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This tag is associated with 12 posts

“Inside Out” – Feelings, Family, and Fun: A Christian Perspective

inside-outI recently got to see “Inside Out” in theaters and it was a huge treat. The plot was fairly predictable, but it was delightfully done and thought-provoking. Here, we will explore the film from a Christian worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in the following review.

Talking about Emotions

It is often quite difficult to talk about our feelings. “Inside Out” provides a springboard for having these discussions, whether with children or, frankly, with adults. Christianity is a faith of not just the mind but also the heart, and we need to be able to talk about how we feel and engage with our emotions in the context of faith.

As a parent, I was pleased to see how little there was objectionable in this movie, as it is one I could see using with my son (who is now 10 1/2 months old) in the future to talk about emotions.

Gender and Family

There are some issues with gender in the film as Riley’s parents were fairly stereotyped in some ways. However, this stereotyping was offset in many ways by Riley herself, who was a highly complex character with different interests and motivations that went beyond such gender stereotypes. As Christians we can have conversations about how our culture so often shoehorns people into strict gender categories without acknowledging its own cultural biases.

Another edifying aspect of the film is its focus on the importance of family. It does not undermine the value or struggles of those families that are non-“nuclear,” but it does affirm the ways that family can shape the lives of children. The formative impact of the parents in this film cannot be understated, and it showed not just in the “core memories” that Riley cherished, but also in her interests and concerns.

As Christians, there are a number of takeaways from this, but perhaps the most important one would be the way that our faith lives can shape our children. I sure hope that Luke has a formative experience that lets his “core memories” include faith at the center of his emotional and rational life. Like Riley’s parents, I am not going to just stand back and watch but rather be sure to expose him to the faith and prayer and allow him to ask questions and learn from an early age.

Emotions Rule?

One possible concern with the film could be the notion that it seems like the emotions are that which rule Riley’s life and actions. Indeed, the emotions cause specific acts in her day, and as different events occur, the different emotions take the controls to drive Riley entirely.

From a Christian perspective, we should interpret things generously (see Martin Luther on the 8th commandment), so the first aspect of a response to this would be to allow that the film had to make things fairly simplistic because, well, it is actually a kids movie, isn’t it? It would be tough to multiply complexity and discuss the importance of reason, logic, and abstract thought for action in a way children could easily understand.

Second, too often in Christian circles I have seen the downplaying of the importance of emotions for our reasoning process. The importance of passional reasoning (having emotions as part of the overall logical process) should not be forgotten. For older children, this film could be a great jumping off point to have a conversation about the interplay between such abstract thought and the emotions, and how they might interlink to form a life of faith and reason.

Third, related to the previous point, we sometimes need a corrective–particularly those of us who lean towards critical thinking–to remind ourselves of the importance of emotions. In a thoughtful, humorous way, Inside Out opens us to such conversations.

Conclusion

Inside Out is a delightful film with comedy, fun, and family all interwoven in a thought-provoking mix. I think it provides several ways for Christians to start conversations about a number of important topics, including reasoning, emotions, gender, and family. I recommend it.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Inside Out– One of my favorite websites, Empires and Mangers, shares some thoughts from a Christian perspective on the film. Anthony Weber approaches it from a slightly different angle, and his post is well worth the time spent reading it. Be sure to follow his excellent blog as well.

Movies– Read other posts on this site about movies written from a worldview perspective. (Scroll down for more.)

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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.

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“The Giver”- Hope, Freedom, and Suffering

the-giver-movieI recently got “The Giver” from the library. I remember quite enjoying the book but admit I haven’t read it in… well over a decade so I didn’t remember it hardly at all as I watched the film. I enjoyed the movie and have taken the time to reflect on it here. There will be SPOILERS for the movie in what follows.

Freedom

One thing that humanity in this apparently post-apocalyptic world lacks is freedom. They take drugs to prevent emotions, demand “precision of language” that eliminates the use of words like “love” from the vocabulary, and live under a set of rules in which sameness is not only encouraged but enforced. It is only “The Giver” and “Receiver” who know what humanity used to be like, with all the joys and sorrows that accompanied it.

Perhaps the most prevalent theme throughout the movie is the notion that this loss of human freedom, though it apparently ensures survival of the species and eliminates much evil, is itself doing great harm to humanity. People commit infanticide and euthanasia without even having knowledge of what they are doing. A kind of blissful ignorance surrounds acts that would be considered morally barbaric. But the people’s ignorance means that it is more sad than appalling at first.

The film asks us to reflect on our own nature and think what we have done with our freedom. How have we used our freedom of choice to bring about good or evil? Is it worth sacrificing this freedom in order to have a facade of civility and “ending” of suffering.

Suffering

A theme that is extremely prominent in the movie is the notion that freedom leads to suffering. This is not because freedom is inherently evil or painful, but rather because humanity so often uses freedom to bring about suffering. As noted above, the society in which people live seems to be free from evil, but has real atrocities being committed even without knowledge of the magnitude of the actions.

The movie itself is a kind of exploration of the problem of evil and the “free will defense” to this problem. Supposing that our world was created by a benevolent being, why is there evil? The answer in “The Giver” seems to be that we have used our given freedom to bring about great wrongs. Even when we attempt to create our own perfect society, that society remains inherently corrupt. We have squandered our freedom.

Hope

What “The Giver” paints is a picture of humanity as being inherently good; not in the moral sense in which we are perfect, but in the sense that humanity as created–along with the freedom of the will to use for good or ill–is a good thing. At once this hearkens back to the notion of a “very good” creation by God in the beginning and also looks forward to a day of hope.

Jonas’ actions to bring back emotions and memories to humanity is a quest of salvation. It is salvation from a kind of hell that humanity built for itself, putting up walls around the very things that could be used for good. The answer to the problem of evil is a solution from the “outside.” From beyond the capacity of the humans themselves, salvation was brought to them in the restoration of their free will. Yet the ultimate hope remains fleeting: the hope for a world in which suffering can be brought to a final end.

Conclusion

“The Giver” has a kind of eschatological scope in its study: a human-made utopia has failed. Can there be better waiting for us? With questions of free will, the problem of evil, and more in view, it is a worthy movie to watch and discuss.

The image in this post is an official movie poster and is used under fair use.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Movies– Read other posts on this site about movies written from a worldview perspective. (Scroll down for more.)

The Hunger Games (category)– Like Dystopia? Check out my posts on the Hunger Games series of books and movies.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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.

“Interstellar”- A Christian Perspective on the Film

interstellar“Interstellar” is the latest from the acclaimed Christopher Nolan. A sprawling epic, it delves into some of the deepest questions we face. Here, I will reflect on the film from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS for the movie in what follows.

