Sci-fi hit asks questions that we shouldn’t ignore

The Hunger Games

Rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images—all involving teens

Rather than dull the source material for mass consumption, director Gary Ross sharpens the edge of Suzanne Collins’ popular teen novel, The Hunger Games, in the screen adaptation that grossed $155 million in its opening weekend.

Viewers looking only for action, a compelling story and solid entertainment won’t be disappointed by The Hunger Games. And while the film is also rife with social commentary, it’s not too heavy-handed. The filmmakers use visuals to drive the story in ways more apparent than in the book. Die-hard fans of the book will notice this and other differences, but most will likely find the changes acceptable or even positive.

The film begins with a look at poverty in Ms. Collins’ dystopian future—the home of Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence) in one of 12 poor districts that provide raw materials, goods and services for the politically dominant Capitol population. The images of poverty set up the contrast between poor and rich more starkly than the written word ever could, and Mr. Ross takes full advantage.

We witness Katniss hunting in off-limits woods, using her skill with a bow to feed her family. Soon it is revealed that this is the day of “reaping,” when a boy and girl from each of the 12 districts is selected by drawing for a competition in which they will fight to the death—the Hunger Games.

While district residents dread selection, those in the Capitol relish the Hunger Games for the spectacle, drama and entertainment. The sickening notion of people being entertained by the death of children is held up consistently throughout the movie.

When Katniss’ 12-year-old sister is selected for the Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to compete instead. Here again, Mr. Ross takes advantage of the film medium. At the selection of the children, a representative of the Capitol announces their names triumphantly, expecting applause. The district’s silent response is aurally stunning, while their faces silently scream for revolution.

Katniss is soon whisked away to the Capitol with Peeta Mallark (Josh Hutcherson), a boy we later learn has had a crush on Katniss for years. After training, interviews and various demonstrations, 24 children are placed in a futuristic, forested coliseum. Ms. Lawrence does an incredible job conveying the fear Katniss feels before being thrust into the arena. I felt the fear and anticipation in my body—along with, I presume, everyone else in the theater. After an excruciatingly intense countdown, the children are thrust into the game and after each other.

The violence is shown in quick motion, with minimal gore. It spares the audience from feeling overwhelmed, until you think for two seconds about what is being portrayed. The knowledge that this is a depiction of children killing children was enough to make me shift uncomfortably in my seat. This, I’m sure, is a part of the filmmakers’ intent: to set the audience continually ill at ease.

The Hunger Games asks questions of its audience. The director offers an especially poignant challenge after the death of one of Katniss’ allies. While standing over the now lifeless body of her young friend, she looks accusingly through the camera lens to the audience as if to ask, “Does this amuse you?”

The story examines the ways we are entertained by violence while at the same time serving up a plentiful portion. It became clear to me that if I were to truly listen to the message of the movie, I would stop watching. And yet I don’t. I can’t because I am held captive—which reveals something about me that I perhaps don’t want to acknowledge. The Hunger Games continually walks an interesting line—critiquing questionable norms in our society while simultaneously pandering to them. I believe that this irony is intentional—and brilliant.

Because it seems foreign and absurd, the strange costumes and appearance of the Capitol residents and their technology help us to identify with Katniss, the district heroine. This, too, offers an ironic twist for wealthy audiences who are far more like Capitol residents than those of the district.

The Hunger Games is a significant enough part of our culture that pastors should see it and congregations should discuss it. Beyond that, the movie raises deep questions about hope, love, motivation, economic disparity, violence and entertainment. Let’s hope that people of faith will take it upon themselves to be a part of the conversation.

 

The Rev. Mike Baughman is an ordained elder in the North Texas Conference.

 

 

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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