I have been asked several times whether The Hunger Games is “okay” for children to watch. Well, that depends on your kid. I agree with the film’s official PG-13 rating, that it will be fine for teenagers. However, younger kids may be disturbed by some of the themes and images. I recommend seeing the movie with your child, not merely dropping him/her off at the theater.
Here, I will tell parents about the most objectionable stuff, in an effort to give you an idea what’s on the screen. This is spoilerish stuff, but I’m assuming parents would prefer to know what’s coming rather than being surprised right along with the little ones.
(Click here for my review of the movie.)
First up is the very idea of children being used by the government to punish a rebellion from the distant past. These children are required to kill each other. As in, dead. The contestants range in age from 12-18, and are shown sobbing as they are separated from parents and siblings. One girl dreams about how her father was killed in a mine explosion.
There is little blood, but characters are shown killed by throwing knives, spears, axes, bladed weapons, rocks and bricks. In addition, one burly character is seen brutally twisting a smaller boy’s head around to break his neck with some cracking noises. (In my theater, a woman cried out “Oh!” in shock when it happened.) A girl is repeatedly bashed with a rock and we hear her slammed against a wall until she falls into frame, dead with eyes open.
In fact, all the dead characters lie with their eyes open, and some have blood trickling from their mouths. Most of the blood on living characters is from previous wounds, many of which happen offscreen, however, several characters are bloodied by glancing blows from bladed weapons onscreen.
One of the few other characters the audience is led to feel sympathy for, the smallest and youngest girl, Rue, dies from a spear wound in the stomach, which is very upsetting. Katniss talks to her and sings to her as she slowly dies, and then places flowers on Rue’s body. Then, Katniss collapses and cries her eyes out. I could hear many people sobbing in my theater.
A Bambi-style forest fire threatens one girl, and she suffers a major, ugly burn. One boy has a deep, bleeding leg wound.
Arrows are shot into chests and hit one guy in the hand, crippling him. A boy gets a knife in the back.
Several characters scream for help and plead for their lives before being killed.
Mutant hornets swarm and attack several characters after their nest is intentionally dropped into a camp by another character. One girl is overcome and stung to death. We then see her corpse with deforming welts on her hands and face.
Giant mutant dog-like creatures chase two characters through the woods at night, and they scream in terror. One Career falls victim to the mutants, who swarm and begin to eat him alive, but viewers cannot see any of that. Another character kills him with an arrow to put him out of his misery.
One girl accidentally eats poisonous berries, and is shown discolored and dead with mouth and eyes open.
Two characters threaten to commit suicide together, but this is not explicitly stated; you have to understand that they are planning to deliberately eat berries previously established as poisonous. They don’t go through with it.
Looked at as a list like this, the egregious material seems more terrible than it is. Keep in mind that most of this stuff happens very quickly. The battles are as brief as they are brutal, and the camera doesn’t linger for long over the corpses.
The biggest problem may be in kids being upset by the themes, but there are positive things to talk about: the value of friendship and family, never giving up, trying your hardest and always hanging on to hope for the future.
As I suggested, this is a movie to see with your kids, but even more importantly, it’s a movie to talk about afterward.