Hungry for Knowledge: A Multi-Generational Take on The Hunger Games

Parents: what have you heard about (or what do you already know about) The Hunger Games trilogy? It’s violent? Yes. Kids kill other kids. Yes. It contains adult concepts and themes. Yes. Yet, the books are wildly popular amongst kids and adults alike. And the new Hunger Games movie—the first installment in the trilogy— has already served up a record-breaking $68.25 million domestically in its first day.

Yet, despite the PG-13 rating, some parents are still hesitant to let their young teens read the books or watch the film. In an online review of the new Hunger Games film, Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization offering free reviews and advice to help families and educators make good choices for kids, said this:

“Despite the violence (which is, overall, less graphic than the novel's descriptions but is still very intense), the movie explores thought-provoking themes about reality television, totalitarian government, and screen violence as entertainment. And Katniss, the main character, is a strong heroine who's resourceful, selfless, and a true survivor.”

Common Sense Media’s official rating for the film is a Pause for 13+, which means that parents of tweens and teens should consider their child’s unique situation, as some of the film’s content may not be appropriate for some kids. So, given the ratings, controversy, and hype surrounding the Hunger Games series, we want to know: Have you allowed your child to read the books/watch the movie?

Since some of us here at ParentFuther have read the series (some of us haven’t) we thought that taking an afternoon off to watch the film would be an interesting opportunity to weigh in on the matter. So, as good researchers do, we closed up shop at noon, piled into Mary Margaret’s car, and headed to the movie theater to catch the Friday matinee of The Hunger Games.

The Critics

Mary Margaret I have to confess; I did not read the book, but I know enough about some of the book's themes, and prior to (and after) the film, I processed through some tough conversations about those themes with my 13-year-old daughter. Some of her specific concerns about the subject matter weren’t around the violence present in the series. Instead, her questions and concerns were about social inequality and injustice. So, I was semi-prepared for what to expect in this film, but not necessarily prepared for what I actually got out of it.

Jenny I admit it. I'm a Hunger Games geek. A total fangirl. As with all book-to-movie adaptations derived from books that hold a special place in my heart, my expectations for this film were set pretty low. Read my review below to find out if the movie was able to raise my standards.

Sam Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of The Hunger Games book series. I've read them all—twice—and was practically counting down the days until the movie premiere. Okay, I actually was counting down the days until the movie premiere. Read my review in the roundup below to read my advice to parents of kids who will be watching the film.

Lucia I have read the first book a total of three times the other two I have only read twice. The last time I read The Hunger Games was more than four months ago. Going into the movie, I was concerned about the character portrayal—would they be well played by the actors hired? But my really big concern was how well would the movie be at staying true to the book.

The Roundup:

Mary Margaret: The Hunger Games research team not only consisted of ParentFurther staff. We also included my 13-year-old daughter, Lucia, and two of her friends (both age 14). During the film, I kept a close eye on everyone's reactions to some of the more "disturbing" scenes in the film. From what I could tell, (and based on our conversation afterward) none of the five who had already read the book had an extreme reaction to the film. The same could not be said for myself! I got sucked into the storyline right away. I experienced a range of emotions throughout the course of the film. I was mostly anxious and nervous with anticipation. I was literally hanging on the edge of my seat. Afterward, we walked across the street to a local cafe to grab some lunch and discuss the movie. And the conversation was lively!

Sam explains to Mary Margaret why Seneca Crane is her favorite Hunger Games character.

Listening to everyone's reactions to the film really brought things into perspective for me. I didn’t realize that the series reflected so much of what was happening in our world. Themes of hunger, drought, distribution of resources, racial (or in the Hunger Games, specifically, regional) disparity, stereotypes, coming-of-age rituals, and survival of the fittest are a few that come to mind. The film reminded me that our children are growing up in a world where they have unlimited access to information—at home, in their neighborhoods, cities, states, countries, and all over the world. The themes and ideas in the movie may once have been themes for “those” people, but today—more-so than ever before—our kids they have the opportunity to make “those” people's issues their own. And as parents, we have the opportunity to support them in that passion.

Jenny: As book-to-movie adaptations go, I'd have to say this one falls on the better end of the spectrum in the categories of accuracy, casting, and sheer entertainment value. If I had to sum up my impression of the movie vs. book in one word, I'd call it "tame".

Now let me explain.

