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The Hunger Games, Afghanistan Edition

It's not just a movie.
It's not just a movie.
Flickr user: The U.S. Army

This week, Army Pfc. Michael Metcalf, a 22-year-old soldier from Boynton Beach, was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. I read the headline in the the Palm Beach Post yesterday morning and, in the evening, met a friend at Cinemark Boynton Beach to watch The Hunger Games.

Now, I realize that some people who drooled over the book trilogy are disappointed in the movie. It's a gory blockbuster, long on blood and short on character development. It sells out to Hollywood while attempting to critique our culture. Fine. But that's not what I noticed. I came to the film ignorant of Suzanne Collins' books and their backstory. Metcalf

was on my mind. This is what I saw:

A make-believe country where teenagers from impoverished areas, such as coal mining towns, are forced to compete in a Survivor-like television show called the Hunger Games. The kids do not volunteer for the show. They are picked by random lottery -- or drafted, if you will.

The premise of the contest is clear: 24 teenagers participate, and all but one of them dies. There is no pretense of a happy ending. Yet the participants are called "tributes" and hailed as heroes as they march off to near-certain death.

As the teens prepare for the televised contest, the rich people in their country cavort in fancy clothes and absurd makeup, drinking cocktails and feasting on entire pigs. Some of these navel-gazing folks may even be having plastic surgery; who knows? All of them watch the Hunger Games on television with rapt fascination, the same way so many of us tune in to Dancing With the Stars. Except in this version, the contestants are trained to kill one another.

One by one, the children are slaughtered. Most of the bodies are left to decompose. But there is a moment when the film's heroine, Katniss Everdeen, pauses to bury a young girl with white flowers.

That's when I cried. I was thinking of Metcalf and the 5 a.m. house call his family received from the Army this week.

In the film, the Hunger Games contest lasts two weeks. We've been at war in Afghanistan for more than a decade. How many children must be buried before it ends?


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