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The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games trilogy was a huge hit. Now comes the movie. It’s a brave new world of teen dystopia. We’ll dive in.

In this image released by Lionsgate, Jennifer Lawrence portrays Katniss Everdeen in a scene from "The Hunger Games," set for release on March 23, 2012.  (AP)

In this image released by Lionsgate, Jennifer Lawrence portrays Katniss Everdeen in a scene from "The Hunger Games," set for release on March 23, 2012. (AP)

The story of The Hunger Games is bleak, violent and absolutely gripping to a generation of young readers and many not so young.  In a post-apocalyptic post-America, every district has to offer up two children every year to fight to the death – gladiator-style, on reality TV – so that others might eat and live.

The trilogy of books has sold 26 million copies.  The movie opens today.  A story of survival, love, rebellion and the easy brutality of power.  Is this a generation grappling with the rough world they’re being left?

This hour, On Point: inside the compelling dystopia of The Hunger Games.

-Tom Ashbrook


Lev Grossman, senior writer and book reviewer at Time Magazine. You can read his review of the Hunger Games books here.

Betsy Cornwell, graduate student at the University of Notre Dame and herself an author of young adult literature. She’s a former editor and contributor to the magazine Teen Ink.

Claudia Puig, film critic at USA Today.

From Tom’s Reading List

Time “Kids fall in love with a story: it is their innocent equivalent of volcanic passion. They hear the tale from a parent, or their older siblings read a “young adult” book — read it over and over, because each new visit is like reconnecting with an old friend whose life is more fraught and much cooler than theirs.”

New York Times “The past year has seen the publication of more than a dozen post-apocalyptic young adult novels that explore what the future could look like once our unsustainable lifestyles cease to be sustained. (Spoiler alert: It’s gonna be bad.)”

The Today Show “Each recipe includes the book and chapter where the food was mentioned in the series, a great addition for the die-hard fan who can use it to get in the mood by reading the passage before chowing down! (We’ve added a snippet of each passage to go along with the recipes below.)”

Video: Hunger Games Trailer

Here’s the official Hunger Games trailer. The movie opens Friday, March 23rd.


“Abraham’s Daughter” by Arcade Fire
“Eyes Open” by Taylor Swift
“Just a Game” by Birdy


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  • SteveV

    The contradictions in our society have always been interesting. In the area of
    violence, when it strikes in our schools or elsewhere we become appalled and
    search for answers. Yet we turn to the media for entertainment and find more
    violence than we can imagine. Shootings, murders, assaults by means that are
    limited only by our imagination, occur hourly on our televisions. I suspect the
    veneer of our society is wearing thin and that beneath dwells a violence we cannot
    admit to ourselves as real.

  • Anonymous

    I haven’t read the book, yet, but I can’t avoid the buzz.  The author on NPR talks about how the heroine did it for her family.  It makes me wonder if the other teen-characters that may have been killed by the heroine also did it for their family too?

    Or, do we get the typical cop-out from writer whereby there is clearly some “baddies” that die and the “good guys” triumph?

    • Mr. Trees

      To be fair, it is juvenile fiction.  It’s also a page turner.  The lack of complexity of other “contestants” motives is overshadowed by the constant push caused by the problems that arise for the protagonist. 

    • Jess in Boston

      I have read the books. Surprisingly, there is no cop out. Katniss, the heroine, is complex and often wrong, manipulated, or naïve. She isn’t perfect and she doesn’t always win.

      The authoress surprised me more than once on the twists on characters and no one is really what they seem. In my opinion she did a very good job exposing the senselessness of the violence, the pointlessness of the games and the humanity of all the contestants. Even when the most evil and brutal tribute ends up meeting his terrible end, the reader does not feel a sense of relief or triumph, but pity and hopelessness, as does Katniss.

  • Anonymous

    This story has a precedent.  How much has this story been influenced by the Japanese story “Battle Royale”, where a group of about 50 high school students are forced to fight to the death?

  • JustSayin

    Is this another version of Jersey Shore?

