Watching The Hunger Games left me deeply disturbed.
The film engages with three communities: the controlling community that satiates its lust in the “amusing” spectacle of teenagers slaughtering each other; the voyeuristic community of virtual slaves that enjoys the horror of participation in self-serving sacrificial offering-up of its youth; and the cinema audience that is not only entertained by this portrayal of unredeemed evil, but champions the heroine’s murderous pursuit of survival.
The film mocks its audience. The heroine and her first boyfriend discuss the inability of their community to stop watching the killings. This is a scornful commentary on the cinema audience that also enjoys watching children killing children.
Although fictional, The Hunger Games is but one step away from being real reality TV. A community that can amuse itself and its children with such depravity is never far from selecting children to die for entertainment. There is no end of primitive and sophisticated communities right into this century who have abused captives, sacrificed virgins, traded children, aborted its unborn, and exchanged the safety of its young for the security of survivors.
The film’s immorality is rooted in the absence of the transcendent. There is no God of unchanging righteousness, only a fickle totalitarianism. There is no life lived in the shadow of eternity: only the present which death ends. There is no universal morality, only surviving.
Rare moments of altruism fail to escape corruption. The heroine’s selfless volunteering to take her sister’s place does not lead to sacrifice or even resistance, but to playing the killing game.
Protecting 12 year-old Rue leads inexorably to Rue’s necessary death. She slips gently into oblivion to rest in peace under a bouquet of flowers, while the heroine struggles with failure.
The romantic infatuation of the heroine and her comrade is mocked as superficial by the watching crowds who sigh with oozing sentimentality over young passion they know must be destroyed.
The one moment when self-preservation gives place to defiance – a dramatic threat of suicide that saves the heroine and her champion – proves so transitory that the remaining images are of suppression of conscience and integrity in pursuit of survival.
True, the film explores issues of political control and social manipulation. But my observation is that few young people, and not many adults, view the film for philosophical enlightenment. It is the thrill of the killing fields, identifying with a beautiful young winner in an adult world, and the ideal of gaining present satisfaction that attracts and delights. “Kill, take, have: and think of others if it helps your survival,” is its message.
Any community – our community – that finds such trivialising of childhood and human dignity entertaining is very, very lost.
It is one thing to critique a distasteful movie and criticise the community that entertains itself and its children with such a brutal display of fallen human nature. It is another to seize the opportunity such a movie makes for engaging that community about the things it values and its need of Christ.
Here are a few of the host of issues that could be discussed in the context of the film:
Morality without God is a distorting construction. The film immerses the viewer in a world where decisions are made (and audience empathy secured) on the basis that the outcomes of decisions and actions are limited to the rules of the game (even when those rules allow the game-masters to change the rules), and the skills of the players. There is no room for the intervention of God, the miraculous, or an eternal perspective; much less for dependence, weakness and good suffering. This is never the case in the real world created and ruled by God.
Protest and doing right are not the same thing. When Katniss and Gale reject the idea of protest as ineffective, they had an uncanvassed alternative: doing what is right regardless of the outcome. Dietrich Bonheoffer’s rebellion against the evils of the Nazis is properly respected today because it was simply the right thing to do, not because it was effective, for it was utterly futile as a protest. Katniss and Peeta (among others) had ample opportunity to break ranks with the mob mentality and do what was right even if that would appear to have no potential for changing things in their world.
Wealth does not mean happiness. The grossly over-coloured ruling class, rich but superficial, could appear to ridicule the concept that wealth brings happiness. But the grey sadness of the oppressed and poverty stricken mining community where no one laughs or even smiles reinforces the message that poverty equates to misery. That is confirmed by the milk-white unblemished face of Katniss: the dust of coal and grime of poverty have by-passed our heroine, who is dressed in a designer leather jacket in contrast to metal-grey cotton rags of her compatriots. Materialism wins.
When is killing people valid? The assumption for characters and film audience alike, is that once in the game, killing is moral. Katniss is a “nice” killer: she avoids the direct slaughter-to-win approach, only directly killing in defence of herself or others, and for the rest strategically awaiting or manipulating their demise. By what standard is this just or good?
The immorality of survival. Everything in the film is justified by survival. Survival as an imperative must ultimately be devoid of every other moral constraint. It is evil dressed in a godless, evolutionary world-view that our culture uses inconsistently to excuse its selfishness.
The Hunger Games is Kiddie-Gladiator with a (more or less) happy ending. Or perhaps not. Jesus’ words have relevance: “What good is it for a man (or a beautiful teenager) to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” Righteousness and eternity are essential frames-of-reference for today, and we abuse our children if we leave them with any other message.