Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Hunger Games - the book, the movie and sharing both with an eleven year old geek.

The nagging probably started more than a year ago. I don’t remember exactly when. But it’s been constant, unrelenting, maddening. My eldest son, 11yrs – who I’ll call Geek Boy for the purposes of this blog - decided he had to know everything there was to know about The Hunger Games.

He wanted to read the books. I said no, he wasn’t old enough. He wanted to see the movie when it finally came out. I said not while he lived this side of Hades, or at least not until I’d seen it for myself, or he turned thirteen, whichever came first. He said it wasn’t fair; his friends were allowed. I said his friends didn’t have mothers who read and reviewed thirty or forty Young Adult novels a year. I said I knew about the Hunger Games, I’d read them all. Those other mothers didn’t. He said he was an advanced reader; again it was unfair that other kids were allowed to read it and he wasn’t. I said I don’t care, I’m nasty and I’m evil and I didn’t think he was ready. He could read The Hunger Games when he was old enough to understand the book properly, that it was more than a bunch of kids forced into an arena to kill each other for what was, essentially, entertainment for the privileged, a means of governmental control, a commentary on a fucked up society. He read reviews of the books. He watched trailer upon trailer when the first snippets of the movie were released online. He memorised the names of actors and their characters. He put forth intelligent argument after intelligent argument as to why he was mature and literate enough to be allowed to enter The Hunger Games world. As his mother, I felt the step was too big for him to take. Once he’d read and hopefully understood The Hunger Games, his literary tastes would be changed forever. There would be no going back. Reading these books would cross him over a threshold I wasn’t sure I wanted him to take.

In the end, I gave in - with a little help from his Dad, who got fed up with the nagging before I did. He convinced me Geek Boy would probably pinch the book from my shelf and read it anyway. So, we agreed that if he read the book, beginning to end without dipping into anything else in the meantime, then yes, he could see the movie.

My little Chip-Off-The-Maternal-Block read the first book in a day and a half. But did he get it? Hell yes. The two of us have had some amazing, mature discussions about the many themes Suzanne Collins touched on throughout this series. Reading The Hunger Games was a kind of coming-of-age thing for him – and me. We discussed not just this particular story, but dystopias versus utopias, the writing style (first person, present tense), the use of a strong female protagonist, the Big Brother phenomena, society’s current obsession with reality TV, sympathy and empathy, civil war and politics. These books have been an awesome bonding experience for the two of us.

So this week, I kept the parental side of the bargain. Together, we saw, loved and spent hours discussing the movie. Frankly, I was blown away by his reactions and understanding of a film that we both felt was as faithful as it could be to the original novel. Of course there are differences; minor changes in character and plot.  Geek-Boy and I were worried about how the movie makers would adapt a book written in such an intimate manner from lead character Katniss’ point of view without using her as a narrator giving some sort of naff voice-over. Lead actor Jennifer Lawrence squashes that concern with her first five facial expressions. Her ability to convey emotion without a word is subtle and heartbreaking. The two scenes that come to mind most are an intimate moment with Cinna seconds before the tributes make their appearance in the arena. Katniss trembles in silence like only someone utterly terrified can do. The second scene is during the actual games, when another tribute is killed. Yep, she even made me tear up a bit – no mean feat considering I was waiting for the moment.

Neither of us liked the use of the shaky, hand-held camera filming method. It was an annoying distraction. In the novel, too much time is spent explaining the world at the beginning before The Reaping takes place (the day where a lottery is held, picking unwilling ‘tributes’ to be forced into taking part in The Hunger Games), in the movie, more time is spent afterwards at The Capitol while the tributes are being prepared for the games. The story works better this way. Bonus points for more time with Lenny Kravitz as Cinna and Woody Harrelson, who plays mentor and past Hunger Games winner, Haymitch. They’re both beyond awesome in their roles. Another welcome difference is that the Haymitch character is far more likeable, though remaining true to form. I imagined him older, dirtier than Harrelson’s version, but I’m happy to have my vision changed. Donald Sutherland’s character, President Snow, is underused. This dude is evil incarnate, but if you haven’t read the book, you probably won’t get that from the film. This is another case of brilliant casting, and it’s a shame to see Sutherland go to waste.

The movie is actually less violent than the books. That’s not to say the gory stuff isn’t there, it is. But it’s not the focus of this film.                    

A couple of days later, how do I feel about letting Geek Boy cross that line? He’s now been exposed to horrific violence in literature, a book that forces a mature reader to think about the ‘what ifs’ long after the last page is read. Fine. I’m still good with it. He came home and flew through book two, Catching Fire and now he’s deep into the third – Mockingjay. He’s spent three days immersed in books that are challenging him and lighting a fire in his belly. I mean, how cool is that? I underestimated his emotional capabilities. I underestimated his maturity. I went against my own theories that we adults forget that children cope with and understand far more between pages than we’d like them to. I tried to swathe my own kid in bubble wrap, conveniently ignoring what I, myself was reading at his age. Of course, The Hunger Games isn’t for every 11 year old. It’s not for every parent, either. But for Geek Boy and me, it opened a whole new line of dialogue, and another level of my bookshelf for us to share. And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s about isn’t it? Being able to share a passion for good books, characters and plots with your child is the best.

So... now all I need to figure out is which Stephen King to start him on first?

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