Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Hunger Games

I went to the movies on the weekend, on a whim. I was conscious that I hadn't been for a few years, and I thought I wouldn't like to get too far out of touch with popular culture, whether I approve of it or no. My newspaper had a glowing review of The Hunger Games, and since it was sort of sci-fi (being set in a post-apocalypse future) I thought it would be right up my street. The film is based on the first novel in a series by the American writer Suzanne Collins, a writer of juvenile fiction, and she also helped write the screenplay.

Now if you have some intention of going to see it yourself, you should stop reading right here, because there are spoilers ahead.

OK, they've all left the room? Let's continue.

In the USA the film is rated PG-13+. In Australia it is rated M (meaning 15+ but not mandatory). Here is the nub of the story, from IMDB:

" Set in a future where the Capitol selects a boy and girl from the twelve districts to fight to the death on live television, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister's place for the latest match. "

The boy and the girl have to be aged between 12 and 18, so it's a fair bet the target audience is in the 9 - 15 age group. Which would make it difficult for them to get in to see it in Australia if anybody policed the rating, but of course nobody does. The day I went there were only 5 or 6 people over the age of 14 in the theatre (including me) and all of those remaining adults were parents escorting children under the age of 10; in fact one child looked to be no older than 6. The audience was about 60% teenage girl, 30% teenage boy.

Now call me an old fuddy-duddy if you like (go ahead, you know you want to), but what parent in their right mind would think a movie in which a whole bunch of teenagers run around in park armed with machetes, Bowie knives, bows and arrows, and land mines(!) trying to kill each other is suitable fare for a 6 year old? Or even a 10 year old.

The movie makers were worried that having a girl as a lead protagonist would hurt ticket sales, but they needn't have been. The books have been selling like hot cakes, and the movie was always going to do well; in fact it took in US$155m on its opening weekend, so it has surpassed Lord Of The Rings (Ep 1) and Harry Potter (Ep 1) already.

Having all those teenage girls in the theatre certainly amplified the emotional content. They squeaked and gasped at the scary bits, sobbed quietly at the sad bits (plenty of those) and generally behaved like they were totally involved. About two-thirds or maybe three-quarters of the way through the movie our heroine Katniss is risking her life trying to get medicine for the boy from her district, Peeta, when she is jumped by a girl from another district who has previously been set up as an evil person. Evil girl commits classic movie bad person mistake of gloating first as she prepares to cut Katniss' throat. Suddenly a boy from another district appears and kills evil girl by repeatedly slamming her head against a wall.

At which point almost the entire audience, excluding the old farts, broke into spontaneous applause.

Now call me an old fuddy-duddy if you like (go ahead, you know you want to), but we've just witnessed a young man kill a young woman by slamming her head repeatedly against a wall, and this is worthy of applause? If he killed a Bug Eyed Monster I'd be all for it, since the BEM has no hope of gaining our sympathy, but this is person on person graphic violence, and the kids were all for it. I was shocked.

This was the most violent and disturbing scene in the movie, the rest being pretty formulaic. If you want to discover what the violence is like before buying a ticket for your 12-year old, go here:

Parental Guide

Now I know quite young children play quite violent video games, but there's a difference. The kids may be engaged by the game, but they know perfectly well it isn't real - they can turn off the X-Box whenever they want without causing any harm to the characters. A movie is different; a movie differs from a stage play in that it is attempting to present a verisimilitude of reality whereas a play is an exposition.

I walked out of theatre a little disturbed.

Later I watched an interview with Jennifer Lawrence, the actress who plays Katniss Everdeen. She is, of course, beautiful. And 21. At the end of the interview she was asked for her favourite line from a movie; she quoted the " she's a witch" sequence from Monty Python's Monty Python And The Holy Grail. I was completely smitten and immediately sent off my proposal of marriage to her agent.