By Trevor Main
In a fictional contest called The Hunger Games–where people either stab you in the back or stab you in the heart–most participants check their friendships at the door. But despite her enemies’ willingness to kill and be shaped by a desensitized society, a young female contestant named Katniss grieves for her tragic ally in the most brutal competition known to man in this futuristic sci-fi film. Though directionless and alone in the wild, Katniss refuses to let her circumstances harden her and instead mourns over the body of a fallen comrade. Her ability to feel deeply for an “enemy” stirs many of the watching audience, and they begin to rebel against the disgusting game.
In a futuristic world the skilled hunter Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) opts to take her sister’s place in the annual Hunger Games, an event in which 24 teenagers enter a wilderness arena where they must track and kill each other. The last one alive is the winner. Katniss is joined by fellow District 12 contestant Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), and the two must fight their opponents, and each other, to survive the most violent, twisted, and loved show in society.
The Hunger Games, though excellent in its story and characters, can be a dangerous film if not examined carefully. People tend to latch onto elaborate scenes, cool stunts, and jokes from movies they like. They’ll watch the latest Saw movie saying, “Did you see that guy cut through his own arm?” Or recite off-color jokes from the latest teen comedy. Most viewers neither care nor know how to edify their lives from the evil acts of characters in film.
Viewers can perceive The Hunger Games in one of two ways. I encourage you first to identify the lens through which you interpret movies before deciding to see it.
On one hand, even though there is nothing explicitly Christian about this film, believers can glean much from it and use it to teach how, despite our seeming insignificance, we can be movers and shakers in a corrupt culture. Various solutions present themselves throughout the film. First, flee idolatry. At the beginning of the Hunger Games when all the players first enter the field, many are tempted to go after the abundant supply of nearby weapons, and they end up destroying each other right off the bat. But Katniss flees from this temptation instead of embracing it, which spares her from a chaotic war zone.
Second, resist greed. Some of the malicious contestants form an alliance and work to gather all of the food for themselves and then booby-trap their hoard. Instead of trying to seize it for herself, Katniss destroys the supply by detonating the surrounding traps.
Third, accept pain and fight through it, as Katniss did while grieving for the fallen fighter.
Another view is simply to dismiss this film because it takes the kill-or-be-killed theme and applies it to children. Many movie lovers appreciate Gladiator but would disapprove of The Hunger Games because of the ages of people involved. The movie has a strong sense of hopelessness running through it from beginning to end. Twenty-three of the 24 children will die, and the one who is left is simply a reminder to the districts that they are slaves to The Capitol, the prosperous inner-city capital, and that it can do whatever it wants.
The film is somewhat redeemable at the end when Katniss and Peeta refuse to turn themselves into the killers society wants them to become. They are willing to kill themselves before they kill each other. The Capitol wants only one person to survive, so whether they both die or survive would show the world that the districts don’t have to be slaves to The Capitol. In a world where there is no hope, this tiny amount of hope is huge.
In a real world where students bring guns to school instead of slingshots and where they throw death threats instead of paper wads, some might believe The Hunger Games is likely to add to the desensitization of young adults. In short, The Hunger Games packages its vile survival sport for a child audience. Even though it is PG-13, the movie portrays violence fairly graphically with blood splatters, the grisly deaths of children, and nasty wounds. I’d encourage parents to discuss with their children how to hold onto Christlike morality without giving in to our culture’s weakening values.
Despite being based on a young adult book series, The Hunger Games does well in depicting a sick society’s profane delight in death. It could have easily taken a child-friendly route but instead decided to portray humanity at its darkest. If you’re willing to endure the disturbing content, you will find a powerful theme of how love conquers corruption.
The writing of the characters, and the way the actors portray them, are also surprising. Much like the gladiators of Roman times, the public drowns the 24 contestants with praise and applause, and they experience the highest luxury for their days of training before being thrown into the arena. Some characters buy into the mind game, and during their television interviews one would think Jay Leno was chatting up a celebrity. Out of a drive to survive no matter what the cost, some become the murderers they’re expected to be. Others manage to retain their identities despite being groomed and worshiped.
The film’s use of color is amazing. The world we’re introduced to at first is washed in gray tones and dull colors, which signals to the audience that there must be a specific reason for the woman in purple who announces the names of contestants.
After Katniss and Peeta leave District 12, the message is clear: The whole audience wears bright colors, making light of a hideously grim spectacle. They are numb to others’ suffering. Everyone is dressed as if going to an elaborate party, but the event is a gladiator-like fight to the death.
Trevor Main has a B.A. in fiction writing from Columbia College, Chicago, and is working on his master’s degree in communication at Dallas Theological Seminary. His ministry experience with Youth With a Mission has taken him across Europe, Africa, and Asia.
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