I have already written about the Hunger Games trilogy and offered some uniquely Christian insights into the Hunger Games movie, but here I wanted to give a brief review of The Hunger Games itself from a Christian perspective. There will be SPOILERS in the following discussion.
Rather than giving an overview of the plot (any interested reader can get such an overview here), I’m going to dive right into a review.
The movie is definitely not for children. There is a great deal of violence in the film as well as a number of scary images. Anyone who looks at my previous posts on the Hunger Games and sees the comments will realize there is a great deal of controversy over whether it is appropriate viewing for the Christian. I will comment on that shortly.
I enjoyed the movie a great deal. The moral conflict is pervasive throughout the film is so dense and immediate that it almost presses on one as a viewer. On the other hand, the conflict is not blatantly obvious, nor does the film clearly portray who is in the right or wrong. Everyone has dirty hands. It’s a movie that seems to reflect life in its parallels with the real world. Obviously, these parallels are blown out of proportion in some ways (for example, we do not sacrifice children in a battle to the death for our pleasure), but on reflection one can easily find disturbing ties into our own society (child trafficking, child pornography, and the like–these can easily be seen as parallels to the Hunger Games).
The action in the film is great but I have to admit the occasional use of camera waggle to try to make the action intense is unneeded and distracting. I think this is a modern convention among filmmakers that has far outlived its welcome. For a few movies it seems to work, but now it seems every film uses camera waggle for every explosion, every punch, every fall to the ground. It can be really, really distracting.
Back to the controversy: a number of Christians have spoken out against viewing this film. For example, some who commented on my previous posts argue that we should not view it because it shows violence (or even glorifies it) and that such things are not good for the Christian to view. But the Bible itself depicts all kinds of horrifically violent scenes. Surely these same Christians would not object to reading the Bible! The question to ask ourselves is this: what is the point of the violence? Is there a purpose in the portrayal of the horrors on screen? It seems to me, as far as the Hunger Games is concerned, there is indeed a purpose. I’ve written in extended detail on this in my post on the trilogy, but I’d like to point it out here one more time: the impact of this film and its story is not so much that it is an action flick that gets your blood going; the impact is rather that we are so close to being the Capitol in so many ways. The film practically screams that we must stop this unnecessary violence. We must work against injustice in our world. And those who are affected most by the conflicts, greed, and malevolence in our world are children. Having that portrayed on screen is a powerful call to Christians to fight for justice.
Talking Points for Christians
Why is what’s happening in the Hunger Games wrong?
Think about this question for a moment. If you think that there is something inherently wrong about what the Capitol is doing to the people of the Districts in the movie, then there must be some kind of basis for your moral reasoning. But, as I’ve argued extensively (for example, in my post on secular humanism), on an atheistic worldview there really is no ultimate moral code. How then, do we consistently condemn violence like this, even if it is someone else’s belief that such things are good or necessary?
Is there anything wrong with the lives of those in the Capitol?
As Christians, we can use this as a talking point. The people of the Capitol seem to be doing pretty well for themselves. They have others to do their every bidding and they can effectively enjoy life to its fullest. Yet it is interesting to note that there are a few characters who seem to be unfulfilled. President Snow is an obvious example–he is a despot who must maintain his power. Why is it that these people are unsatisfied? Do we need more than limitless pleasure and leisure to have a satisfactory life?
What is unjust in our world and how are we working to stop it?
Let us be frank. There are things in our own “backyard” that are reflected in the hunger games. Any time a child is abused, we can see that injustice portrayed and subtly condemned in this movie. What are we going to do to stop injustices like these? Is the Capitol really so different from our everyday lives?
Overall I think The Hunger Games is a movie that Christians can watch in good conscience. In fact, I think there are any number of talking points that Christians can bring to the movie and discuss with those who are talking about it. Some of these talking points were illustrated above. The movie is a call to fight injustice, and yes, it is a good action flick while it makes this point. I recommend it.
Deeper Hungers and Darker Games– The Hunger Games reflects a world without God. What does it mean?
The Hunger Games: The Atheist’s Utopia– No God: Utopia?
