenomenon about a teenage girl and her sparkly stalker vampire lover. Young Adult books are fueled in large part by female readers and its important to remember, The Hunger Games is a work of fiction. There is no hidden message to my knowledge in the three books. I won’t be seeing the movie because I saw The Running Man back in the 1980’s so this has been done already. And like it or not, there’s a dystopian feel to our times these days. Planes crashing into buildings, terrorism, nutjobs shooting up schools … the list goes on. I think one of the reasons for the success of the three books and ultimately the movies is that it might well be striking a chord with readers. The overall rightness or wrongness of a film about state sanctioned games where teenagers are killing each other off might as well be left for the experts to debate. I’ve written a young adult novel that takes place in the months after a zombie apocalypse and where a group of teen militia go hatches down and bust out of Calgary in their armored personnel carriers – they wind up in a fight for their lives not against the zombies, but against elements of what’s left of the army after the zombies have had their fill.

    Again, it’s fiction. No hidden message – its just an adventure story and my agent is shopping it right now. I suspect there’s no hidden meaning in The Hunger Games. It is what it is, but what makes it work are the characters. (They do bring down the government in Book III by the way.)

    • MCBellecourt says:

      Good luck with the book, Sean! It actually sounds like a decent read!

    • Pat says:

      You suspect there’s no hidden meaning in The Hunger Games? The author has specifically stated that it is a commentary on how violence sells as entertainment.

      I haven’t seen the movie yet (I will tomorrow), but from everything I’ve read the director made a point of making the violence brutal – the way it is in real life – rather than the glorified crap you get in “300” or “Clash of the Titans”… and most reviews say he succeeded. It is supposed to be disturbing. It is supposed to demonstrate, in the most basic and obvious terms, exactly how ridiculous it is to watch the stuff we watch – we see people’s dreams fall short on American Idol, hearts broken on the Bachelor, and people injuring themselves in shows like Jackass. Collins just took it to the extreme – instead of mild misfortune, she picked death, and instead of adults, she picked children.

      • >>You suspect there’s no hidden meaning in The Hunger Games? The author has specifically stated that it is a commentary on how violence sells as entertainment. <<

        And she's not afraid to cash that check, is she?

        • Pat says:

          Wow… have you read the book?

          If you had read it you would understand that, in the book’s case at least, it isn’t glorifying violence. In fact, while reading it, you feel disgusted when someone is killed. Even the characters that border on antagonism – whereas you may WANT the “Emperor” to die at the end of Star Wars, you never want one of the kids to die in Hunger Games. That was the whole point – violence is bad, and we shouldn’t glorify it. Why do you think the “bad guys” are the people who live in the Capital rather than the other “contestants”? Everyone who dies is a victim for the entertainment of the mindless masses.

          By saying that “she’s not afraid to cash that check” you show an utter lack of understanding of the story itself – the whole thing is about how violence is disgusting. Her book makes you sick that violence was perpetrated on these people. But it was written for that purpose. It isn’t like “Hostel” or “300” or something of that ilk, which preys on people who want to be grossed out or who want to glorify violence, The Hunger Games is making a statement that THAT kind of crap is wrong.

          I have no idea whether the film captured this effectively, but many of the reviews I’ve read have said that it does.

          Regardless, you shouldn’t be commenting on the STORY unless you have read the book. If you have a problem with the MOVIE, direct your criticism at the MOVIE.

          • >>Wow… have you read the book?<<

            Who is this aimed at, Warren or me? I've read all three books – they're really well written.

          • Pat says:

            Kinda aimed at both of you. It sounded as though you thought that Collins had used brutal violence to drive sales, whereas the book is actually a diatribe against violence, which has presented it in a manner that is so utterly disgusting (and not “blood and guys” disgusting) that it makes people seriously question the role that violence, gore and reality-based programming have in our lives.

            If that isn’t what you meant by “And she’s not afraid to cash that check, is she?”, then I apologize.

        • Pat says:

          What are your thoughts on Lord of the Flies? Do you think William Golding was just trying to cash in on violence? Did he glorify it?

          If you say no, then you should probably stop talking about the Hunger Games and re-read that book, because it is FAR more disturbing.

          If you say yes, then maybe Warren should try to get McGuinty to remove it from the Ontario Curriculum.

  14. Tim Sullivan says:

    Thanks for the spoiler.

  15. Monica says:

    Just the idea is weird and I don’t think it’ll be on my list to see.

  16. Anon says:

    Getting old much? Would you have hated the movie in your teen, 20s?,30? If so, ignore my opening. If not, …

  17. Raymond says:

    Haven’t seen it as yet, but you were bang-on with your criticism of the idiot that took his young child to ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tatto’ several months back.

