I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that, for three weeks in a row, The Hunger Games has topped the Hollywood box office. For awhile there, I was afraid audiences might not embrace a movie in which 24 children are forced to stab, shoot, and snap the necks of one another. Whew!
Of course, I haven’t seen The Hunger Games. When you write reviews for AARP.org, you see, the cinematic bloodbaths of choice generally involve consenting adults, and how boring is that? In the movies I see, usually it’s cops and adult crooks, or soldiers, or, at the youngest, violent gang members who do the bloodletting. But why should we adults have all the fun? It was about time someone came up with an acceptable way to present some good old-fashioned bloodlust to the kiddies. And the vehicle for Hunger Games is ingenious in its conception: The mayhem is wrapped up in the context of a dystopian future in which an authoritative government drafts children into this duel-to-the-death, and then televises it to a transfixed populace. Social commentary, get it? Well, actually, neither do it, but that’s beside the point. The important thing is we get to see a couple of dozen kids snuffing out each others’ lives with all the emotion of Fred Arbogast baiting a worm. Plus, there’s a teen love story!
And it’s nice to see all the media falling into line. I especially like the part where the writers refer to the Hunger Games books and say, “Well, the important thing is, kids are reading!” I couldn’t agree more. But I was not always so enlightened. I remember a couple of decades ago I was sitting in my son’s fourth-grade class for Parents’ Day, and one kid gave a book review of his favorite R.L. Stine Goosebumps novel. It might have been Welcome to Camp Nightmare or Monster Blood. Regrettably (and I can’t believe I was so screwed up at the time), I was appalled by the grim nature of the books, not to mention the boy’s obvious delight in relating the most disturbing passages. I expressed my narrow-minded misgivings to the teacher, who shook her head with the same sad expression she probably reserved for kids who came to school after Christmas, excited about what Santa Claus had brought them.
“I’m just happy that they’re reading,” she said. Foolishly, I suggested that maybe the kids might like Tom Sawyer or Treasure Island. “People die in those books, too!” I said helpfully. Alas, neither book came with a cover illustration of a corpse with one eye hanging out of its socket, so my argument was doomed from the start.
Anyway, I now know better. And after our enthralled kids are done with the thrill-packed Hunger Games trilogy, maybe they can enjoy some more delightful movies in the same vein, films like Innocent Voices (2005), screenwriter Oscar Torres’s true story about having been forced into the El Salvadoran government’s army at age 12. Or The Children’s War, Andrew Krakower’s documentary about Ugandan children enlisted to kill enemies of The Lord’s Resistance Army.
On second thought, no. For whatever reason, those films fail to recognize the inherent romance of their subject matter. Sure, they’ve got kids who are forced to commit murder. But really, where’s the love?