Just saw The Hunger Games last week and I gotta say, I really enjoyed it. I never read the books, so for me it was a purely cinematic experience. I wasn't sitting there taking notes on differences in the film and the book the entire time. I just got to sit back and enjoy it for what it was to me... a movie.
At first I was put off though, at the lack of brutality in a film that wanted to demonstrate that brutality is wrong. I mean, if you really want people to see how wrong it is, just show it to them, right? God, look at Battle Royale for crying out loud. But then I spoke to a good friend of mine, Miguel Rodriguez, also a horror academic (he runs Monster Island Resort, which has amazing insight into horror and monster films). Miguel adroitly pointed out that I had missed the point a little. The audience for the film was mostly teenagers and children, some of them as young as 8 and 9 years old, and that, while not very violent for seasoned violent-cinema fans like us, it was exactly right for the grade school and middle school set. I was amazed at my sudden turnaround. He was right. He was exactly right.
You see, I have an 8 year old daughter (and a 2 year old son) myself and while they visit my sets and even star in some of my films, it's never real violence or real monsters to either of them. To them, it's Daddy's magical workplace, filled with rubber monsters and friendly actors playing them. I might as well be a Willy Wonka or Dr. Seuss in their bright young eyes. And my monsters? Those are fabricated by my chief collaborator and one of my best friends in the world, Jeff Farley (Pet Sematary, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc ad nauseum). And Jeff comes over for dinner, shares game and movie nights with us... he's family. And my kids think of him as a sort of Halloweeny Gepetto who's able to make monsters out of thin air. A Pygmalion who builds creations and then we all get to fall in love with them.
But when it comes to violence, especially the really real looking humans-versus-humans stuff, I guard my kids like everyone else. And while neither of mine is ready for The Hunger Games, a lot of kids a little bit older ARE ready. And it is a good introduction to violence and the utter damn senselessness of it.
It's a funny thing, violence in media. We're a warlike race of apes. Let's face it. We love war. We love hitting and kicking and killing and taking and gloating. It's reflected in our stories, our games, our sports, our systems of government, our religion, our social structure, our economic system, even our mating rituals. All of it is based entirely on conflict, conquest , destruction or subjugation of enemies and... killing, or at least, symbolic killing.
We embrace it daily and don't even fucking know it. Sadly, I've had former friends, and even relatives, judge me for the horror films I make. I've been excommunicated by some. Told I was a shitty father by others because of what I do. How could I possibly be a good father when I create tales of horror and supernatural evil?
Funny thing, though. I'm a pacifist. I believe strongly in liberty and the golden rule. I don't own guns, but believe it's okay if you do. I have my religious and spiritual views, but don't enforce them on others. But strangely... strangely... the people who have judged me the hardest are the most warlike of our ape brethren. The most angry, rabid sports fans who scream at their kids at peewee soccer. The most die hard religious zealots who'd rather you were dead than different. The ones who would love to judge me (and all of you guys too) with thrown rocks. Fucking riddle me THAT, Batman.
Ironic. Because, you know what? In the horror community, we're certainly weird and fringe and eccentric, but never have I met such a bunch of gentle, charming, unsual people, and I fully embrace them and their forms of expression. Because at the end of the day, we're non-violent. And we're preaching, in our own bizarre way, nonviolence. It's our way of exorcising our own warlike ape nature. Taking our nightmares, realizing them with sound and words and music, and then conjuring them into realty, by which we quickly discover that they disipate. Ephemeral, like the smoke they are.
Anyway, to bring it all back around... while dear old dad here and all of my chronies prefer the bleak brutality and complex social commentary of Battle Royal, there is, and absolutely should be, a place for that same message for kids and teens, and that place is in films and books like The Hunger Games.
Because nothing teaches the violent animal that violence is bad, better than showing them the pain and sadness it causes. And it really is as simple as that.
Gaudium per atrox.
[Image: My two kids going monster hunting, drawn by illustrator Calan Ree]