A Crisis

Humanity must face the slow creep of possible starvation and suffocation on the Earth of “Interstellar.” The “blight” is impacting crops and has caused the death of 6 billion people. It is unclear as to what this “blight” is but it clearly means that humans will not survive if it continues. The question is of our mortality, and although it never becomes explicit, it seems that “blight” could be some kind of analogy for climate change and the problems we may bring upon ourselves.

But humanity’s crisis is not merely mortal; it is also moral. A few hints are offered of this, but the most poignant is when Dr. Amelia Brand spoke to Cooper about how evil does not exist in the places humans are going (at times one-by-one) to explore. She argued that nature itself is not evil; morality is a transcendent concept. The way that it is transcendent is unexplained.

Another aspect of the crisis is epistemological–as the crisis continues, people have rewritten history in order to avoid glorifying space travel. Cooper struggles to form concepts of seemingly transcendent ideas in a universe that he strongly believes is entirely explicable based upon science. The questions these ideas bring up should be clear: how do we know anything?

We’re So Tiny

I watched “Interstellar” in IMAX, and one of the most beautiful scenes was when the Endurance was shown against the backdrop of Saturn. It was a mere speck–a speck of a speck. It poignantly drove home a point that was found throughout the movie: We are tiny. But this message was not found alone; instead, it was juxtaposed against the continued focus on humanity and our struggles to survive in the universe. In a way, though we’re tiny, in “Interstellar,” we’re what is important. Humanity is what it’s all about. Or is it? It seems that the question is ultimately left open; perhaps there is transcendence beyond us. Our (minuscule) place in the universe may point beyond it.

Who Helps Us?

The question is another which is found through the film. Where did the wormhole come from? Cooper assumes that it is from a future humanity–we save ourselves!–but reflection seems to show this cannot be the case. After all, if the wormhole were not there, humans would have had no way of surviving; no future. Perhaps Dr. Brand is closer to the truth, because she argues that love is a transcendent concept which goes beyond space and time. It cannot be fully explained by our calculations.

The film never goes beyond this kind of stirring question, and Cooper’s assumptions are offered as one possible explanation for many questions: perhaps humans do rule all, and perhaps they are the end-all. But realistically, the ultimate questions of morality, the origin and power of love, and some others remain unanswered. I think that’s certainly intentional–it allows viewers to form their own conclusions–but the reality of the situation is that Cooper’s purely scientistic worldview (his notion that science is ultimately the only possible explanation) find itself inadequate to explain reality.

Conclusion

Some have argued that “Interstellar” is merely a secular humanist manifesto, but it seems to me the story is much deeper than that. I have argued above it leaves open several questions about the nature of humanity, our crisis, and the transcendent. Whatever else is said about the film, it is one that will start conversations and one with which, I would argue, Christians need to be conversant. It’s a fabulous space epic that is a must-see.

What are your thoughts? Share your own perspectives in the comments.

The image used in this post is from an official movie poster. I claim no rights to it and use it under fair use.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Movies– Read other posts on this site about movies written from a worldview perspective. (Scroll down for more.)

Like sci-fi movies? Read about another one I really enjoyed in my look at “Edge of Tomorrow.”

SDG.

The image used in this post was a movie poster and used under fair use. I make no claims to the rights for the image.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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.

“The Monuments Men” – An Apologetic of Culture

monumentsmen“The Monuments Men” is a film based on a true story of a group of soldiers sent to salvage cultural artifacts from destruction by the Nazis. Here, we’ll analyze the film from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Aesthetics

One question the film puts front and center is this: “Of what value is art?”

The question is put in a number of poignant ways, such as a moving scene in which Donald Jeffries is killed in an effort to protect Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. The scene is powerful because Jeffries finds his value in his efforts to defend and preserve this beautiful art. He writes a letter to his father about the value of defense of such a work of art, which is overlaid with the imagery of him being killed by a Nazi officer.

Claire Simone works against the Nazis to try to protect and preserve the ownership of art. Her recognition of the importance of these pieces of history to those who collected them is a recognition of the power of the human mind to transcend the mundane.

The power of art to shape humanity, or even become a monument to humans–a way to transcend–is front and center throughout the film. The question that is then begged is this: if the natural world is all which exists, whence the transcendence? Where or to what might the transcendence point?

History and Life

History is important aspect of human life. Long have various cultures held notions that if one’s name were erased from historical record, it was as if one never had existed. The driving force to be remembered is a powerful one in human life, but perhaps it is also something which drives us towards art.

By collecting the art and stealing the works from their rightful owners, the Nazis were essentially attempting to rewrite history and capture the cultural past of those who owned or produced the art. There is a powerful message behind this of the need to be aware of how history is shaped by even those who are writing it.

Argument from Aesthetics?

How is it that humans recognize the value of art, or, more abstractly, of beauty? Some would allege that it is merely something we assign to things. The value is entirely a construct. In some ways that seems true, but there is something inherent in the notion that beauty–that art–is something which it is a great evil to destroy or take from someone else. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it is also something which points beyond itself, to the transcendent.

The very possibility for recognizing that which is beautiful itself cries out for explanation. Whence the need for, dedication to, and recognition of beauty? A Christian would point beyond these towards God. Without the actual existence of the transcendent, there is little possibility for explaining the capacity for humans to reach out and grasp it.

Conclusion

“The Monuments Men” is a very solid flick to explore from worldview perspectives. It’s not as action-packed as most war movies, but it is more thoughtful and because of that it is in many ways more compelling. Perhaps most interestingly, it offers a view of the arts as something concrete, to be appreciated, and perhaps even transcendent.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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.

Ben Hur- The Great Christian Epic

ben_hurThere was a time when Hollywood battled for which studio could churn out the best epic, the greatest film, the most splendor upon the big screen. “Ben Hur” was a film which towered above all the rest. It won 11 academy awards, a feat matched only by two other movies (“Titanic” and “The Return of the King”), but it was also the only one of those three to win for acting (Best Actor: Charlton Heston as Ben Hur and Hugh Griffith won Best Support Actor).

Although best remembered for its famous chariot race scene, the film’s themes continue to echo with our own times. At the heart of “Ben Hur” is a struggle between ways of viewing the world set alongside an epic story which relates that struggle to the cosmic struggle for redemption and salvation of the people of God. There will be SPOILERS for the film in what follows.

