So I watched The Hunger Games. Since it’s such a cultural phenomenon I decided to write about it. I’m not a movie critic so I will focus less on the movie itself, and more on what it says about human nature – which is a lot.
Overview (Spoiler Alert)
The Hunger Games is set in a futuristic United States, which is no longer the United States. It’s now Panem, a nation divided into 13 districts. Over 70 years prior to the setting of the movie, 12 of the 13 districts rebelled against the government and lost. To pay for their rebellion, each district has to send a male and female “tribute” (teenagers chosen by lottery) to fight to the death in what becomes the annual Hunger Games. The games are televised and are as popular in Panem as American Idol once was in America.
16 year old Katniss Everdeen goes to the Hunger Games as a tribute from district 12, but she wasn’t picked by lottery. Her younger sister Primrose was picked, and Katniss volunteered to go in her place. Through skill, attitude, and cunning Katniss won. There’s only one problem. She won by outwitting the government and game officials, and they don’t like being outwitted. The movie ends by contrasting the victorious Katniss with the angry President Snow of Panem.
What The Hunger Games Reveals About Us
The movie roped me in from the very beginning. I loved Katniss, I was annoyed by her co-tribute Peeta, and disgusted by the very idea of The Hunger Games. I hoped that, somehow, Katniss would be able to put an end to them.
I’m not going to play the “there are so many parallels to the gospel” card that so many people played with the Matrix in the late 90’s. However, there is no denying that Katniss is no ordinary film protagonist. You love Katniss because she sacrificially gave her life as a substitute for someone else. Also, she and her trainer Haymitch seem to be the only two people in the entire movie who are in touch with reality. Ok, maybe Lenny Kravitz too.
Finally, even though Katniss does kill in the Hunger Games, she’s never vindictive. Whenever she killed it was out of justice, self defense, or to protect younger innocent tributes. She even tricked the corrupt government and game officials into allowing her to save Peeta’s life at the end. This was in stark contrast to some of the other tributes who formed alliances, killed for pleasure, and mocked their victims’ pleas for mercy.
The popularity of Katniss’ character reveals a deep desire for Christ in us. We are drawn to people who sacrifice their lives for others. As Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV). We have a need for an honorable hero who can also outwit evil. Who can enter an evil and tainted world without becoming tainted as well. We are drawn to characters who don’t give into self-promoting fame. So is Katniss like Jesus? No. Jesus is way better. However, the character traits that make Katniss a hero and that we love are shown perfect in Jesus Christ. If you like Katniss, you’ll love Jesus.
The Hunger Games is extremely controversial. After all, it’s about senseless violence between teenagers. Some of the controversies I understand, and others I don’t.
First of all, The Hunger Games is marketed as adolescent literature. So part of the target audience is 12 year old girls. This means that 9 and 10 year old girls will read it to be cool. Apparently some middle school language arts teachers have even read it in their classes. I wouldn’t want my children to be reading a book or watching a movie that violent at such a young age. I certainly wouldn’t want them reading it in school, instead of under my guidance.
The controversy over it’s violent narrative structure is unnecessary, however. It shows teenagers engaging in senseless violence, but that’s not the same as promoting it. The senseless violence is clearly portrayed as just that – senseless violence. The host, Game Maker, and television audience on the movie are all moronic villains.
If anything, the portrayal of the audience on the film shows how wicked people are. Like that audience, all of us are quick to flock to something exciting just because everyone else is. We’re quick to call something good when it is actually evil. Whether we want to admit it or not, that’s the way we are by nature. Less than 2,000 years ago ancient Romans were flocking to the Colosseum to watch Gladiators kill one another. Since the Hunger Games TV Host and Game Maker are named Caesar and Seneca respectively (ancient Roman names), Collins is obviously trying to compare modern human behavior to ancient behavior. As much as we may think we have evolved to become gentle and civilized, we have not. As a friend of mine pointed out, the audience was obsessed with their own external beauty to the point of looking grotesque, but inside they’re still wicked. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV).
Perhaps the controversy surrounding the Hunger Games is that it forces us to look into the mirror far too closely. While the audience may serve as a caricature, it only emphasizes the reality of who we are. Left to ourselves we want to look beautiful, even if we are actually wicked. We want excitement and pleasure, even if it costs others their lives. Left to ourselves, we are so unaware of how wicked we are that evil will entertain us without being aware of it.
So we love the movie because we need a Katniss. But we need so much more than Katniss. Katniss lived in luxury while training for the Hunger Games, Jesus had nowhere to lay His head. Katniss is cynical and hopeless about life, Jesus came to give hope and a future. Katniss killed to save her life, Jesus laid down His life … and then came back.
For another review of the film from a Biblical perspective, watch this: