Rarely do children die in movies. For all its violence, Hollywood typically reserves the death of a child for gratuitous sympathy shots in war and disaster films. They are the most innocent victims of civilian bombings and earthquakes, police shootouts and alien invasions. Only in rare cases is the suffering of a child anything more than the innocent counterpoint to the suffering of adults, the breaking point in the tragedy.
In The Hunger Games film, released this past Friday nationwide, children do die on screen. They are killed in brutal fashion by other children, without glory or fanfare. Suzanne Collins, author of the eponymous book series, earned enough praise for her portrayal of children killing children that many speculated about how the movie would treat the same issue. Yet somehow, the movie manages to dance around the book’s central tensions in a way that can only be described as safe.
Let’s be clear: The Hunger Games is a fantastic film. Within the first few scenes, Gary Ross and his art team dissipate any worries that this book-to-movie transition would prove as embarrassing as those of Twilight and The Golden Compass. The scene of the Reaping, whitewashed and unnervingly silent, is masterful in its sincerity, and the rest of the film is equally striking, both in aesthetics and emotion. The plot moves quickly and the sets are beautiful. Best of all, Ross keeps close to the source material, often following the novel page by page, in what is undoubtedly a conscious decision not to risk the disappointment of the books’ millions of fans.