Background

It is important to note that “Ben Hur” is based upon the novel of the same name by Lew Wallace. Wallace, a general during the Civil War, was disturbed by a conversation he had with a prominent skeptic of the time, Robert Ingersoll. Ingersoll’s challenge against the historicity of Christianity gave Wallace a great desire to search the historical acconts around the time of Christ and compose Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, his literary apologetic for Christianity (“Introduction,” Tim LaHaye, cited below). The book is itself a masterpiece and well worth reading. It gives an excellent background for understanding some of the themes of the film.

A Battle of Worldviews

The question of worldview is explored throughout the film. What is it that makes hte people of the Roman colony of Judea so obstinate? They seek after Messiahs, after a different savior each day of the week. One conversation poignantly illustrates the heart of this conflict:

Sextus, a centurion in charge of the Roman garrison asks Messala, who has come to relieve him, “How do you fight an idea?”

Messala responds “You ask how to fight an idea? Well, I’ll tell you how: with another idea.”

Messala realizes that at the heart of the people’s will is their worldview. Their hope is in the destruction of Rome. They long for a Messiah who will lead them to a successful revolt to throw off the Romans. Yet Messala desires to fight this hope with his own worldview: that of the power of humankind. Rome is power, and for him, the Emperor is that power deified.

ben-hur-16Revenge

Vengeance. It’s a theme which seems initially to drive the movie. Messala betrays his friend, Judah Ben Hur, towards the beginning of the film. The Hur family is thrown into prison to languish there, and Judah is sent to the galleys to row as a slave. Judah swears to Messala that he will take revenge upon him upon his return. In a deeply ironic voice, Messala responds, “Return?” The life of a galley slave is not expected to be long.

But Judah does return. He rescues the Roman Quintus Arius who is in charge of his ship and is eventually adopted into the Arius family. He returns to Judea as the son of a consul, with all the power and privilege his rank implies. After learning of a way to take revenge upon Messala without the possible legal ramifications–by besting him in the circus maximus in a chariot race and leaving Messala destitute from debt–Judah succeeds in the arena.

The climax of the quest for vengeance can be found in the scene in which Judah Ben Hur confronts Messala for the first time since seeming to come back from the dead. He slams his seal–the seal of the Consul QUintus Arius–into a document and stares Messala down. Now, Judah is in the superior position. He is the one whose victory is inevitable. From this point on, his vengeance seems assured.

However, after Ben Hur’s epic defeat of Messala in the chariot race, which leaves Messala not only broke but also leaves his body broken, it turns out that revenge is not as sweet as it may seem. Messala informs Judah “the race goes on”–his family is still alive, but they are lepers, left to flounder on the edges of society as unclean, cursed wretches.

It is not revenge which pays. It may give some kind of satisfaction for the briefest moment, but Judah learns its satisfaction is only fleeting. His glory must be found elsewhere, and it is not a glory he can bring himself.

Redemption

Judah is devastated by his discovery that his mother and sister are lepers. He realizes there is nothing he can do to save them, and it seems Messala’s own plan has achieved victory after all. Judah, moved by compassion, takes up his mother and sister in his arms despite their protests, almost guaranteeing that he, too, will contract the terrible disease.

He and Esther, a servant of his former household, take his family through the streets of Jerusalem. The latest Messiah, Jesus, is set to be crucified, and a crowd gathers there to watch. As Jesus dies, his blood runs through the rainwater as it spreads out symbolically to the world. When it touches the Hur family, they are cleansed of their diseases, washed utterly by the blood of Christ. In a stunning twist, it is not the hero who brings about victory, but rather the Messiah who has only been seen briefly throughout the film at pivotal moments. It is Jesus to whom all glory is given, not to Judah Ben Hur.

We have seen that Messala hoped in a human who took upon deity for himself. But the film (and indeed Wallace’s earlier book) show that this hope is misplaced. The God-man that humans should look to is not the conqueror; he is not god because he has human power; instead, the God-man Jesus Christ took on flesh in order to save, to humble himself and become obedient to death on the cross. It is a subversive tale. It is a story of redemption and salvation. It is an idea against which the powers of humanity and the devil muster all their strength to attempt to overthrow, but the idea lives on. It is the idea which cannot be overcome, cannot be outshined.

Conclusion

“Ben Hur” is my favorite movie of all time. The epic clearly portrays the truth that is above all truths: we are powerless, but God is powerful. Judah Ben Hur is unable to save that which he loves and must ultimately rely upon another, who saves them through the washing of his blood. Ben Hur’s story is our own in many ways. We continually struggle against the powers of the world and we often have motivations which are, at best, questionable. But ultimately, we find that when we rely upon ourselves, we are unsuccessful. Only when we rely upon God do we find success.

Sources

Tim LaHaye, “Introduction” in Lew Wallace, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (Signet Classic Edition: 2003).

Ben Hur.

SDG.

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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.

“Pacific Rim” – A Brief Christian Reflection

Pacific-Rim-02Thankfully, a slew of science fiction films are being released this year. “Pacific Rim” has generated quite a bit of buzz. I recently had the chance to view the film and will here offer some reflections from a Christian perspective. I feel obligated to put a disclaimer here: I realize this film is 99.9999% about blowing things up. I still think that a saying I often use is correct- there is no such thing as a film without a worldview. There will be SPOILERS in what follows. I do not offer a plot summary, as one can be found easily.

Master of the Storms?

Early in the film there is a scene in which Raleigh Becket, a Jaeger (think giant mech-tank) pilot, is marching out into a storm to fight a Kaiju (think Godzilla). As one watches this epic man-made titan march out to fight a monster, one is struck by the hugeness of it, the power of it. If humans can make this, what next? Raleigh discusses how once, humans were afraid of storms like hurricanes. Now, given the might of their creations, they need not fear a hurricane.

The quote seems impressive. After all, many today hope that humanity will reach heights like this. One day, we may be able to face down a hurricane and laugh. The powers of wind and rain may be overcome. But what then?

Interestingly, in the film the very next scene is that of a Kaiju absolutely beating down Raleigh’s Jaeger.

What? That’s not how the story is supposed to go. The story is supposed to show how we have finally transcended ourselves. But that is not the reality. The reality is that a giant Godzilla beast can still destroy even these hurricane-defying machines.

It is ironic, really. In the context of humanity’s defiance against the storms given their machines, another, greater challenge is thrown out there. One can almost imagine people railing against God once more. Why have we been left to fight this world on our own? But then one must remember what God has said:

[The LORD says:] “Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook
or tie down its tongue with a rope?

…Will it keep begging you for mercy?
Will it speak to you with gentle words?
Will it make an agreement with you
for you to take it as your slave for life?

Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
Everything under heaven belongs to me.” (Job 41:1, 3-4, 11)

Ultimately, God is in charge. Our attempts to control the seas, the storms, or the leviathan do not match up to God’s sovereign control over all creation.

The film does nothing to explore this avenue, but one can wonder: what of humankind’s efforts to try to best God? It seems that the answer is: it’s not going to happen. There is always a bigger Kaiju. There are always larger storms. Our fascination with these powerful aspects of creation may itself be a reflection of the Creator.

In the film, of course, humanity triumphs. As in all good action movies, the good guys win (no, I do not like sad endings for movies). But one can only wonder: if the Kaiju could come; what next? The God who rules the storms is the same God who can draw the leviathan with a hook.

Mind and Evolution

How much can our minds handle? In the film, the mental strain of piloting a Jaeger is too much for one person to handle. How do minds work in this context? Somehow they manage to create some linkage between two humans’ minds and create some kind of mental pathway such that the people are able to integrate and work together. What does that mean? I don’t know. It is techno-babble for an action flick. But suppose we were able to do this. What would it imply about minds? Well, no more than what we already know, it seems: our minds are connected to a physical reality. We as humans are grounded in embodiment.

The Kaiju turn out to be clones. I found that pretty surprising given the immense diversity of the creatures. Some had wings; others spit acid; still others had huge hammerheads to use as weapons. What kind of genetic diversity would have to be included in their DNA in order to allow for such radical diversity. I am absolutely not a geneticist–and this movie is absolutely not an attempt to portray anything scientifically accurate–but I wondered about this as I watched the movie.

Conclusion

Let’s be blunt. “Pacific Rim” is a movie for those who want to watch giant walking tanks fighting Godzilla clones. There is a plot to be found, and there are some themes involved–as in any movie–but at its heart, this movie is a pure action flick. That said, there were a few things to reflect upon, such as the notion of humanity trying to overpower God or the forces around us.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.”

Did you like Pacific Rim? Check out John Carter.

Be sure to check out my other looks at movies here (scroll down for more).

SDG.

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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.

“Star Trek: Into Darkness” – A Christian Perspective

Star_Trek_Into_Darkness_35I had the chance to go see “Star Trek: Into Darkness” recently. As a big Trekkie (and Star Wars Fan–I cover all the bases of nerdom), I was extremely excited to see the film. Here, I will survey a number of worldview-level issues in the film. There will, of course, be SPOILERS in what follows.

Primitive Religion

I was a bit taken aback by the portrayal of primitive religion in the movie. At the very beginning, the crew of the Enterprise is engaged in an effort to save a primitive indigenous population. Kirk steals a scroll, to which the natives were giving obeisance. It is apparently something they worship, and when he finally unrolls the scroll to slow them down, which causes them to stop and worship, the situation is shown to be absurd. Once the Enterprise reveals itself, however, the natives immediately forsake this scroll and worship an image they draw in the dirt of the ship.

I may be a bit hyper-critical here, but I can’t help but think that this picture of primitive religion is a bit off. Sure, it’s science fiction, but the people are clearly human-like and it is easy to uncritically imagine the scene as a facsimile for how human religion may have played out. I cannot help but be extremely skeptical of this scenario. First, the notion of a bunch of simplistic idiots whose faith can shift from one moment to the next was odd. Second, the notion that primitive persons automatically worship whatever they see or cannot explain seems inaccurate. I admit that I have not studied the formation of religion as much as I hope to one day, but even what reading I have done reveals an enormous amount of debate on how religions formed and developed. No work I have read, apart from that of those with clear agendas (and little interaction with the archaeological, sociological, and anthropological evidence), has suggested that religion developed just by people seeing a bird and immediately worshiping it. Granted, the Enterprise is more than a bird, but it still seemed odd. Third, I can’t help but think that rather than immediately forsaking their holy scroll, the people would have turned to it to find guidance to discern the meaning of the events they had witnessed.

Again, I realize I am here being extremely critical, but I feel that if a movie is going to engage with religion, it should attempt to do so in an honest fashion. Trek‘s portrayal was, I think, a bit disingenuous.

The Prime Dire… wha?

Star Trek’s metaethical system essentially centers around the “Prime Directive.” The Prime Directive is complex, but essentially boils down to the notion that people should not interfere with lesser-developed cultures. Those who have seen “Into Darkness” know that in no way did the main characters follow this. But as Maureen Moser at Reasons to Believe pointed out, the Prime Directive essentially entails a kind of moral relativism wherein no one is capable of judging other cultures as morally evil. But of course this seems absurd. If, for example, one ran into a lesser-developed society which was exterminating certain groups, it seems obvious that this is a morally wrong action.

In the case of the film, one is forced to wonder–as it seems Kirk did–whether it really is morally satisfactory to allow an entire society to be destroyed simply for the sake of not being seen by that society. Is it morally right to ignore the fates of other societies?

Looking more broadly at the Trek universe one sees again and again that the characters cannot operate within the constrictions of ignoring the ills of other societies. Should we?

star-trek-into-darkness-teaser-posterEvil

Admiral Marcus seemed to lack any kind of motivation other than a desire for militarizing the Federation. I thought this was particularly hard to believe, especially when that motivation made him not even hesitate to carry out atrocities in front of his daughter. Frankly, I saw no real reason for him to go as insane as he did, which made this part of the film harder to believe.

Khan, of course, was the big “secret” going into the movie. I called it back when the character was first shown. Of course it would be Khan. But why did Khan do what he did? He was fairly clearly motivated by revenge, but there was more to his character behind the scenes.

It was revealed that Khan was a war criminal who was conducting a genocide against any whom he found to be “imperfect.” I can’t help but think that this line, was was basically incidental to the plot, is one of the better talking points from the movie. After all, is the destruction of the “imperfect” is exactly what is taking place within our society with issues such as abortion and euthanasia. On the other side, we see the unwillingness to “give a handout” to those who are hungry or in need. Our culture is steeped in a notion where we do not value the “imperfect,” whether they be elderly, unborn, mentally disabled, or poor. Moreover, one must wonder: who defines perfection? I can’t help but think that a character like Khan is not that different from the evils which are occurring each day within our society.

Miracles

When Kirk has given his life to save the crew of the Enterprise, one crew member comments that “It was a miracle.” Spock responds simply, “There are no such things.” I admit that I was baffled by this comment. After all, the series of events which had just occurred in the space of the previous 5 minutes of the film were so over-the-top that the only reasonable explanations were either Hollywood meddling (of course, this was the case) or the hand of the divine.

