When the movie The Hunger Games was released in the spring of 2012, it broke box office records during its opening weekend. Not familiar with the books of the same name for young adults by author Suzanne Collins, I did not rush out to see it but I liked its young star Jennifer Lawrence, and was eager to learn more about the new film. I asked my son, who had taken his girlfriend to see it in IMAX, what it was about. He said, “You wouldn’t like it Mom. It’s about children killing children. It’s “Gladiator” for kids.” Since “Gladiator” is the only movie I have ever paid, not once, but THREE times to see on the big screen, I beat a hasty path to “The Hunger Games” and I was not disappointed. Yes, it is a movie about children killing children, but the shining presence of its young star Lawrence, as the fiercely determined and staunchly moral Katniss Everdeen–a name as evocative of lithe cat-like goodness, emerging sexuality, intelligence and of course nine lives as Humbert Humbert was of blunt force, dullness and downright evil… but I digress—diverts the viewer’s attention from the sad specter of death as mass media entertainment.
How strangely ironic it was then, today, to wake up to the news of the shootings at Isla Vista, the residential community that houses a large number of University of California at Santa Barbara students, and to find out that the perpetrator of this heinous crime—a child killing other children—was the son of the assistant director of the Hunger Games movies. A nightmare come true—to see one’s son in videos detailing exactly what grievances would lead to this explosion of violence, and worse, to have called the police because of concerns over a son’s mental and physical health, and to have those concerns brushed aside when action could have possibly prevented the tragedy. The finger pointing and blame assignments have only just begun. But the facts remain, whether we are speaking of Columbine, or Virginia Tech, or Sandy Hook or Aurora—alienated mentally ill teenagers and young adults with weapons destroying the hopes and dreams of many families’ futures.
Tonight I looked at the Facebook page of Elliot Rodger, the 22 year old assailant who died last night along with his victims in Santa Barbara. Oddly enough, the page has not been taken down. There are pictures upon pictures—“selfies”—shot with a cell phone of the handsome young man and his black BMW and his Armani sunglasses and his expensive clothing. It is telling that there are no other human beings in these pictures—just a young man and his fancy things—and yet there is a glimmer of talent there in the few photos taken from vantage points on solitary hikes in the Hollywood Hills—a moonrise, a view of the Los Angeles skyline in the evening. But the rantings on video and even the captioning on his Facebook self-portraits speaks to a deeply disturbed, alienated and delusional youth, who is more than anything, alone and lonely.
The father of one of the victims has already cited that this tragedy is the fault of the NRA. I do not believe that. I believe that the problem lies in our society itself—a culture which creates a pressure cooker for high school students to succeed at any cost, a culture which glorifies violence while ignoring mental illness, a culture where movies about children killing children become major box office hits. It’s time to take pictures of our friends, and look at them and above all LISTEN to them instead of taking pictures of ourselves, our food, our sunglasses and our cars. It is time, indeed, to rethink The Hunger Games. My deepest sympathy goes out to all of those affected by this terrible event.