The Hunger Games is set in a way beyond dystopia future in which the rulers living in the Third-Reich-like “Capitol” keep the peons in the “Districts” in fear and subjugation by holding gladiatorial games each year. The combatants are children and teenagers, picked at random to fight to the death, each representing their District. And everything is televised—like a gruesome reality show.
Katniss Everdeen (the flawless Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take the place of her little sister when her little sister’s name is drawn. A young man, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who has a crush on Katniss, is also chosen from her District. Out of twenty-four contestants, there is only one victor. We follow Katniss through her Hitler Youth-like “show no mercy” training and prepping in fighting and survival (which includes a stylist, played by Lenny Kravitz, because Katniss will need “sponsors”). The mechanics of fame are clearly delineated for the young combatants as they are packaged and presented to the public. All of this does not come naturally to the honest, unvarnished Katniss.
The Hunger Games books are written by a woman, Suzanne Collins, and she gives us a strong female heroine in a cruel and violent world (although some of the other young people are also kind). Katniss never loses her humanity through it all, and never initiates the killing. Instead, she tries to flee it, and help her friends at her own peril.
One of the big questions surrounding The Hunger Games has been: Is it too violent for children? Especially since this is kids killing kids? I would say: know your kids, and at what age you think they can handle this. (Visuals of gore are kept to a bare minimum.)
The question I would ask is: Why do we need/want to see this at all? I realized halfway through the film that I was actually watching a show within a show. What makes me essentially different from all the people in the Districts and the Capitol who are watching this as entertainment? Why do we find this entertaining and not repulsing? Am I desensitizing/preparing myself to accept a possibly more vicious future in reality by allowing myself to imagine one? Of course, World War II (or any real war) was far more hellish than this film. I couldn’t help thinking of the Jewish children of the Warsaw ghetto who were shot on sight by Nazis, just for sport.
The film is extremely well done on all counts. Once you know what you (and your children) are in for at the cinema, it’s your call.