I vividly remember someone a few rows down in the theater audibly scoffing when Spock said this. Why would this be a reaction to a line like this? Well, simply put, some things are so beyond probability, luck, and circumstance that they cry out for explanation.

Conclusion

Overall, I enjoyed the film. But I realize that I enjoyed it more as a Trekkie than I did at a worldview level. It seems as though the writers attempted to raise some tough questions, but never got around to providing satisfactory answers. When answers were easy to see (as in the case of miracles), a main character like Spock flatly contradicted it. Those who watch the film with worldview-glasses on will find much to discuss. I think the film is worth seeing simply to start up discussions about miracles, relativism, and even some specific ethical issues. I could see the clip at the beginning used as part of a larger discussion on the history of religion. Of course, as a Trekkie, I also think it is worth seeing for the sake of its place in the Star Trek canon. Let me know what you think.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.” I often ask questions for readers and give links related to interests on this site.

Be sure to check out my other posts on movies (scroll down for more).

Star Trek’s Prime Directive and Moral Relativism– I found this post fascinating. It explores the Trek universe to discuss the metaethical view of relativism.

Engaging Culture: A Brief Guide for movies– I reflect on how Christians can engage with popular movies in order to have meaningful conversations with those around them.

SDG.

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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.

“The Dark Knight Rises”- A Christian Reflection

The epic tale begun with Batman Begins and continued with The Dark Knight comes to a fruition in The Dark Knight RisesBatman has always been my favorite hero (I say hero and not superhero because he has no superpowers), and I couldn’t wait to see the  finale to the trilogy I had been awaiting for some time. It didn’t disappoint. Herein, I reflect from my Christian background on the many themes in the movie.

Here’s the last warning: THERE ARE SPOILERS HERE. BIG ONES.

I’m going to eschew giving a plot summary because what I want to contribute to the conversation is a discussion on the themes. If you don’t feel like bothering with the movie, it would be good to at least know about the plot before reading this post. Check here for a brief summary.

Faith

Throughout the movie I kept noticing faith as a major theme. There were those who had maintained faith in a lie: Harvey Dent. Batman had taken the fall for him in The Dark Knight in order to provide Gotham with a needed hero. This faith was misplaced, and Jim Gordon, the police commissioner of Gotham City, almost destroyed himself keeping it inside himself. He said, at one point, “I knew Harvey Dent. I was his friend. And it will be a very long time before someone… Inspires us the way he did. I believed in Harvey Dent.” Yet the whole time Gordon knew he was speaking a lie. He believed in Dent, but he no longer believes in him.

Batman placed his faith in  Catwoman/Selina Kyle. He firmly believed that there was more to her than the anger she continually expressed. This interplay was made more interesting by the interaction between Batman’s and Catwoman’s alter egos, Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. Selina Kyle, who seemed generally upset with all the rich and famous in Gotham and the decadence found therein–told the rich billionaire Bruce Wayne, “You think this can last? There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” More on the interaction between the two later.

Alfred put his trust in Bruce Wayne. He strongly wanted Wayne to have a satisfying, fulfilling life, and throughout the film he worried that Batman would destroy Wayne. When push came to shove, Alfred was willing to leave Wayne in order to try to save him. Again, more on this later.

Finally, there were those who had faith in Batman. Batman, to them, was more than just a hero, he was a symbol of hope and justice.

One thing viewers should note is that the use of “faith” in The Dark Knight Rises is not some kind of hack definition. It doesn’t mean “belief in the face of insurmountable evidence to the contrary” or “belief in something you know ain’t true.” Instead, faith in the movie is faith in–a trusting faith based on evidence. Those who believed in Harvey Dent were mistaken, but that wasn’t due to evidence, it was active deception. Batman’s faith in Selina Kyle was firmly based on his ability to read her character. Others’ faith in Batman was based upon either a personal knowledge of the secret (Gordon) or knowledge of his actions as Batman (John Blake, others). It is very similar to the faith of the Christian, which is based upon knowledge.

Rise

The most obvious theme in the movie was that of “arising.” Bruce Wayne had to overcome his doubts, fears, and become something greater. Yet he had to rely on others to build this journey. The knowledge of his fellow prisoners in ‘the pit’–a prison into which people were thrown, but could climb out. Only one had ever managed it, however, and that was Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter, who had subsequently saved Bane. Ironically, then, the rise of his enemies forced the Dark Knight to meet their challenge. He had to transcend his limits and become that which Gotham needed in order to save it.

Yet Batman/Wayne wasn’t the only one who rose in the movie. Selina Kyle also experienced a major transition. As a character, she was initially powerfully motivated by anger and a desire to escape. She was portrayed as being very frustrated and angry with the social imbalance of the world and determined to not only try to balance it–in her favor, of course–but also to punish those who made it so imbalanced. When Batman returns to Gotham after his exile by Bane, he confronts Selina. He points out that the storm she predicted earlier has hit, and it doesn’t seem like it was what she wanted. Still, however, she seems determined to be in it all for herself. Yet ultimately she comes back to fight with the Dark Knight against the evil powers that are trying to destroy Gotham. In the end, she does manage to rise, with the guidance and help of Bruce Wayne/Batman.

John Blake–the incorruptible cop–also rose. It is revealed shortly before the film’s end that he is Robin–and that he is about to take up the cowl of Batman, to become the symbol for Gotham. Here, I sensed a feeling of fulfillment. We encourage others to walk in our shoes and left them up when they are down. Without Batman, Blake would not have survived. Yet he goes on to [presumably] become the next Batman, to save others.

Corruption

The world is not all sunshine and daisies. The world is full of corruption and sin. Interestingly, The Dark Knight Rises has much less corruption on the part of the police force than the previous movies. The turn was a noticeable, perceptible shift. As far as the plot goes, I wonder if any of that was due to the “Dent Act” which effectively ended organized crime in Gotham. Despite the relative “cleanness” of the police force, however, there was plenty of corruption to go around. Once Bane overthrows the city, there are “people’s courts” where “justice” is dole out on those already deemed guilty. The prisons are ripped open due to the lie [Harvey Dent] that many were imprisoned by. One wonders, how much of this is justice? Is any of what Bane says true?

Furthermore, it is a powerful reminder of the human condition. Given the chance to rule themselves, Gotham erupted into violence and brutality. It is little wonder that this should happen, given a Christian worldview, because all are sinful and need grace. All deserve justice.

Justice and Freedom

Is there justice? Was Batman just in continuing his adventures as the Caped Crusader? Is violence ever a justifiable means to an end?