Christian Reflection on the Hunger Games Trilogy– My thoughts on the entire book trilogy.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
There has been much furor recently over the release of the Hunger Games movie. My own discussion of that movie has drawn a number of comments from Christian visitors, both good and bad (and I appreciate the candor!). One theme that has reverberated throughout the discussion is the appropriateness of Christians watching violent movies or even considering using them to try to engage with the culture at large. There are no easy answers to these questions, but in this post I seek to provide a brief guide for Christians who hope to use movies to engage with the culture at large.
Perhaps the most contentious issue that was brought up in my own discussions of the Hunger Games was the appropriateness of viewing violent movies and even using them to engage with others. Jonathan Morrow, in his important book Think Christianly, provides an excellent discussion of the topic at hand. He prefaces his remarks with the comment that “the Bible would probably get… an NC-17 rating in [some areas like the end of Judges]…” Yet it is important to note that “The Bible does not use evil for exploitation” but rather “always records evil and sinful behavior and the consequences that come with them” (193). Violence in a work does not necessarily exclude it from the Christians’ sphere of engagement.
Morrow provides a number of useful questions for Christians to consider when looking at a movie. Here are a few samples (see p. 194):
These are the types of questions Christians must ask as they consider a movie. Now, it is clear that Christians won’t always agree on the answers to these questions. What some consider gratuitous might be something someone else considers necessary for a plot. But violence of itself does not mean a Christian cannot engage with a movie. In particular, some movies use violence in order to point out the horrors which follow from it. This is, in fact, Biblical. Throughout the Bible, violence is depicted along with its consequences, yet it is clear that in all God is in control (see, for example, the Joseph narrative). As Christians interact with movies that have violence, they can focus the discussion on the consequences of humanity’s sinfulness and the need for a savior.
Engaging With the Movies
Morrow suggests a three-layered approach to movies: examine the form of the film (this involves engaging with the artistic elements such as music, cinematography, and the like); observe the content of the film (what is the message the director is putting forward? who is the hero/villain [these characters generally convey that which the director wants to show as good or bad]); note the function of the film (what is the film’s purpose? does it portray sinful behavior in a positive light?) .
These questions allow one to proceed to the level of engagement with the culture. If a film is inappropriate, it is not enough to simply dismiss it as a horrible, immoral movie. Rather, one can engage thoughtfully with those who want to discuss the movie. “Why did you enjoy the movie?”; “What kind of message do you think the movie tried to put forward?”; “Do you agree with the central theme of the film?”–these are the types of questions Christians can ask in order to engage with the culture. Note that none of these questions comes across as antagonistic or angry. Rather, they come across as interested and thoughtful. Whether one has seen a movie or not, one can easily engage in a dialog which can lead to some interesting discussions.
The brief overview I’ve given here is merely a guide. Interested readers should check out Morrow’s book (linked below).
A Case Study: The Hunger Games
I’ve already discussed The Hunger Games at length in both the film and book versions, so I won’t repeat that discussion. Here, let me just apply what we see above. There are a few minor spoilers below.
What is the form of the film? -Generally, it seems to be a blockbuster movie with grandiose special effects and stirring musical scores. The visuals often dazzle with bright colors in the capitol but they are very subdued in some parts, particularly in the districts which are under the oppressive rule of the capitol.
What is the film’s content? -In my post on the movie, I argued that the content largely serves to direct the audience’s attention inward: we are, in a sense, the capitol. We are the ones who actively participate in activities to give ourselves comfort while there is great suffering around us. The violence in the movie is there, but it is portrayed in a way which does not glorify it. It is the people of the capitol who glorify the violence, and it is the people of the capitol who are the confused villains.
What is the function of the film? -Again, it seems to be a social commentary on the evils we bring about here. The decadence of the capitol is our own indulgence; the violence going on in the Games are the evils of the world. I see the film as a stirring commentary on social injustice.
But what if you think the violence is too much? What if you think I’m just wrong about this particular film? Should you jettison it altogether? I think not. Instead, I suggest you turn to the questions above. Ask: “Why did you like the Hunger Games?”; “Do you think the film glorifies violence, why or why not?”; “What current problems do you think relate to the film?”
Christians are called to engage the culture around them in a transforming fashion (1 Cor 9:19-23). Engaging with popular films is just one way to engage with the culture. As popular movies come out, it is important for Christians to know the relevant issues they raise and be ready to comment on them as they come up. If we can more effectively open discussions with people about these highly relevant topics, we can help show Christianity is an extremely powerful worldview that touches upon every aspect of our lives in a positive way.
