On taking my pre-teen daughters to see The Hunger Games

Cross posted

We had a family trip to the movies today, to see The Hunger Games. It may be the first movie ever that we have all very much wanted to go and see, ‘though there have been plenty of other movies that all of us are happy enough to go to, to keep those who are desperately keen company.

I thought long and hard before taking my pre-teen daughters, who are aged 10. The movie has an “M” certificate in New Zealand, which means that it is rated as:

Suitable for Mature Audiences 16 and over (but still unrestricted). Possible descriptors: Anti-social behaviour; Horror scenes; Scenes of cruelty; Offensive language; Violence; Sex scenes; Violence and offensive language; Violence, offensive language and sex scenes.

So that’s a step or two up from “PG” or “Parental guidance recommended”. It’s obvious why The Hunger Games is “M” rated: it’s extremely violent.

Even so, I took my girls. They have read all the books, and they have been circulating them at school, and discussing them with their friends. They very much wanted to see the movie. And so did I, because I thoroughly enjoyed the books.

Having seen the movies, I think that it was okay for my girls to see it. I did do my best to prepare them for it. We had several briefings, talking about the “M” rating, and talking about the various violent scenes in the books. We talked about specific scenes, and how the movie makers might show them. And we tried to identify scenes that we thought would be especially upsetting or frightening to watch. My aim was to give the girls a framework for perceiving each scene, so that it wouldn’t blast on them unawares.

After the movie, we talked some more, about the scenes where we cried, and the horrid scenes that they didn’t watch (it turns out that if you are only ten years old and small with it, you can curl right up in your cinema seat). We also talked about how the movie makers had adapted various scenes, and which bits we thought they did well, and which not so well. In other words, we had a thorough debriefing session, and I’m sure it will continue over dinner tonight.

I also made sure that we went to an afternoon session, so that the children would have plenty of time to talk before they go to bed tonight.

They seem to be okay with it all. It has taken a bit of work on my part, but given that they wanted to see the movie so very much, I thought that was the better thing to do, rather than refuse to allow them to see it.

As for the violence in the movie – yes, it’s bad, but it’s integral to the movie, rather than just there for the sake of it. It is not unnecessarily dwelt on in loving detail, and the focus is always on the people, rather than the acts of violence.

*HERE BE SPOILERS. CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED. THIS IS A RESOURCE FOR OTHER PARENTS WHO ARE TRYING TO WORK OUT WHETHER OR NOT TO TAKE THEIR YOUNGER CHILDREN.*

Most of the violence is not shown in detail. We see the aftermath of killings, rather than the killings themselves. For example, in one of the expository scenes, we see a Hunger Games set in a ruined city, where a tribute has become victor by killing the last other person left alive by bashing him with a brick. We never see the bashing, but we do see the victor holding the bloody brick aloft over the dead person. It is a fleeting sequence rather than a drawn out one.

The blood bath at the beginning of the games is shown as fights and people falling dead, or we see a killer throwing a knife or a spear, but we don’t actually see any killing blows or deaths. When Rue dies, we do see her speared, but not the moment of spearing. There is an extended knife fight which I thought went on too long, too much of an “Ooohhh – look at the girlies fighting!” feel to it, but just as I was starting to think that thought, it stopped.

I had thought that the penultimate scene in the arena, with the mutts, would be very, very difficult to watch. It *is* frightening, but it is set at nightfall, so we don’t see the mutts clearly. I thought this was a good thing, because I know that this is the stuff of nightmares for me. It was considerably toned down from the book.

All in all, I think that this movie can be managed with younger children who have already read the books. I think the pre-visualisation helps, and I also think that it helps to know that Katniss is alive at the end. I would be cautious about taking young children who have not read the book, and I would even be cautious about somewhat older children going if they are not familiar with the story. So my assessment is a little different from Common Sense Media, who think that it’s too violent for pre-teens, even those who have read the book.

On a pure fan note, I loved the presentation of the tributes in the chariots, and I loved the scene with Seneca and the bowl of ‘fruit’ right at the end, and I loved the flame-dress, and I thought Cinna and Effie and President Snow were fabulously realised, and I cried as Katniss gathered the flowers for Rue and laid them on her.

I’ll be going again.

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9 comments on “On taking my pre-teen daughters to see The Hunger Games

  1. suze says:

    Thanks for the review – this might be one of the first films 13yo goes to with friends, though I’m a little apprehensive, as he’s very sensitive to scariness in films and books, not violence per se but emotional situations such as children losing their parents. However he has read the books without any difficulty. (I haven’t and no interest in them.)

  2. mimbles says:

    My Miss13 wants to go, but not because she’s read the books, she’s had her interest piqued because Taylor Swift did some of the music and many of her friends have read them and are excited. So I’ll probably go with her even though I didn’t love the books – I did like them well enough to read them all – but Mr10 who also hasn’t read the books will be staying home, undoubtedly to his annoyance.

  3. blue milk says:

    This is such a lovely rewarding description of the experience, thanks for writing it.

  4. Balancing Jane says:

    I agree with your assessment–the violence was certainly present (how could it not be?) but it was definitely muted and understated.

    I also wanted to say that I really respect the way you discussed this with your daughters. It sounds like there were a lot of contextual analyses and that emotion was highly tied to violence, which is what is so important to me. Violence happens, and–when age appropriate–I think my daughter can know that. I do not want her being desensitized to it, though, and I think that your discussions are a great way to ensure that we both recognize that films and books are not “real” but they are also not “just entertainment.”

  5. cranapia says:

    The blood bath at the beginning of the games is shown as fights and people falling dead, or we see a killer throwing a knife or a spear, but we don’t actually see any killing blows or deaths.

    And frankly, that’s where I have a real problem with the film trying to have it both ways – and, to be utterly cynical, simply to avoid a revenue-depressing restricted rating from the MPAA. So, hey, we can have a massacre but fudge the staging with shaky-cam, crash cuts and very careful editing that would be familiar to any reality show producer. I really hope the irony was unintentional.

  6. bill ivany says:

    you are a shit parent for subjecting your kids to this crap. With your logic, human excrement is part of life, right ? So why not swim in it ? I grew up in the 1970’s, and to see this kind of violence, a child would have to sneak into some snuff film. MUCH harder than having Mommy take you, huh ?? And btw, where is “Dad” in all of this ? I’m surmising here, but I imagine he’s out of the picture……how sad.

    • Deborah says:

      Well, on those grounds I must be a shittier parent, because I took them twice. Perhaps if I take them a third time, I will be the shittiest parent.

      If you had bothered to do anything more than shout out some driveby abuse, and maybe read a few other things on my blog, you would have noticed that I have been married to my daughters’ father for over twenty years now. He came to the movie with us: it was a family trip to the movies.

  7. bill ivany says:

    cn nl mgn whts nxt..y & th hsbnd wnt t mk sr th kds ndrstnd sxlt, s yll strt lttng thm xplr prn ! Tht S th sm thng s sbjctng thm t ths lvl f vlnc t yng gs. n rtnl y s n mkng xcss t llw thm t wtch ths, cld ls b sd fr th prn cmprsn. Lt m knw hw th nghtmrs g n w f th kdds, k ?? r thrpst blls !

    [Disemvowelled. Because I felt like it.]

  8. Tommy says:

    Hunger games catching fire will be out soon! Love this s**t!

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