Within Christianity there is a long history–traceable to Augustine, at least–of the concept of a “Just War.”  There will be much debate over whether the actions of someone like Batman could be justified. Is it ever permissible to take justice into one’s own hands? I leave the question open.

Yet more important questions loom. What is justice? Who is to determine it?

One wonders what worldview could plug these holes that continue to open as human nature is probed by director Christopher Nolan throughout the Batman Trilogy. From the irrational desire to cause fear and anarchy of Scarecrow to the anarchist nihilism of the Joker to the over-reactive retribution of Bane, Nolan has exposed viewers to the depths of human freedom. What price, freedom? Bane tells Gotham he has set them free, yet he has truly imprisoned them by their own nature. What occurs is a vivid portrayal of human nature and destruction.

Christian Threads- Redemption and Cleansing

I can’t help but think of Bruce Wayne’s ascension from the pit to the chants of “rise” without thinking of the Christian faith. We sinners are in our own pits of sin. Yet just as Wayne we have a very real lifeline. Yes, Bruce Wayne shunned the physical lifeline, but he clung to an idea: he clung to faith. Similarly, the Christian shuns the physical realm and is saved by faith. Rise.

There is the notion of a “clean slate.” Selina Kyle is primarily motivated by her desire to have such a clean slate. She wants to start over. Batman offers it as a tantalizing price to pay for her help in the final battle. Yet in the end, Selina comes back and redeems herself more than was required by the Bat. At the end of the movie, however, it is revealed that both Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle have managed to use the “clean slate.” They have started afresh. Again, a Christian allegory or overlay could be applied here. We are all sinners in search of a clean slate, yet we cannot provide it for ourselves. While have no nearly-magical technology to give us a clean slate, we do have salvation by grace through faith. And that, my friends, is something worth considering.

Finally, Wayne’s “rise” coincides with the need I described earlier. The fact that enemies had arisen meant that Batman had to also rise to the challenge. Christians know that once sin came into the world, the only way to cure it would be for God to come into the flesh to save us. Such is poignantly portrayed when Jim Gordon talked to John Blake. Gordon talks about the evils of Gotham and describes how Batman transcends the filth, but he “puts his hands into the filth [with us]” [I believe he says filth, but I have a suspicion it may have been muck–correct me if I’m wrong here]. Wayne, though having no obligation to these people, still loves Gotham, and he is willing to condescend to get his hands dirty–to put his hands into the filthy muck and dirty them in order to save it. Is it an allegory? It certainly works as one. Jesus is God incarnate. A God who loved His creatures so much that He was willing to become one of them–to put his hands into the filth and reach down to save us. Just as Batman did what was necessary to save while also dealing justice, Christ did what was necessary in order to save humanity from its own sin. The Son Rises.

Links

Check out more of my reflections on movies. If you liked The Dark Knight Rises, check out my look at The Avengers.

SDG.

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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.

A Christian Look at “The Avengers”

The Avengers is a huge blockbuster film. Reviewers are raving about it. It’s a cultural phenomenon now. How should a Christian take the movie? Is there anything of value to it, or is it just another action flick? Here, I’ll offer less a review [short review: it was amazing, probably my favorite hero movie other than “The Dark Knight”] than a survey of some thinking points Christians can use to engage with the culture as they interact with the movie. There will be spoilers.

I Need a Hero

Consider the overall theme of The Avengers. Earth is in trouble from outside (alien/demigod) forces. But, in a way, the humans brought this plight upon themselves (they messed with powers they should not have–this theme is found throughout the entirety of the film). How can we be saved? We must look to our hero(es) and utterly rely upon them. Think about it. That is exactly the human condition now. We need a hero. I can’t help but channel that song by Skillet, “Hero.” We aren’t superhuman, we aren’t superheroes. Ultimately, we have to rely on someone else.

The overarching theme of The Avengers is therefore very reminiscent of the Christian story. Christianity holds that we have a plight: we’re under assault from our own sinfulness, into which we were tempted by Satan. We tried to mess with that which we should not have attempted: sin. And now, because of that, we are under assault. We have no way to save ourselves. We need a hero. We can’t escape from it ourselves. Like the civilians on the streets of the cities as they come under attack in the film, we must rely utterly upon that hero. We are powerless.

Yes, I do think that this theme resonates deeply with Christianity. Jesus Christ is our hero. He gave his life for us, willingly. He rose again. He came despite having no need to do so, and saved us from that from which we cannot save ourselves.

Another way to look at this theme is the deep human need for help. We realize we are floating in this gigantic universe and we feel insignificant. What meaning is there? We look to heroes–we fictionalize them and make them into “superheroes.” Even the previews before the movie showed two more hero flicks coming up: The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spiderman. We are obsessed with this theme. Yet the real story of Christianity is even more compelling: we’ve already been saved. God has already acted. He sent us our hero, when we needed Him most. Death itself has been defeated. The human urge to look for a hero, to look beyond ourselves for help, is satisfied poignantly in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God Doesn’t Wear That

One of my favorite lines in the entire movie came from Captain America: “There is only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure He doesn’t dress like that.” [Author’s note: I found several references to this quote and they all varied slightly, however if my memory serves me, this is the correct version.]

What can Christians think about this? Well clearly just saying there is “one God” doesn’t do much, but what is interesting is the context he says this in. Captain America has just met Thor (a demigod/superhero), yet he still affirms there is “only one [true] God.” Sure, Thor can play with lightning, but ultimately he is not God. There is but one God, and He’s infinitely greater than Thor or any of the other “gods” who turn out to be little more than powerful beings from Asgard.

More importantly, I think a Christian could use this pop culture reference in a dialog as one notes the importance of anthropomorphic language about God. God “doesn’t dress like that!” Too often, when we speak of God, we have this picture of some old guy with a beard. But God “doesn’t dress like that.” He’s transcendent, beyond. Yet He chose to come into the flesh to save us (see “I Need a Hero” above)! I found this quote very thought-provoking.

The Beyond

Another theme of The Avengers is the fact that we aren’t alone. Humanity is thought of by some in the movie’s universe as a helpless, defenseless planet which will certainly fall at the slightest attack. Humans are but one amongst many powers in the universe, and not the most powerful.

Again, this theme resonates with Christianity. We aren’t the most powerful beings in the universe, and we are not alone. There are angels and demons, gods, and God. I can’t fully develop the layers of meaning in the Bible in regards to all the powers of the universe, but a great discussion can be found in Gerald McDermott’s  God’s Rivals. God is supreme over all things and unchallenged, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t powerful forces who seek to subvert His divine plan.