Jonathan Morrow, Think Christianly: Looking at the Intersection of Faith and Culture (Zondervan, 2011).
I saw The Hunger Games this weekend and wanted to share my thoughts. There are spoilers here.
I’ve already written about the whole trilogy and my thoughts on talking points a Christian can take away from it, and the movie really brought to light a number of the things that I wrote about there. I’m not going to bother to summarize the movie here. Rather, I’m going to provide what I found to be some talking points that Christians can take away from the movie along with my general observations. At the end I include a brief note for parents who might be concerned with their children seeing the film. See also my look at “Catching Fire.”
Christian Talking Points
The movie portrays a world in which there is a stark contrast between those in power and those without it. District 12, whence Katniss Everdeen hails, is a bleak place. The imagery seen on screen evokes mental images of the Great Depression and the photography from that era. There are sad faces looking out the windows, people marching to the coal mines, and children playing with sticks in the mud because they have nothing else with which to play.
That contrasts starkly with the decadence of the Capitol. At the Capitol, the people spend their time on frivolity. They decorate themselves as much as they decorate the places around them. Their showers cover them with the scent of the day; they can bring up whatever pleasant imagery they would like on their screens; their food is the best; they do whatever they want.
The imagery throughout the movie portrays this stark contrast. The children themselves are called upon to battle to the death, yet everyone is congratulating them as though this is some great honor and opportunity. They are required to dress their best for the “reaping” in which the Capitol personnel select contestants who will fight in the arena. The people of the Capitol pack the stands to watch the introductions and interviews of the contestants; they cheer wildly for their favorites and root for those they choose. Yet the whole time the movie makes it clear there is something deeply wrong happening. How can these people be so excited, so utterly out-of-touch with reality, when children’s lives are at stake?
The world of the Hunger Games is a commentary on our own. The world in which we live is one in which our greatest goal is comfort, yet their are children dying in our streets from starvation. This is not just far away, it is right in our own country. This is just one talking point for Christians and the Hunger Games: what is it that we should be doing to curb our own “capitol”-like tendencies?
Yet it seems like that alone doesn’t take it far enough. The film also portrays clearly the level to which people deceive themselves about right and wrong. There is a struggle in the movie (and the books) that goes beyond the strangeness of the contrast between the districts and the Capitol. The struggle is a fight over what is right and wrong. The society of the Capitol has relativized morality. They have decided that might makes right and that their comfort is the greatest good. Yet the entire movie gives imagery to that view and one can’t help but notice the feeling that something is just wrong throughout the film. How is it these people who are living lives of such great comfort are so oblivious? The meaning is subtle, but it is throughout the whole movie: there simply is something wrong, and it is the dismissive attitude with which people treat right and wrong when it comes to their own comfort and desires.
It is telling that President Snow comments on the reason the Hunger Games have a winner is in order to give hope, but “too much hope” is a bad thing. As the leader of the Capitol, Snow realizes the power of hope and how it can work even better than fear to control the masses. As long as he provides the districts with hope, he has them in control. But if they get too much hope, they will break, and the cracks start to show near the end of the movie.
The Hunger Games, I think, provide a stunning critique of our society. We live in the Capitol; we exist in a society which relativizes morality for its own convenience. And when we are presented with it in our face, when the imagery of a film like The Hunger Games shows us the very kind of decadence and futility which we so often celebrate, we are repulsed. The wrongness of the situation comes to the forefront and we must act.
Christians, I think, have much to take away from the movie (and books). We know that there is wrong in the world, and we know the dangers of comfort and futility–we are warned of these things in our Scriptures. The Christian path is one which fights against this futility and points to the one true Hope: that of our savior.
A Word to Parents
This is not a film for children. It is rated PG-13 and I think could very easily have been R. Children are killing each other. The film is, however, I think appropriate for teenagers, and parents who keep in mind some of the talking points listed above could utilize the film as a way to discuss some of the very real world issues it hints at.
Check out the Christianity Today review of the movie.
For those concerned with whether Christians can/should use movies like this to interact with the culture, check out my post on “Engaging Culture” with movies.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.