Sunday, April 15, 2012

In Reflection: The Hunger Games

It has only been since Spring Break that I have read The Hunger Games Trilogy, and through it been introduced to an entirely new world. A world that makes me infinitely grateful for the one in which I live. This trilogy, and its first movie, have been the center of a controversy within the Evangelical community. While there has been far less argument about The Hunger Games Trilogy than the Twilight or Harry Potter series, there has nonetheless been a bit of discussion and debate over the merits of these stories. Since reading the books, I have certainly had a strong opinion on the virtues of this series, but after seeing the movie tonight, I feel I have to give my opinion.

While most of those I have heard object to The Hunger Games tend to be on the very conservative to even fundamentalist end of the Evangelical spectrum, because I have spent significant time in the fundamentalist world myself, I want to address some of the objections. One of the less significant accusations referred to Katniss as a "potty-mouthed" heroine, and I watched the movie expecting Jennifer Lawrence to be spewing profanities left and right. After watching the whole thing, I can only conclude this accusation was an attempt to find something else wrong with the movie, since the basis for censure was already so precarious. I counted three times in the entire movie that Katniss used anything approaching foul language, and both of the words she used would be considered by much of society today to not even be "foul" any longer. A person only has to spend a day out and about to hear much worse language used far more frequently.

There was also an accusation referring to Cinna as a homosexual. First of all, homosexuals exist, live and work among us. Regardless of your personal convictions about the validity of such a lifestyle, I don't really see how it would matter if Cinna had been portrayed as a homosexual. Which he wasn't. Cinna, Katniss's stylist for the Hunger Games (the event, not the book), is one of the trilogy's heroes. A shining example of conviction and moral courage. He worked from within the establishment to do what he knew was right. Played by Lenny Kravitz (who did a stellar job, by the way), Cinna was in no way portrayed as a homosexual. There was absolutely nothing more to suggest this than the fact that he was a stylist. Oh, and he had a few earrings and wore gold eyeliner. What I want to know is if this reviewer took any time to look at the other men shown walking around the Capitol. Some of them had flowers in their hair, much heavier makeup, walked in sparkly platform shoes, and wore lace and ruffles, all the while escorting a lady around on their arm. Using this as a means by which to disparage the movie is nothing more than grasping at straws. And quite desperately, I might add.

There was also the accusation that the story lacked any real redemption. To that I say, no kidding, genius. It's part of a TRILOGY! If the redemption came at the end of the first book, it'd be a lone novel! Follow it through to the end, and yes, you will see redemption. In addition was a criticism of the "gratuitous violence." Well, in order for violence to be "gratuitous," there has to be more violence than required to make whatever point the movie/book is trying to make. I was actually surprised at how little violence they managed to show in a movie that's about a futuristic gladiatorial kind of battle. It was also not glorified, another element in "gratuitous" violence.

The main criticism of this reviewer I really think is a moot point: the movie does not show the Christian remnant promised by the Bible. He also displays his rather abysmal grasp of history when he says that even amidst the Nazi and Communist mass killings, there was "at least one" nation that held Judeo-Christian morals still. If he's referring to America, he has to also include several other Western countries, and honestly, given what many Americans were doing to African-Americans in the name of Christianity during those same decades, and the government did nothing to stop, I would even question the sincerity of that. But I digress. Surely the author of this review does not expect blockbuster movies to reflect Biblical promises of a remnant. Not only that, but he did say one nation remained during the 1930s and 40s. He didn't even mention the individual Christians within Germany and Soviet Russia. As The Hunger Games takes place in ONE country, Panem, his argument doesn't even work. This review can be read here.

Here is my only criticism of the entire series: I do believe the series is wholly inappropriate for its target audience. I might allow a mature 14 or 15 year old to read the trilogy, but in general, I think the subject matter is too mature for anyone under 16. For older teens and adults, however, I think the story is very important. I didn't even fully grasp how important until I saw it up there on the screen. People living in abject poverty, not allowed to have some of what we would consider to be even the most minute of freedoms, whose sole responsibilities in life center around providing a life of ease and nauseating (downright immoral, even) excess in the Capitol. The message from the Capitol to the Districts is quite clear: You exist to serve us. That is all. Our children are raised in comfort and sheltered from harm. Twenty-three of your children will die every year as a reminder to you of who is in charge. Not only will they die, but they will be forced to kill each other while we sit at home and watch, cheering, on television, as your kids figure out new ways to kill each other. To see the Capitol crowd cheering as the tributes were interviewed and presented to them, all dressed in the finest possible attire, and treated as though they were about to compete in a beauty pageant, when in reality, 23 of them were expected to be dead in a matter of days was absolutely revolting. To see their ridiculous excesses, while seeing the way those in District 12 struggled just to survive was sickening. And it's not even the same kind of thing where today, we have people in America living lives of excess, while children starve to death in Sub-Saharan Africa. No, the people of District 12 struggle BECAUSE of the excesses of those in the Capitol. And most of those in the Capitol have been raised to believe this is all a part of the natural order of things.

I won't give away any spoilers, but I think Suzanne Collins deserves a lot of credit for her stories. This kind of thing COULD happen. It's not at all unlike a mega-scale re-creation of American slavery, only worse. It's not going to happen in my lifetime, but in two hundred years? Sure. Entirely plausible. We must always keep in mind that we are put here on this earth to serve OTHER people. Not ourselves. There is no "elite," inherently better and more worthy than the rest. We are ALL human beings, and life is sacred. In a sense, this kind of thing HAS happened. The country wasn't called "Panem," it was the Roman Empire (interestingly enough, the name "Panem" comes from a motto from Ancient Rome- no doubt Collins was consciously making this connection). This is simply a futuristic, high-tech version of Rome.

I could go so many other places with this, but it's late, and I have far too much else to do. I do want to say this: to those of you who criticize The Hunger Games but haven't read them, READ THEM. I understand your objections to Twilight and Harry Potter. This trilogy is far less cut-and-dried than those. It does not deal with the undead. It does not deal with witchcraft. It deals with a world that very much could come to pass.Its message is vital to remember and to understand. If, by the time you get all the way through, you still have objections, fine. You are certainly entitled to your opinion. But if you haven't read the books, please stop criticizing until you do. These books cannot be criticized on premise alone, like the others I mentioned can (note-I'm not saying I have a problem with the others, just that it's much more valid to make a judgement based on their themes without having read them). Yes, I'll say it again, I do believe the books are inappropriate for their target audience. But that in no way takes away from their value.

To those of you who haven't read or seen The Hunger Games, read. See. They just might change your entire worldview. They changed mine. And I don't believe my worldview was changed in a non-Biblical way. In fact, I believe my new worldview is much more in keeping with a Biblical worldview than my old one.