Conclusion

The Avengers was a fantastic flick. It has everything a huge summer blockbuster needs. It’s worth seeing for the action alone, but the story resonates deeply with our strongest urges. It informs us of our need for a hero/savior. It affirms that we are not alone. I can’t help but say I strongly encourage Christians to see the movie and take note of the themes which resonate with our worldview; they are there in abundance. As we seek to engage with the culture, we can point out how our own story–the True Story of Jesus Christ–satisfies the needs felt in the movie, and more.

Links

The Avengers: Sin, Salvation, and Jonah– There are even more themes in the movie that I think really resonate with the Christian worldview. Check out my other post on the topic.

Please check out my other writings on movies and books. For starters, if you liked The Avengers you may want to check out John Carter.

Drew Zahn also raves about Christian themes in The Avengers. [Major spoilers at this link.]

SDG.

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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.

Christian Reflection on The Hunger Games Trilogy

I devoured the entire Hunger Games Trilogy over the course of a few days (see my general, spoiler-free reflections here). I can’t wait for the movie. My thoughts on the movie can be found here. Everyone has been talking about these books, and for good reason.

I’ll give my thoughts on the overall plot and what I take as the meaning in the books, from my own Christian perspective. I provide a brief look at things Christians can take from the books, as well as a discussion of the ethical theory one could see in the books.

This post focuses first on the reflections, and readers who don’t know the plot should read my summary before reading that section. Next, I briefly outline some content for parents. Third is my summary of the trilogy. Finally, I share a few interesting links, including one which I think will be very useful for Christian parents wondering if these are appropriate for their children.

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS INCLUDED BELOW

I’ll first present my reflections, and follow it with a brief note for parents. Those who haven’t read the books and aren’t planning to do so can read 3. Summary for a broad summary of the plot. There are spoilers in the reflections section, so readers who don’t want to have anything spoiled should abstain from reading this post and perhaps just read the one linked above.

1. Reflections

[I have had the wonderful pleasure of interacting with many thoughtful Christian on this trilogy and found that there is so much more to the books than I could delve into here. Please see the links at the end for more reflections.] Initially, as I reflected on The Hunger Games Trilogy, I felt that the biggest issue was that there didn’t seem to be a major point to it beyond entertainment. I asked to be corrected, and I was. Many people commenting on this post have shared incredible insights. For the Christian reflecting on the Hunger Games, one can see it as a commentary on the horrors done to children in our time (Audra Franz below brings up this excellent point), a stunning condemnation of relativistic ethical theories (see A.T. Ross’s link), a narrative of Christian martyrdom, a critique of poor moral decisions, a horrible look at a nihilistic worldview, and more. In other words, there are any number of things Christians reflecting on the Hunger Games Trilogy can take away from the series. As such, I’ve lengthened this post a bit to take more of this into account.

I’ve been perplexed by Katniss’ decision to vote to hold a Hunger Games for the children of the leaders of the Capitol. Now, upon further consideration, I have to agree with the astute reader whose idea I put forward below, but I’ve left my original view untouched here [see the last few sentences two paragraphs down]. Consider the following passage in which they are voting on this very issue (p. 370 of Mockingjay):

Was it like this then? Seventy-five years ago? Did a group of people sit around and cast their votes on initiating the Hunger Games? Was there dissent? Did someone make a case for mercy that was beaten down by the calls for the deaths of the  districts’ children? …All those people I loved, dead, and we are discussing the next Hunger Games in an attempt to avoid wasting life. Nothing has changed. Nothing will ever change now…. I say, “I vote yes… for Prim.”

I’m just honestly confused by this passage and Katniss’ decision. The vote was, according to her and Coin, a way to avoid losing more life. Some want to kill everyone in the Capitol, while others think they should just integrate with them in order to help stabilize the population. These last Hunger Games were proposed as a solution–a middle ground. But it seems to me they don’t serve a middle ground, just another atrocity. And Katniss seemed to realize that, but voted yes anyway. It is unclear that these Hunger Games ever take place, however, because shortly after making this decision, Coin is killed by Katniss and it’s uncertain as to whether an announcement is ever made. One reader gave me an interest comment on this–that it seems Katniss’ vote for the Hunger Games was, in fact, a ruse to lure Coin into the open so she could take her down. This gains credence when one considers that she says “for Prim”–even though she knew it was not Capitol people, but rather Coin, who killed Prim. On such a view, her utterance of “for Prim” is ironic, and indeed may have been intended to show Haymitch what Katkniss was planning. This makes more sense to me. My thanks to the astute reader!

The world in the Hunger games is stark. It is real, and one can’t help but be drawn into it while simultaneously feeling repulsed. Perhaps that was Suzanne Collins’ point, however. There isn’t always a triumph. Sometimes it’s just bitter reality. The trilogy ends on a happy note, but the overall scheme is one which forces the reader to reflect.

So what do I take from the Hunger Games trilogy? I readily admit my worldview does permeate my thought, and the main thing I took from the trilogy is the sinful condition of humanity. Katniss acknowledges it, noting that it could be better to allow some less sadistic species take over. As I already said, there is a fairly happy ending, but looking at the state of Panem and the world–there has been war after war, there’s no clear idea that the totalitarian government hasn’t just been replaced by another under the guise of democracy, children are killed, and a “compromise” to prevent more death is to send the Capitol’s children to fight to the death once more. The sinfulness of the human race, it seems, is at the forefront. And I think that’s why I long for more in the Hunger Games–I long for that comfort of the Redeemer. There seems to be no hope in the books that things will be made right, only that eventually, the nightmares may get better. Having the comfort of redemption and hope, I can’t help but wish for that in the world of Panem–a Redeemer to come and wash away the tears. And so, because there is no such Redeemer, I see the stories as a reflection of the brutal reality of a world without God. In such a world the best that can be hoped for is that the nightmares may one day end; that children may have a better life than their parents. But ultimately, it is a hard reality, one in which there is no true hope, no way to atone for past wrongs. Perhaps that is the central message of the books, or perhaps I am reading my own worldview onto it. Either way, I find this central message compelling.

Some have expressed concern that the Hunger Games express moral relativism. A.T. Ross has an excellent discussion of this on his site. The books themselves never present a moral theory–obviously that is not their intent–but they certainly do not seem to espouse moral relativism. It is clear throughout that the government’s actions are quite evil and that killing, sexual exploitation, and the like are all wrong. Ross notes that some have complained that it seems all the actions are up to chance. The phrase used in Panem is “May the odds be ever in your favor.” But Ross has astutely pointed out that no fictional character ever survives by chance. There is an Author who guides and directs their destinies. As Ross says, “The world operates on grace whether we like it or not; what we see as luck is nothing more than a tiny slice of divine grace offered in the form of survival and the tensions of the story resolving.”