  • kelty

    Your trailer link does not work

    • BHA in Vermont

       It does if you click on the YouTube link when the “Embedding disabled” message pops up.

      • kelty


  • Patrik

    I think maybe a sociologist would have been helpful here.  It seems to me that young adults and teens are just flat out escaping from reality moreso than ever before, wether it be utopian or dystopian.  These movies being rolled out seem to draw that group because it relflects their perspective of what is or what could/should be.  Then again I’m probably way off.

    • Mr. Trees

      This is nothing new.  Adolescents and adults alike are drawn to fantasy fiction for a number of reasons, escape from reality obviously one of them.  Having said that, I doubt that this should come off as foreboding of a bleak future for the youth of America, or the world for that matter.  Fantasy begets creativity; if we get a little more creativity from the  youth I’m all for it, with more readers to boot!

  • AC

    may the odds be EVER in your favor….

  • ebw343

    A televised duel to the death.
     Maybe the GOP should’ve gone with this to select a presidential nominee instead of the primary race.

  • Mr. Trees (Davenport, IA)

    I went into my local bookstore on Saturday morning and picked up book 1.  I found a nice to tree to sit under and read the book in 1 sitting.  Talk about a page turner.  I was back at my bookstore saturday night to get book 2!

  • Mr. Trees


    are you going to do a show for Wolrd Book Night: April 23rd?

  • mmg/Omaha,NE

    Sometimes books are not meant to be movies.  My understanding is the film maker chose to make the
    theatre audience part of the Hunger games audience

  • Patrik

    We need to stop using oil and find another way to create energy, our environment is what is at stake here. Phase out the widespread use of fossil fuels.

    • Patrik

      Wrong convo, my bad.

  • Chris

    Heys kids. It’s going to be much worse for you then this. I would be fighting TPTB starting now if I were you.

  • Rick Ross

    I’ll be honest, I have not read the book nor do I plan on seeing the movie. However, I’m happy that its giving “new life” to the INCREDIBLE Japanese story “Battle Royale”. One of my favorite action book/movie.

  • http://www.facebook.com/heather.p.emerson Heather Peckham Emerson

    I think to call this a young adult book or a romance is underestimating its power. When I read it I was checking it out before letting my daughters read it, and I enjoyed the first book – but it is the second two that really bring home a huge selection of big questions we all can wrestle with – politics, the extremes of fashion and fads, the corruption of total power, the unreality of reality TV and the manipulation of all the media we see, the role of extremism versus conservatism. Katniss is a reluctant hero – swept into a situation that grows beyond her small life due to a moments decision. It is well worth reading the second books.

  • Morgan

    Anybody remember the movie The Running Man with Arnold Schwarzenegger?  Very similar but yes, maybe aimed at a younger audience.  But is this surprising?  Everything about our society is pushing children to grow up faster.

    • John C

      Morgan, I feel like it’s basically the same premise, cleaned up, tightened up and re-packaged.

    • Patrik

      lol, The Running Man.  “Killian, here’s your Subzero, now plain zero”

    • Mr. Trees

      Stephen King loved The Hunger Games

  • Anonymous

    Wouldn’t most reality shows be better if the contestants killed each other? 

    • Chris

      Sure would. I bet the producers would have a much harder time getting contestants. Then again…

      • BHA in Vermont

         Yep, hard to get your 15 minutes of fame (and hope to stretch it) for financial gain if you are dead.

  • Anonymous

    Yawn… Rollerblade… yawn. Is this not a hit because it ties gratuitous violence into reality TV for the compulsive texting generation feeling powerless confronted with a very real dark outlook on employment and carreer in the immediate future?