    • pomojen says:

      I just saw that movie and couldn’t get the idea of that poor kid in the cinema out of my head. The sexual violence in that film was horrifying. Fucking negligent asshole parents.

  18. Raymond says:

    Sorry: ‘Tattoo’.

  19. Massimo Savino says:

    That film itself is playing over at the Projection Booth on Gerrard in Toronto, and is available at the big box stores (saw the cinema yesterday and the big box today).

  20. Pat says:

    The book is about how the glorification of violence, which happens in SOOOO many movies – 300, Clash of the Titans, Inglorious Basterds, etc – and the use of real misfortune in reality TV – American Idol, Bachelor, etc – are disgusting. By taking it to the extreme in terms of violence – real death – and reality characters – young children – the author is showing the most extreme version of this to really drive the point home.

    I read the books, and when I heard this movie was going to be PG (or even PG-13) I couldn’t believe it. It is a very adult tale told through the eyes of a near-adult (the main character is 17). Perhaps you could use this experience to discuss the ridiculous glorification of violence that appears in the majority of cinema today.

    You could do what my parents always did – they made us read the book before we saw the movie.

  21. sj says:

    My son is twelve and wants to see the movie. But we have a ‘no movie before you read the book’ rule in this house. The waiting list for the books at the library is amost a year, so he will probably lose steam by then. But it is a difficult age to judge what levels and kinds of violonce are appropriate. We saw Cowboys and Aliens and it was fine. But walked out of Planet of the Apes because the animal cruelty was too much. But I am also much stricter about video games too — no shooting people or animals.

    • Pat says:

      I wouldn’t let my kid (if I had one) read this book until they were at least 13 or 14. It is “teen” fiction after all. In fact, I think that the primary audience SHOULD be adults, and that it has been referred to as teen fiction because the main characters are teens.

      The “read the book first” rule is a good one, though.

      I haven’t mentioned this before, but what Hunger Games actually reminds me of is Lord of the Flies – exactly that type of thing. If you wouldn’t let your kid read/watch Lord of the Flies, then you shouldn’t let them read/watch this.

  22. GPAlta says:

    Hypocritical profiteering is the defining characteristic of our time. Unfortunately almost all artists need to compromise with the forces they oppose in order to have any access to an audience at all, so it is hard to know who to blame for this cultural phenomenon devolving into hypocrisy, if that is indeed what has occurred.

    I’m much more afraid of the hypocritical profiteering of the prisons/firearms/privatization industries than I am of the movie industry. Krugman has an excellent column on that today. Interesting how important prisons, firearms, and privatization are to our current government, when you see who is benefiting and how in the US.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/26/opinion/krugman-lobbyists-guns-and-money.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

    Oh and Krugman liked the movie – to each his own http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/problematic-panemetrics/

  23. Ty says:

    Says the guy who constantly uses Clockwork Orange slang?

  24. deb says:

    I had wondered about the idea of selling movies, and books using children as violent pawns in dystopian adventure. I know my oldest daughter is ripping thru the books at lightnening speed, and I doubt the movie will be on our to do list. However I also wonder if the message to theatre goers is getting through. I hope the folks see the greed and economic certainty of people as pawns, as the message, instead of the glorification of competition. I wonder too if we havent reached a point where through extreme sports we already see this kind of activity, example of the recent skiers deaths, though of course they were young adult and making their own decisions, it doesnt help that in order to compete they have to keep upping the danger level.
    The subject matter is definitely darker than I first surmised, and I really hope Collins next series doesnt start exploring pornography and sexual explotation using the pre-teens:P Though im sure there are already books out there that touch on this, they just havent hit the mainstream (unless you count tv shows about child stars and pageantry.)

  25. Todd graham says:

    Cant believe I’m saying thus, but here goes. Remember Lord of the Flies?

  26. deb says:

    Lord of the Flies was an accidental social experiment though, that was not driven by economy, but instead personalities. I think there was a message that all humans revert back to an animal state and become feral in order to survive. Not sure its a good comparison to a hyped up competition driven by sponsorship and twisted govt. Hey is this book written with Dick Cheney in mind;)

  27. Mike says:

    I have three kidlets – 11, 7, and 2 1/2. I haven’t the faintest clue why anyone would consider this movie for children that young. I am planning on seeing the movie tonight with my wife. I feel a little dirty supporting it for the reasons you mention WK.
    A friend took their 9 year old daughter to it last night….unbelievable.

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