The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

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.


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.

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

  1. muerknz March 25, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    Yeah, well said. I saw the movie and it was definitely less violent/disturbing than the book, for example the starvation in the area wasn’t shown, nor was the hover craft flight after the games had finished. I would show it to my older children, but with discussion.

  2. annanonymous March 25, 2012 at 8:13 pm


    I thought it was not only OK, but encouraging of young women’s political analysis/consciousness. Can’t speak for the books, as I haven’t read them.

  3. Psycho Milt March 25, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    My daughter’s 12 now so will be going with her friends, but she used to hang onto me and not watch bits of the Harry Potter movies up to about age 9. Kids know what movies are, they can distinguish between acting and reality and it’s really overly precious to imagine they’re going to be horribly damaged by seeing something in a movie. On the other hand, I never let them watch the first two Alien movies when they were young, the subsequent nightmares would have been very annoying.

  4. Cactus Kate March 25, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    I was shocked to see kids in the audience.
    It’s easily one of the most violent movies I’ve seen, worse that all the killing was kid v kid.

    • Morgan March 27, 2012 at 10:13 am

      No kidding!! A mom and 2 kids sat in my row. One of the kids being 6 (give or take a year).

    • Emma March 28, 2012 at 1:05 pm

      Okay, now that I’ve seen it, I have to say, are you actually serious? Because I find that enormously difficult to believe.

      Yes, it’s scary. But ALL the violence is implied. As Deborah says, you never actually see a weapon enter flesh. At the end, the mercy-killing shot Katniss makes is pretty much impossible because the victim is entirely concealed by the dogs.

  5. Lucy Stewart March 26, 2012 at 2:43 am

    To be perfectly honest, I thought the movie could have done with being a little more grim about the violence to do justice to the source material, but then it would be absolutely unsuitable for pre-teens (and young teens), so. They probably struck a reasonable balance between hinting and showing. I was honestly a bit surprised they *showed* two people being killed in non-blood-involving ways, basically directly. Sure, no blood, but they were just as dead.

    I do think it was a much, much better movie than a book – it became evident how much the choice to keep the book a tight first-person novel had destroyed chances to illustrate the dystopia, like all those extra scenes with Seneca Crane. All the extraneous stuff was gone. You could build an *amazing* sixth-form English curriculum out of it. Say, the movie, war poetry/songs and propaganda (I did those that year), a novel dealing with real-world warfare…it would work really well.

    • tallulahspankhead March 26, 2012 at 6:36 am

      I’m always slightly perplexed when people (standard disclaimer: I’m not a parent) flinch at showing their kids movies that they have read the book of. I find violence in books so much harder to deal with than on screen. And as a child, with a more fertile imagination, and less real-world context, it was even worse. I used to have nightmares all the time. A particularly brutal series after reading James and The Giant Peach.

      Having said that, I haven’t read The Hunger Games books, and I loved the movie. But even as an adult, there were moments I had to look away. It wasn’t Drive, or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (the former, I was on the edge of my seat to get up and walk out the whole time, the latter, I was paralysed, and sat in my seat sobbing for a good 20 minutes after the rape scene), but there were certainly moments where I couldn’t look. One of which was the brick-wielding dude in the arena.

      In other news, a delightful trend has sprung up of people saying Jennifer Lawrence, who I thought was brilliant, is “too big” to play Katniss. She either is “too womanly” (read: curvy) or “not thin enough to be hungry”. This article would be better if it didn’t bodysnark thin women all the way through, but yes, it’s hard not to see the criticism of JL’s body as anything other than good old-fashioned sexism.

      • Lucy Stewart March 26, 2012 at 10:28 am

        “I’m always slightly perplexed when people (standard disclaimer: I’m not a parent) flinch at showing their kids movies that they have read the book of. I find violence in books so much harder to deal with than on screen.”

        I have the exact opposite reaction; I can deal with violence in books that’s objectively pretty disturbing, but stuff that I wouldn’t blink at in text can give me screaming nightmares if presented on film. I get reoccurring nightmares for weeks if I even see a *trailer* for some horror movies. (Usually body horror, which, just…no, no, no.) I think this is the kind of thing that varies from person to person a *lot*, depending on their learning style/imagination.

        • hungrymamanz March 26, 2012 at 10:45 am

          For me the difference comes in the informed decision making. If my kids have read the book I can say “how will you feel when this happens?” and “do you think that will be too scary”. They are pretty good assessors of their own limits so, if it’s an adaptation of a book they know they get the final say whereas if it’s unfamiliar material I take a stronger parental hand.

    • cranapia April 8, 2012 at 8:44 am

      To be perfectly honest, I thought the movie could have done with being a little more grim about the violence to do justice to the source material

      Well, yes — or even the idea that when 12 year old girls get honking great spears through their chests their deaths don’t tend to be quite so pretty, quiet and painless. FFS, we are talking about a society that uses starvation, annual mass murder of children and the ever-present threat of annihilation to control the peasantry. Yeah, I really think that shouldn’t be presented as affectless snuff where anything that might be actually upsetting is crash-cut away from.

  6. hungrymamanz March 26, 2012 at 10:20 am

    I haven’t read or seen The Hunger Games yet so can only comment in general terms and have carefully skip read this post in the name of spoiler avoidance.

    I have a very different threshold for letting my kids see films when they have already read the book (assuming the adaptation is relatively faithful). I had to think quite hard about taking my six year old to the last two Harry Potter movies but,in the end, he knew the book well, had seen all the other movies on DVD and frequently rewatched them so it didn’t seem to make sense for him to miss out. We discussed it and he opted to see it in 2D, having been pre-warned about a couple of places which made people jump, and it was wonderful. When you’ve read the book the sad bits are still sad and the scary bits are still scary but they are not surprising. It will probably be quite a few years before he’s taken to a movie with a similar rating that isn’t based on material he knows well.

  7. annanonymous March 26, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    This on Stuff:

    Not sure I entirely agree with it, but it’s interesting.

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