There’s a dark, dystopian universe coming to movie houses this weekend, and there’s a good chance your child is going to want in. The Hunger Games, the film based on the hugely popular book series by Suzanne Collins, opens today. And though the books are billed as “young adult,” the series has attracted many younger, pre-teen fans who will be begging to check out the screen version, which is rated PG or 14A, depending on the province.
The Hunger Games is based in a future North America, renamed Panem, where each district is compelled to produce two “tributes” – teenaged warriors as young as 12 – to compete. They are forced to enter an arena and fight each other with an array of weapons until one is left standing. The bloody action is televised for the masses.
The Globe and Mail talked to experts and parents about whether or not to let their kids see the buzz movie of the moment, and how they would handle five of the story’s darker themes.
Erica Ehm, the Toronto-based founder of parenting blog Yummy Mummy Club, is one parent who will be lining up with her child. She says her 11-year-old son, Josh, loved the series, and she’s not worried about the graphic imagery.
“Reading something can be more graphic, in a sense, because you’re imagining the horror of it in your head,” she says. “So I have no concerns.”
Ms. Ehm says that she and Josh have had conversations about the book, and she feels that because it’s sci-fi, it softens the horror of what’s happening, making it more fantasy than reality.
Josh is excited to see the film. As for the violence, he says, “In The Hunger Games they show violence as a negative thing, and if people see that, then maybe they’ll see that violence is not a good thing.”
Bret Dawson is a Toronto dad, and his 10-year-old daughter Clare is going to start reading the series this weekend. “Most of the kids in my class have read it and they say it’s really good,” she says. Mr. Dawson is fine with Clare watching the film after she's read the books.
“She’s a better judge of what’s scary than I am,” says Mr. Dawson. “I also think it’s a little precious for parents to think that kids won’t get access [to scary movies] When I was not much older than her, 11 or 12, at sleepovers we’d watch Friday the 13th movies, which if you want to talk about violence for pure sport, that’s way more icky than some dystopian, sci-fi thing.”
Killing as entertainment
The premise of a televised spectacle in which murder is entertainment is something that Nathalie Warmerdam of Eganville, Ont., thinks might be too much for some children.
Ms. Warmerdam and her nearly 15-year-old daughter Valerie have read the series and will be going to the movie, but she says she's not sure a younger child would be able to handle that kind of content.
“The problem is there’s such a varying level of maturity in the tweens and teens,” she says. “I would want parents to know, if they have a younger, more sensitive teen, that they need to be aware that this is really dark stuff. It’s almost like a Roman arena, where you’re all forced in and only one’s going to walk out.”
Wendy Saulesleja of Kitchener, Ont., is allowing her 11-year-old daughter to see the film with her, but not her nine-year-old daughter. Ms. Saulesleja read the books herself and says she tried to talk to her older daughter about the harsh content.
“But she kept shrugging it off, saying, ‘Well mom, it’s just fantasy, it’s not real, it’s imagination, it’s never going to actually happen,’ says Ms. Saulesleja. “So she’s able to understand quite clearly that it’s fictional.”
Ms. Saulesleja says she doesn’t think her younger daughter is ready to make that distinction, however.
“I think there’s definite maturity that happens between grade four and grade six, and I don’t even know that my nine-year-old will, at grade six, be able to read them. We’ll have to see if I think she’s ready,” she says.
The government of Panem is a totalitarian regime in The Hunger Games. The unbending and malicious President Coriolanus Snow exerts absolute control over his people through manipulation and force, based on vengeance for an uprising (the background to the series).