  • MK

    Something I thought clever in the book, vis the reality TV angle, was the role a (half-contrived) romance plays, ala The Bachelor etc.  In a coming of age context, kind of superimposes “thou shalt compete and dominate” with “thou shalt mate”.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/LXEDC7KPDBWYAXQJ3OOLJOTH6I imchuckie

    Our daughter is 12, & she & her friends, 12-13, love The Hunger Games trilogy, as do my husband & I. We’d have gone to the midnight show, if it was not a school night. Instead, we opted for Fri. night & have reserved tix. My daughter & I will be wearing our Mockingjay pins, & with her friend, our T-shirts. I’ve read interviews with the author which have only increased my respect for her accomplishment. Her goal was to write for young adults about what war is really like. She was inspired by channel surfing between reality TV & scenes from the war in Iraq. Given her goal, none of the violence is gratuitous. None of the characters is perfect; they are complex & evolve over the course of the series. It is refreshing to have an adolescent female heroine struggle with life & death in powerful ways, as well as struggle with love & relationships in a way which is not condescending to the readers, passive, nor swooning. Perhaps of note is the fact that while our daughter is an advanced  reader, she’s been quite sheltered from television/computers/social media. The Harry Potter movies were her first (& only) exposure to movie violence. Every parent must decide, but I cannot recommend these books enough. Read the series with your child, & you will have amazing conversations. And by the way, the reader on the audio books is fantastic–you’ll recognize her from Law & Order & other acting jobs.

  • Vanessa – J.P.

    I’m 27 and I’ve read all three books in the series. I was absolutely captivated by the creativity of the story line. I’ve always viewed things from the 1984 lens since reading it and I felt the Hunger Games was a great addition to the Dystopic genre!

  • Anonymous

    The books are more than kid lit.  Disturbing premise but well written.  Adults, young and old, can appreciate the gripping quality of the story.  I will be seeing the movie with my teen daughter.

  • http://www.fibrowitch.net Jan Dumas

    I am kind of wondering why The Hunger Game is making such a bag splash while the Japanese film Battle Royal is still off limits 

    • BHA in Vermont

       Haven’t seen either, just watched trailers, but I will venture a guess or two:
      Guns? That BR trailer looked like an assault rifle bloodbath.
      Apparent enjoyment of killing the other kids?

      Again, I have NOT seen the movies so the clips could be misleading as to the ‘vibe’ of the total movie.

  • Susan

    I have to work hard to get my 13 year old son to read but he paid for this book with his own money and could not put it down. I believe it was the fact that it was “the popular” book that sent him to it and the story that kept him there. He is a kid who is too afraid to walk down into our basement alone, so I wonder if his love of this book is his way of working out all his fears in the safety of his bedroom.

  • Bgaidry

    Bread and Circuses. Much like today, except most of us are all out of bread.

  • Sabuj Pattanayek

    Something similar to this happens in Africa already. Children are armed and killing each other.

  • d hults

    Would this film get as much attention from NPR if the central character were male instead of female?

    • Mr. Trees

      I’m not sure if I understand this statement.  Please expand this statement for me.

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/J7LU3TFXLHTP5IYTPTG62VUZRY Ann

      This comment made me smile, because I have four boys who study English according to a U.S. curriculum (although we don’t live in the U.S.). They used to start the selections in their reading books and groan, “I don’t need to read the rest of it. Of course, the girl is going to win.” The heroes were always girls, the best athletes were always girls (including in one story where a white girl had to teach a black boy – whose father was an NBA player – how to play basketball)…

      So yeah, I do understand this comment.

  • Longfellow’s Evangeline

    Fascinating.  This  story is new to me.  Reminds me of Gen. MacArthur at Annacostia, and how ‘The New Birth Control of The Regency’ will function in the Regency of Virginia.  They have got to have a circus somehow.  The is the destiny of the right to work states, and it is what is wanted, and appreciated by Virginia Republicans, and their coming Apocalypse, ..But wait, George Allen will be coming down the mountain, from 29, to 64, standing on two white horses (Suspended by invisible strings hung from blimps above the clouds)  Music will be played as if coming from a stream of sun breaking thru the clouds, a Jacobs ladder, even. It will be megalopolis to the rescue.  He will catch all passes of gold, and other tribute, as foretold and forfigured. and on and on and on.  Watch out children!

  • Jamison

    The people in the book HAVE to watch the games as punishment.  It is mandatory, orders by the Capitally. 
    Also the Gone books by Michael Grant is much more brutal.
    by the way Im 30 and dyslexic so these books help me read. 

