Disclaimer: All reviews are the result of my personal opinion from a Christian stand-point. These reviews are provided for those who share my beliefs and morals, to help guide what fiction a reader may wish to pick up. For those who do not share these beliefs, please refrain from hateful comments. It is due to rude commenting that I must now include this note prior to all reviews. For more information, visit my purpose behind this blog. Thank you for your understanding.
Note: This is not a post about "Well the book had this, but the movie didn't!" This is giving a review of the book and movie in relation to "appropriateness".
I'll admit, I obsessed slightly over the movie--reading the magazines in the store, watching every new video clip, gripping my husband's hand every time I saw a poster, learning every trivia fact about each actress or actor. So naturally, I felt the need to re-read the book before seeing the movie. I wanted to solidify my imagined-version of The Hunger Games before inserting the movie into my memory. In doing so, I found myself with a more developed opinion and point of view than with my first review of the Hunger Games.
Here it is:
Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12--one of the 12 Districts remaining after the downfall of the world from natural disasters. She's fought to put food on the table for her family since she was eleven years old. The new government--the Capitol--runs the districts and the people in them, controlling them through withholding food, limiting freedom, and through holding The Hunger Games every year.
The Hunger Games are a way to remind the people of the Capitol's control. Each district is forced to relinquish a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18, called "tributes", to battle to the death in a giant arena. Twenty-four total tributes. Only one can win, which means 23 must die. Oh yes, and it's broadcasted to the world like a sickening, modern-day Colosseum.
The only person Katniss knows she really loves is her 12-year-old sister, Prim, so when it's a choice between herself and Prim dying in the Hunger Games, she steps forward and dooms her future to being a part of the nation's largest and most popular yearly bloodbath. Not only that, but the boy that she's going to be fighting from her district saved her life four years earlier.
The difficulty of Katniss's life is portrayed so perfectly through her point of view--the way she thinks, the things she notices, the things she fears...it all matches and forms her character perfectly. Every choice that she makes is consistent with the knowledge that she's gained through her lifestyle.
It was very different reading this a second time through. I still teared up at the same moments and admired Katniss's character, but I really saw the depressing side of the story in a new light. This book leaves you desperately grasping for any tiny measure of hope. You don't get it at the end. What's worse, is that the reader never gets hope through the entire series. It's only waiting and hoping...hoping for something good, something redeeming, something that will bring some sort of restoration. It never comes. Even in fighting for goodness, no goodness ever arrives.
It's a powerful series about the hopelessness of war, the cruelty and selfishness of mankind, and the dark side of life--life void of God. The hope that I pull out of this series is thankfulness that life isn't really like that. It's not like that for me because I know that I have God who's given my life a purpose (Jeremiah 29:11-14).
There is no hopelessness in God. But in The Hunger Games series, there is no hope...because God is not in them. The story is considered raw and real (even though it's futuristic) because that is the type of future that people face without God. I'm not trying to say that "hope in God" is Suzanne Collin's message, it's just what I see after reading the series again.
Romance. The romance is not the main focus of this book and never is through the entire series. There is a love triangle, but it's not typical. Katniss's focus is on survival, not love. There are moment when she starts actually contemplating love--it's something she's never really thought about.
There is a lot of kissing in one portion of the book, but it remains very clear-cut and clean. She shares a sleeping bag with a boy a few times solely for the sake of keeping warm. During the prep time, Katniss is stripped of her clothes and her body is surveyed by her stylist. He remains purely professional, but even the reader feels Katniss's awkwardness. There is also a moment when Katniss is stripping Peeta's clothes off because of an injury--she admits to herself that she's embarrassed to see him naked and makes sure he has a cloth to cover himself so that she doesn't have to.
Disturbing Images: I felt like this was a better category instead of violence. The violence is prominent--24 kids are fighting to the death, there's going to be violence whether you like it or not. If you go into this book hoping for no violence, you should expect to be upset.
Some of the more described moments of violence may be something that stick in a reader's head--especially a reader with a good imagination. I'm 25 and the images are in my head, undoubtedly permanent. A boy gets stabbed in the back and coughs blood onto Katniss's face; there are multiple "agonized screams" throughout the book when another tribute is killed; there is a moment when Katniss is having hallucinations of ants crawling all over her body--inside her mouth and eyes, burning and biting. She also hallucinates that human skin peels off of another tribute's body whenever she touches her.
A tribute gets stabbed with a spear, another gets her head bashed in by a stone, also, Katniss shoots a boy in the neck with an arrow and he drowns in his own blood. Possibly the most disturbing scene is at the end when a boy is being mauled, slowly and tortuously, by ferocious beasts for hours on end. He's finally silenced with an arrow through his skull.
This. Is. A. Violent. Book.
So why do I like it so much? I've examined my thinking quite a lot and still have few concrete answers. I love the depth of the characters, I admire the intricacies of the dystopian world created, I think that the plot-line is delivered in a very original way (even though there are similar books out there like Battle Royale), and I can see the power behind this book. I love reading original stories and I love seeing characters with passion. It's the writer-side of me that loves this book. The reader-side of me is a bit more hesitant. I'm also a happy-ending type of person. I don't like being depressed or feeling hopeless.