The concept of kids fighting to the death is by NO MEANS tame, it's disturbing, provocative, and stirring. That's why the series is so popular. But let's face it: a couple of stabbing scenes, some blood-smeared faces, and a few skin wounds are no worse for teens to take in than "torrid sex, gore, and violence that includes a man chewing through a stomach to deliver a baby" (see Twilight).

Why your daughter should be at least 17 to see the new Twilight movie >

That said, the level of violence depicted in the Hunger Games film in no way compares to Suzanne Collins' written account of the events leading up to and during the Hunger Games. If you're interested in details, I recommend reading this article. It does a nice job of summing up what I'm talking about.

As the Young Adult (YA) fiction (Harry Potter, The Golden Compass, etc.) genre continues to gain popularity on the silver screen, it's important for parents to consider that the book will almost always have much more complex implications for your "young adult" than the movie ever will.

Mania, craze, hype—whatever you want to call it—it's there for a reason. These books usually deal with big themes. They can be scary and confusing for young children, but only if they're never talked about.

Parents, only you can decide whether or not your child is prepared to handle the themes served up in this series. What I would caution against is getting hung-up on the PG-13 rating. Sometimes adults tend to give 10,11, or 12-year-olds far less credit than is due.

This movie can challenge a young person's perception of many of life's realities in a really great way. Mine (at 30) were challenged, for sure. So, if you do decide to let your tween see the movie or read the book, I recommend you discuss beforehand, read it with him, then discuss afterward. And really listen to what your child has to say. More often than not, your reality will be challenged because of someone else's point-of-view. Kids have some pretty amazing ones. Just read Lucia's opinion (further down) to see what I mean.

Sam: As a frequent connoisseur of YA Fiction, I'm often left wondering how differently my 13-year-old self would have digested the often-mature themes and sensitive subject matter like violence, war, love, and politics that today's popular "kids" books contain. Would I have seen past the love story and hunky guys in the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games and taken the time to understand the message author, Suzanne Collins and director, Gary Ross were trying to send? Would I have really understood the themes of oppression and rebellion, control and freedom that permeate this story of a post-apocalyptic America where the biggest reality TV sensation is a yearly broadcast of children fighting to the death?

Sam and Jenny eagerly await for the movie to begin.

I think it is for this reason that one of the things that struck me most during the movie was a short scene involving a family from the rich and all-powerful Capitol. It's the eve of the Hunger Games and we see a father give his son a gift, which ends up being a toy sword. The boy excitedly pulls the sword from its sheath and chases his sister while the parents look on and laugh. This scene stuck out to me as a good metaphor for a parent's role in helping their children navigate the big topics that come up in the movie.

Parents, by allowing your children to see the Hunger Games, you are giving their kids a powerful tool and it is up to them to figure out how to use it. If you do take your children to the movie, I encourage you to sit down with them afterward and discuss what they saw and how it made them feel. Talk about how the movie relates to real issues in our world today.

Lucia: The [film's portrayal of the book] met my expectations. Overall, they did a better job at adapting the book to the movie, than the Twilight saga, in my opinion. In the book, most of the violence that happens is necessary in order to convey the meaning and the intensity of the Hunger Games. Most of the scenes in the book do not go into gruesome details. Before the PG-13 rating was announced, I was afraid that maybe the director of the movie would want to make the Hunger Games more "adult" like. The book is a young adult novel, but making it into a rated R movie would just encourage young people to go to rated R movies, and they would miss the important story and lessons the Hunger Games has to offer.

Lucia is ready for the movie to begin!

The Bottom Line:

Mary Margaret: I recommend both parents and kids see this movie—with a couple of caveats. 1. Keep asking the tough questions. 2. Really listen to their answers. Weather it's a book or a movie—make time to debrief about the themes and ideas. Use it as an opportunity to illustrate your family values and beliefs! And yes, I will be reading the book now, and I will keep talking with Lucia about some of the important themes that came out of this experience—long after the hype of the film dies down.

Jenny: Take a chance on your kid. He's wise beyond his years. Keep challenging and pushing him, and give him the opportunity to do the same for you.

Sam: Make sure you don't just hand them the sword, but teach them how to use it responsibly.

Lucia: I do recommend the book to kids and adults, but if kids younger than twelve want to go I think that their parents should read the book first and then determine if their child can handle the subject matter.

Tell Us: Has your child seen the movie or read the Hunger Games books? What do you think of the series/the movie? Photo Credit: Hunger Games book cover photo via GoodNCrazy on Flick'r.

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