  • Ms. Sweetman

    I have recently read the first book and loved it. Such a commentary on the future of our society yet utterly absorbing and engaging for young readers. As far as the concerns about how young is too young, I believe we are underestimating the pre-teen mind to grasp the concepts that are clearly written. There is desperation to survive and compassion in the acts of violence. Can that be said of the horrific video games we let our children squander their time on hour after hour? I would much rather have my child read a book. 
    Thank you for this insightful show.

  • MarkVII88

    What about the central concept of continued surprise in The Hunger Games?  It was a surprise for Katniss to volunteer.  It was a surprise for her to get the highest training score.  It was a surprise that a tribute from the poorest district (#12) won the games.  It was a surprise to have 2 winners (both district 12).  The Capitol is surprised by the overt rebellious behavior of Katniss and Peeta.  Katniss herself is continually surprised throughout…by her own level of performance, by Peeta’s genuine expression of love.

    • BHA in Vermont

       Well they aren’t surprises any more! :)

  • G Havener39

    Aside from the authors of this story albeit book or movie, what’s new or different from the days of the gladiators, the holocaust, the crusade, King Authors Knights of the Round Table, or cock-fighting?  Aside from some contemporary and perceived projection for the human culture, the authors have done nothing more than to find another venue for conveying, regrettably, human-appetite for ghoulish and exploitive behavior.  I guess we’d say in the vernacular, “it’s in our DNA to enjoy this stuff!”

  • Guest

    This story is  very much like Battle Royale, a Japanese novel, comic, and movie that came out 12 years ago.  Can your guests comment on the similarities, differences, and/or influences?  thanks.

  • Danette

    Please ask the guests to comment on the values in the series:  love, compassion, loyalty, friendship — many of the same values which run through the Harry Potter series.

  • Scout61

    When I grew up, we read the Grimm’s Fairy tales.  Just as violent and graphic as the Hunger Games.  In “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Hansel and Gretel” children are in life threatening situations and are expected to fight for their lives. 
    We believe in a false a version of an innocent childhood, free from the notion violence and struggle.

  • Scooter

    Middle-aged dad here. I read the books because my 13-year-old daughter loves them. My take: meh. Better than the awful Twilight books, which is damning with faint praise. Realizing that I’m not exactly the target audience, the story to me boils down to its focus on Katniss’ inability to choose which boy she likes best. I never much cared.

  • Alison

    Lower classes of teenagers being sent to kill or be killed makes me think of our approach to war. Has anyone noted that comparison?

  • Sumrania

    May be people in Syria actually are living in “the Hunger Game”. 

    • Terry Tree Tree

      And MANY other places, to some effect?

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/J7LU3TFXLHTP5IYTPTG62VUZRY Ann

      Yes, but in America, all the hype is about a movie… and there are huge sums of money involved with that movie…

  • Marclevine

    I’m not sure we’re getting the big picture here. I tell you this story with some degree of horror. Some time ago, soon after it had happened, my son asked me why Daniel Pearl was killed by his captors. After a little probing, it turned out that what he really wanted to tell me is that he and his friends, all about 12 to 13 years old, had watched the actual beheading on the web, and that they ‘cried’. I consider myself lucky that he told me and we could talk about it. This is the world our children live in. As much as we want them to be sheltered, almost all of them have access to the internet and we have no idea what they are seeing- things that are real. Anything, like having this book to talk about with them has got to be better than not having it- as long as we have that dialogue.

  • Kate

    Suzanne Collins is a genius at asking ethical issues of young people. For younger readers, please see her equally excellent series, Gregor the Overlander. All of her works have sparked amazing discussions about war, peace and personal responsibility with my two sons, aged 7 and 11.

  • Deb K

    My son is 11 and what was interesting to him (and got me to read the book) wasn’t the violence itself, but the situation it creates and questions it raises.  What does a situation do to the individual?  How can/should a person react to the world that is forced on you? In a terrible situation, is it possible to preserve some piece of yourself?  These questions are first raised by Peeta as he thinks about going into the Games, and Katniss later comes back to ponder.  I think these are really relevant questions for teens and a big part of what makes the books compelling.  They are also great for parents to talk about with their kids.

