This past week I took my twelve year old daughter to see the film, “The Hunger Games.” I knew the film was appropriate for her age, because my daughter’s school had already taken her to see it as part of a field trip.
The movie depicts an oppressive regime in the future that holds an annual contest. Each of the nation’s 12 districts is required to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18. Twenty-four contestants are placed in an elaborate arena, supplied with weapons, and told to kill each other. The lone survivor is named the winner and lavished with riches.
The film has significant artistic merit. It is brilliantly executed. It is thoroughly engaging.
It is also the most viciously barbaric film I have ever seen. I do not say this because of the number of people who are killed (though it is depressingly high). I do not say this because of the quantity of gore (which was remarkably small considering the death count). The barbarism of the film is firmly rooted in the psychological horror of each death.
The premise of adolescents being killed by their peers is shocking. But the film mixes this premise with the natural and familiar brutality of adolescent bullying. Adults are capable of great and vicious violence. But adults cannot match the sheer joy and glee that some adolescents express during acts of brutality. The image of a group of attractive and popular bullies, laughing and romping, as their most recent victim lies humiliated and beaten on a school house play ground, is deeply disturbing. When the victim lies dead in an arena, it is grotesque.
Before the games, the contestants live in squalor in the districts. They are brought to the capital city for two weeks of preparation, where they briefly live lives of luxury. Fabulous parades are held in their honor. They are fawned over and treated like celebrities. The girls are dressed in elaborate gowns. They are interviewed by charismatic television hosts. They smile and giggle as they talk about their hopes for the future. By the end of the games, they are butchered piles of flesh.
Moreover, none of the contestants are prepared for death. When a soldier or policeman trains, they must feel death always looking over their shoulder. All adults know that they will one day die. Adolescents are the only people who cling to the myth that the end will never come. The movie makers capture this adolescent ignorance with stunning accuracy. There is, therefore, no death with dignity in “The Hunger Games”. There is only shock, surprise and horror.
A girl lights a fire, is found, pleads for her life, and murdered. Another girl falls asleep, is awakened when a nest of genetically modified wasps are dropped on her, and screams in horror as she is tormented to death by a thousand stings. Another girl pleads for help from her ally, just before she is slaughtered. A boy begs to be killed as he is eaten alive by dog like creatures.
I am genuinely impressed by the skill of the movie’s makers. They have delivered an exquisite feast of horror and violence. I am equally appalled that they have marketed this feast to adolescents.
Two young boys were inspired by the film, “The Matrix”, to massacre their fellow class mates at Columbine. That film featured highly stylized violence. Adults killed adults. The hero fought against “people” who were, in effect, computer programs.
What is the potential for violent inspiration from a film that depicts children killing children? Will the film’s brilliant mimicry of bullying and adolescent denial of death increase the chance that violent fantasies will be acted on?
Even if no one is ever inspired to commit one violent act because of this film, I cannot believe that anyone under the age of 18 is emotionally equipped to see it. We cannot feed our children horror, violence and brutality without reaping a harvest of spiritual desolation.
Of course, the film makers are trying to make some kind of moral or political point. But in choosing their audience, they have committed a singularly immoral act.
I am most shocked by the quiet with which this film has been sold to our children. I have searched the internet for reviews. Criticism is virtually nonexistent.
Years ago Pope John Paul II called ours a Culture of Death. I always liked our Polish Pope. I thought he was a sweet and wise old man. But I am not Catholic, and therefore never placed any special importance on his words. When he called ours a Culture of Death, I thought he had clearly missed the mark, indulging in metaphysical hyperbole.
Surely he was a prophet. We are no longer content to devour endless violence and call it adult entertainment. We are sitting quietly by as Hollywood peddles it to our children.
We are not on a slippery slope. We are at the bottom.