But the Hunger Games, as noted below in the comments, can also be seen as a critique of our own world and our abuse of our children. In our world, children are sold for sex, they are forced to fight, they are fearful for their next meal, just as they are in the Hunger Games. Collins has poignantly potrayed the reality of our own world in the fictional realm of Panem.

A final thought is that Christians can definitely see parallels between the Hunger Games and the plight of the first Christians as they were forced to battle wild animals in Rome. There are a great many parallels here, and I can’t help but think some of this may be intentional. I’m not suggesting Collins is Christian–indeed, I don’t know what faith (if any) she professes. But I do think that the Hunger Games trilogy brings in many concepts from Christianity–the hopelessness of life without God, the objective wrongness of certain actions (and one’s requirements to act against them [provided the alternative reading of Katkniss’ vote]), and even an allusion to the Christian’s martyrdom in the arena. These all provide significant talking points for Christians throughout the series. The books are not overtly Christian, but they can open up conversations about these topics, and that, in itself, makes them worth reading in my opinion.

Thus, it can be seen that even though the Hunger Games Trilogy is not explicitly Christian, Christians who are interested can take all kinds of talking points away from it. Parents will find much to discuss with their children, and readers who are simply interested in the series will be unable to keep themselves from earnestly reflecting on the series afterwards. My own thoughts have been wonderfully shaped by readers who have shared their comments, so please keep them coming. It is clear that the Hunger Games can captivate Christians and have us look at the world through the eyes of faith–observing what is wrong and praying for God’s aid as we turn to those problems highlighted in the series. Most of all, we have the message of redemption, which is notably absent in the series–a message which is necessary to avoid the nihilistic collapse of Panem.

2. Brief note for Parents

Parents interested in the Hunger Games should know the series is very violent and depicts the death of children in sometimes graphic detail. While not explicit, there is some sexual exploitation involved as well (again, it is never explicit, but it can easily be drawn out from the text that is there). These are not books for young children. Please see 3. Summary for more details about the plot itself to hopefully help decide whether it is for your children.

3. Summary

Katniss Everdeen narrates the series from a first-person perspective. The Hunger Games is an annual tournament in which the Capitol collects 2 children from the 12 districts of Panem–the mini-country that has risen from the dust of several wars–and makes them battle to the death. Only one of the 24 children will survive. Why does the Capitol do this? Because about 74 years ago, the districts revolted against the Capitol. The Capitol won and the Hunger Games serve as an annual reminder of the Capitol’s might. The Hunger Games are aired on national television and everyone in Panem is required to watch their children die. There are interviews and extensive coverage of the event.

In the first book, The Hunger Games, Primrose, Katniss’ sister, is selected to compete in the Hunger Games. Katkniss almost immediately volunteers to take her place–she can’t watch her sister die. Gale, her friend and hunting partner for years, agrees to take care of her family. Peeta, a boy who had saved Katkniss’ life by giving her food some years ago, is the male selected from District 12, their home. They get shipped to the Capitol, where they begin to gain popularity due to their stylist, Cinna, and their story of hopeless lovers. Peeta told everyone at an interview that he loved Katniss and she plays that up in order to get gifts from “sponsors”–people who like certain children and pay to send food, weapons, medicine, and the like to them while they’re in the Hunger Games arena. As children die and are killed (including Katniss’ ally, Rue), it becomes apparent that Peeta and Katniss may be among the last few. The Capitol changes the rules to allow two to survive if they are the last ones and from the same district. Katniss finds Peeta and nurses him back to health, pretending to love him the whole time (and occasionally feeling very real about it). They end up barely surviving, but then the Capitol decides to change the rules back so they must fight to the death. They are about to kill themselves when the Capitol stops them and allows them both to win.

It turns out Peeta wasn’t pretending about his love, but Katniss was. The Capitol is furious that they were outwitted by the attempted suicide, and Peeta and Katniss are in danger. The book ends with Katniss in confusion about her interests in Peeta, and Peeta totally disappointed.

Catching Fire picks up a few months later and highlights the political drama playing out as President Snow and the Capitol are still furious that Peeta and Katniss both survived. The year is the 75th Hunger Games and in it, they select victors. Peeta and Katniss once more go to the Games. There is more to the Games than meets the eye, however, and Katniss and Peeta are part of a bigger scheme now to overthrow the Capitol. Katniss is confused about her feelings for Peeta and Gale. During the Games, Katniss is rescued and transported to the previously thought-destroyed District 13. District 12, her home, has been bombed to rubble. There are revolts happening across Panem.

In Mockingjay, Katniss must decide whether to help District 13 unite the Districts against the Capitol. Eventually she does and the revolution begins to take over district-by-district. District 13’s own motivations are unclear and it’s not certain they are any better than the Capitol in some ways. Their leader, Coin, is particularly unforgiving. Peeta has been tortured and tries to kill Katniss due to brainwashing, but through the course of the book he is rehabilitated and begins sorting his false memories from his true ones. It becomes apparent Coin doesn’t like the political clout Katkniss has as the “Mockingjay”–honorary leader of the rebellion. Katniss continues to go after President Snow, determined to kill him for his atrocities. Eventually, she reaches his estate and witnesses the killing of dozens of children with a secret weapon that only the Rebellion knows about. Snow is captured.

Katniss votes to put the Capitol’s leaders’ children in one final Hunger Games as retribution[? see more on this in my reflection] for their crimes. She and Coin had agreed to allow Katniss to kill Snow, and she is about to when she shoots Coin instead, due to Coin’s involvement in murdering other children. Katniss is pardoned for temporary insanity, and goes home to District 12. Eventually she and Peeta get together and the book ends with them having children despite Katniss’ fear that some great evil will come upon them.

4. Links

“Catching Fire”– A Christian reflection on the film. I review a number of themes found in the movie “Catching Fire” and tie them back to the message of Christianity and social justice.

Please check out my other writings on movies and books. For starters, if you liked The Hunger Games you may want to check out John Carter.

Christian Children’s Book Review- Check out this review of the series to get more specific information parents may want to consider as they think about getting these books for their children.

The Hunger Games, Ethics, and Christianity– A very interesting look at moral relativism and realism in The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games: Focus on the Family– Essentially a book review of the first book, The Hunger Games, with an emphasis on issues Christian parents might have with it. I don’t agree withe everything here, but I think the talking points they’ve provided for parents are pretty interesting.

Hungering for Satisfaction– a poignant look into the Hunger games. “Real or unreal?”

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?

SDG.

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