  • Michel Yvonne

    The games are about a failed society where the adults are so lost that they can’t properly care for their children. This has real resonance with today’s society of fractured politics, families imploding with misdirection from job loss, financial problems, loss of their very homes, loss of faith in leaders both spiritual and political. What does it say about us when our children are moved in droves by this depiction of society?

    • Pragmaticus

      Exactly…..upon first glance, it wouldn’t seem to bode well for the future….and one may then ask: does this new generation HAVE a sense of future.

      But take heart with the fact that life and humans are VERY dynamic entities.  Perhaps this book series and movie points toward the idea that if no  viable future presents itself…then one must craft their OWN future.

      That is not necessarily a bad thing.

  • Pragmaticus

    Never, ever dismiss the power of the macabre…for it has been with us from ancient times…and visits in the works of Dracula, Frankenstein, Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher”,  and now perhaps this.

  • Vanessa – J.P.

    I think creation of drama and romance for an audience is VERY relevant to today’s entertainment.  How many times on reality TV have you seen the stars of the show say “are we actually fighting or is this for the show?”  Can the two be distinguished?  The struggle is to keep the two distinct. We as a society are “defeated” when we allow the “make believe” to become our own reality.

  • Mark

    Time critic Lev Grossman does not seem to get the Hunger Games trilogy.  Yes there is a lot of violence, but the violence comes with great consequence… and as the trilogy progresses the consequences of every action become more and more apparent.  Until the very ending of the third and final book, which does provide a profound commentary on heroism.  I am much more comfortable having my children exposed to this kind of violence in literature and film than the more typically “cartoon” violence in the action adventure drama which could be more responsible for glorifying dangerous behaviors.

  • Mr. Green Jeans

    This is a clear extension of current “reality” shows with some riffing off of warnings like today’s NPR story predicting global conflict due to water scarcity in 10-20 years: 
    Perhaps the sequel is “Thirst Games”?

  • Anonymous

    I am chronologically 54 years old – the mother of two young women in their twenties. I devoured all three books as did my Harvard/Brandeis educated 78 year old mother. Suzanne Collins writes beautifully and the story is universal.

    I think about living in the Northeast in metro Boston and how few military families I know personally. I think about Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, and his (perhaps reluctant) 4th tour of duty in Afghanistan and his innocent civilians who were murdered in their homes in the middle of the night. I think of poor students who fund their college educations through ROTC. Compared to the world that my children (young adults) are growing up in (and they had the random luck to be born in Boston and not Afhanistan or Sudaan) “the Hunger Games” are tame by comparison and provide insight and fodder for reflection on our dystopian world.

  • Drew You Too

    I recall Harry Potter being touted as a potentially stronger work of fiction than Lord Of the Rings. I hear passing mention a few days ago that Twilight has made over two billion dollars (which literally made me feel nauseous). And now we come to Hunger Games, the latest fad. I suppose that in a Nation with little cultural depth it should come as no surprise that the majority of us are moving through life waiting for the next popular widget upon which to latch. I have not read the books and even if I were in a position to be able to purchase them I would not. Nor would I spend the money to go see the movie if I had it, I’m much more concerned with procuring my next meal. I’m far closer to being a participant in a true hunger game than I am to being a fan of this series. Keep marching lemmings, your turn is coming in short order.

  • Lloyd Lofthouse

    Drew You
    Too says American is “a Nation with little cultural depth”

    While I
    mostly agree with this opinion, I want to point out that while I enjoyed movies
    such as “Being Flynn” (and recommend for people that have some
    cultural depth) and reading literature both old and new such as Steinbeck,
    etc., I also enjoy trash such as “Harry Potter”, “The Lord of
    the Rings”, and I plan to see the “Hunger Games” even if I will
    never read the books.

    about two hours watching a mindless movie that will soon be forgotten in
    addition to walking a mile to the theater and then walking the mile back home
    is a break from my work at home. This is exercise and stress release in one cultureless
    package where I don’t have to think or reflect afterwards on the walk home. Instead,
    I enjoy the blue Spring sky before the next rain storm blows in.