I do, however, like to think--think about life, contemplate new ideas that an author might be sending. If you're a serious reader, the Hunger Games will make you think. But that's not good enough for me to recommend a book. I can't recommend it, yet I also can't say "steer clear". In the case of The Hunger Games, I will have to leave it up to your own discretion, to pull from my review a decision for yourself.
I will say, however, that I do not think it is appropriate for young readers. "Young" meaning under 16 years of age or so. I see kids in elementary-school reading it after school while waiting for the bus. Even though something in me loves the books, I still want to rip it out of their hands and scream, "Wait a few more years! You don't need this in your mind yet!".
Why? Because they're powerful.
I want to acknowledge Collin's incredible imagination and notable skill in writing. I, in no way, want to "bash on her". I know that she's very popular and her books are the newest rage. I'm one of her admirers and I hope to cause no dissent, but I can't turn a blind eye to the bitter message that darkens over the course of the series.
I've never seen a movie so accurately depict a book before. There were direct lines from the book, hardly any alterations, and it was delivered in a way that still made sense to those who hadn't read the book (or so my husband says). I was deeply impressed by Lionsgate (I'll admit, I'd had my doubts) and have further faith in them for the production of future movies.
My opinion after reading the book before the movie: I thought Hunger Games was far less violent than the book (graphic-wise).
My husband's opinion from watching the movie without reading the book: he found it more violent than he expected.
Even with what I believed to be less violence, the movie was intense. The strongest point of the movie was the beginning--the Reaping. After that, once Katniss entered the games, I feel like the movie settled into more of a generic action film. It lost something, but I don't think the loss was avoidable. I think because of the frequency of action films in our culture today, we're a bit immune when it comes to "intensity" or action. I don't think it was possible to give the movie the same deep feel as the book. For some, this is a good thing.
I enjoyed the beginning of the movie the most and I breathed a small sigh of relief at the end. As I'd hoped, the filmmakers closed the film with a bit more hope--at least a couple smiles. I'm glad they didn't leave it like the book: hopeless and depressing.
Also, there was less "romantic" emphasis than I'd expected, which was nice, and the physical moments mentioned in the book (Katniss being naked before her stylist, her stripping Peeta of his clothes, and both of them sharing a sleeping bag) were all excluded. The driving force behind the movie is drama, violence, and survival.
In any case, all the same deaths took place. The bloodbath at the beginning showed more than I would have thought for a PG-13 movie. It was pushing R, and actually...I think to accurately include everything from the book it would have had to been rated R. The ending with the muttations was tamed down from the book--thank heavens! In fact, the movie version was a little cheesy, but still scary. I'm glad because I found that to be one of the most disturbing moments of the book.
A note on violence: I wouldn't dare to say whether or not the violence is too high or not for a teen--that opinion is solely subjective and depends on how much violence that teen is exposed to on a daily basis through life, movies, books, etc. But let me pose a question for the parents:
Do you encourage your child to read the Bible?
Random question, perhaps, but think about the violence in the Bible. There is slaughter of men, women, and children. There are graphic deaths/murders (just read 1 & 2 Samuel!) that get into detail (think of Ehud stabbing the king, Jael hammering a tent peg into Sisera's skull, Haman hanging on the gallows, Joab murdering Amasa who wallowed in his own blood, etc.). The Bible gets graphic, too. We encourage our children to "dig into the Word", yet seethe at the idea of fictional violence.
I think it's notable to say we don't want to be I-M-M-U-N-E. We don't want to be blind to violence, we don't want our children to be blind to the real world (or do we?), but we don't want to be immune to violence.
A note on swearing: There were a few swear words in the film like "d***" and "h***. I can honestly say that they added to the intensity and were used in the moment so strategically that I almost didn't notice them. Also, I think this falls into the same category as my comment on violence. These same words are in the Bible. I think it's safe to ask, are we going to black out every "swear" word in the Bible to protect our kids? Just food for thought...
I can't cut-and-dry this movie into a review of good vs. bad. I can't just look at the logistics of The Hunger Games in movie form. There is so much to this novel and movie; I can't just review it as if I'm commenting on the quality of a slice of pie.
Jennifer Lawrence's portrayal of Katniss was phenomenal. Before I even saw the movie I just started thinking of her as Katniss. Her grimaces, lip trembles, gasps, and voice breaks portrayed all the feelings that the book took an entire page to describe. Her acting pole-vaulted far past "up-to-par".
Overall, the movie was very very well done. I was pleased and felt more rest and satisfaction at the end of it than I did at the end of the book. It was also very thought-provoking. I don't know anyone who's read the books and come out of them with a strong opinion. I would love to hear more of these opinions below! Here are some questions to spur on some response:
Did you enjoy the Hunger Games (movie or book)? Why or why not?
Do you think the violence is too excessive?
If you're a believer in Christ, would you ever recommend this book? Why or why not?
And of course--if you've read the book and seen the movie, how did the two compare?
p.s. I found this review by Christianity Today rather fabulous. Everything I would have liked to say.
Nadine Brandes is an adventurer, fusing authentic faith with bold imagination. She writes stories about brave living, finding purpose, and other worlds soaked in imagination. Her debut dystopian novel, A Time to Die, releases 2014 from Marcher Lord Press, the premier publisher of Christian speculative fiction. When Nadine's not taste-testing a new chai or editing fantasy novels, she is out pursuing adventures. She currently lives in Idaho with her husband. You can find out more about Nadine and her books at http://nadinebrandes.com.