  • Anonymous

    I can’t believe that you all are missing the point of the book! I guess you need teenage kids or perhaps you all are too rich to see. The world is cannibalizing our young. Trans nationals and their attending super rich are devouring them. There is so little for them to look forward to. Nothing except a life or death struggle for those dwindling spots in the middle class. 

    I guess you have to see the competition in high school and college to understand.

    • Anonymous

      7 year old daughter, you have no clue. Wait until you get to high school.

      Starving to death. How about half your family out of work. How about houses in foreclosure. Hows that for high stakes in the competition between our youth?

  • Jess in Boston

    Why is everyone complaining about children being interested in reading, so much so that they choose to read the books over video games, the web, movies, and other sources of entertainment? Do you not see that if you start with what they are interested in to begin a habit of reading, they will go on to more high-brow literature eventually? And even if they do not, at least they are reading at all.

    I think it’s wonderful that such series as the Hunger Games and Harry Potter, whether one thinks they are well-written or not, are attracting millions of avid readers, and challenge children with sometimes difficult questions and concepts.

  • http://twitter.com/aloysiusokon Aloysius Okon

    Like that song “Eyes Open”. Apt theme for the movie.

  • Mirandamc123

    The hunger games is a riveting series because it gives you a character you can get behind…same reason we love Harry potter, Bella swan (twilight)…it feels empowering to get behind a “regular” almost underdog and follow them on their fantastic (if not terrible) journey and see them become strong and empowered in their own right instead of taking what was predisposed for them.

  • George

    I agree that kids should read and read period. I was a huge comic book fan when I was a teenager (I’m 50 now). I was told by many folks that reading is reading, as long as you’re reading something. These books are obviously geared for the younger reader. As long as they start to think about what they read, that’s all that matters. P.S. I moved on from comic books to the Grand Masters of Science Fiction, but I’m a nerd so my opinion is rather unique in its perspective.

  • Trev134mn

    i could hardly stand listening to one of the guests who equate the “violent” society in the movie to facebook, physical appearances that teens have to worry about today etc.
    We are a BORED society and Hunger Games speaks to this.
    There is nothing about this movie that uplifts  —-and I wonder about the state of mind of the author – who she is, how happy she is in her life…
    To think that kids kill each other and have it sadistically televised is beyond trying to rationalize this theme…
    Maybe if we could try to nurture “love” within families
    (yes, at times it is work – harder than “killing”) maybe we could move forward…. Parents HAVE TO DO THE HARD WORK

  • Nancy

    I agree with Trev.   I’m reading some of the postings and the “despair” in the world seems to give validity to this type of movie.  There’s always been good vs. evil and that
    element of “good” keeps upholding the “world” It is the ebb and flow of humankind.   To “default” to despair and have parents and teens validate that this kind of movie is necessary is very sad.  Listening to the news, filled with violence and hate, makes good souls feel they have “no control” but still we must work to make the world a better place and this movie just drags up down once again.

  • Dslevy212

    Went to see the movie after hearing the discussion. The discussion was more interesting than the movie. Biggest cop-out in the moive: A betrayel is inevitable (unless there is a double suicide – which is a very legitimit option), between Rue and Kantiss if one of them is going to win. We are never pushed to that point because someone else kills Rue. This is strictly PG stuff. There isn’t really much violence. The fight scenes are filmed in a herky-jerky, stuttering, spliced together sort of way. You can’t really feel or see much. But it’s well done for what it is, and it beats exploding transformers any day. For goodSci-Fi (not fantasy) I’ll take: 1984, Blade Runner, Logan’s Run, Planet of the Apes, etc. 

  • copycat

    This story is clearly based on the Japanese book Battle Royale and movie of the same name, even down to the double suicide.   

  • David

    I get so tired of the cop-out: “there’s lots of violence in our culture anyway, so this just helps kids process it”.

    Total BS.

  • Pingback: Diving into ‘The Hunger Games’ « Eneryvibes's Blog

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