Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Hunger Games - A Review

Note: this is a review of the movie based solely on the movie itself - not on the books, and not what may come up in future movies in this trilogy. To those who have not seen the movie, I recommend reading a synopsis of it if this review seems confusing. Also, this review does contain mild spoilers, in that it hints at the overall tone and outcome of the movie.

As I watched The Hunger Games, I became enthralled with the central characters and the choices that they would be forced to make once in the arena. I wondered, "Twenty-four teenagers being told that they will have to kill each other in order to survive? How is the author going to redeem this situation? What kinds of noble sacrifices will I see? Who is going to lay down his or her life in order to demonstrate the wrongness of this situation?" In fact, the character development and pacing of the first half were so excellent, so that I was at the point of being physically affected by tense moments in the plot.

In my mind, I was beginning to harken back the coliseum in ancient Rome, where those who called Jesus Lord repeatedly demonstrated the excellence of their Redeemer by laying down their lives in His name, and by refusing to kill in cold blood. So, when I began to realize that both of the main characters seemed prepared to kill in order to survive, I began to become wary of what might happen next, though I still expected some plot element to somehow redeem the situation and demonstrate to me value of life, or the excellence of sacrifice, or some other noble virtue. Afterwards, I remembered thinking of the story of Telemachus, and how different it is from that of The Hunger Games.

As the characters interacted with each other inside of the arena, the story unfolded into one of total human depravity. I am unsure of whether the author meant it to be taken as such - perhaps I was supposed to see the main characters as justified in what they did. Kill to survive. Kill by default. Kill in self-defence. But by the end of the movie, I could only think that they had displayed evil selfishness. Any serous Christian evaluation of the movie must conclude the same. Not one of the twenty-four teenagers was willing to openly oppose the games before they started, and not one of them displayed a total unwillingness to kill for survival.

So then, what should a Christian do with this movie? Should he decide against seeing it because of its display of depravity? I do not think so, as I would cautiously recommend Hotel Rwanda to adults who can handle the terror it portrays. However, the effect of  The Hunger Games on the viewer will be very different from that of Hotel Rwanda, as The Hunger Games asks us to identify with characters who we eventually see as evil. My mind was extremely troubled by the story for several days afterward. Therefore, my recommendation is that a Christian who understands human depravity may see this movie without violation of conscience. However, he or she can expect to be disturbed by what they see - there is nothing at the end of the movie to redeem what happens.

One final note: the majority of those who see the movie will likely not understand that the main characters were wrong to kill. I even came across a review by a Christian missionary who thought that the main characters were vindicated, and simply victims of their situation. If you discuss this movie with friends, please keep in mind that killing for self-preservation is wrong, no matter how an author may frame it. We have the testimony of the Christians of ancient Rome, who considered it a privilege to die for the Glory of God. A person who chooses to kill others to save his or her own life is without excuse because of the Law of God which is written on the heart of every person.


Laura Elizabeth said...

I almost completely agree with you. Except that you seem to be implying that self-defense is never right, for any reason. If a murdering thug is coming at me with a gun, then I believe I have ever justification to defend myself by wounding or even killing him.
However, in the case of the Hunger Games, the teenagers are all 'victims' of the government, and therefore have no right to kill each other. I'm reminded of an old book called The Martyr of the Catacombs. In the beginning of the book, the main character is watching the games, and two men come out to fight. One of the gladiators had been saved recently and when he came into the arena, he allowed the other man to kill him.
Anyways, sorry for the long post. I agree that the Hunger Games is quite disappointing. I mean, there's not even the thought of *not* killing, not even the thought of something that might be worse than death, namely, murdering someone just because the government told you to.

Ezra said...

I think I remember that book, Martyr of the Catacombs. Truth be told, I am unsure about my convictions in the area of self-defense. I would certainly kill in defense of someone else. But in defense of myself? How about turning the other cheek? Or does that apply here?

I am currently re-thinking my convictions in this area; I have not yet been able to find a consistent position on Christian use of violence. I am not a pacifist, as I believe that the New Testament sanctions governmental justice. However, just as that martyr did not defend himself in the arena, I must believe that there are at least a lot of situations in which self-defense is not the right choice for a Christian.

Kyleigh said...

Thank you so much for writing this, Ezra.
I hadn't heard much about the Hunger Games (but I knew they were really popular and that put me off from them in the first place). So I read a little about them and my initial thought was that it seemed brutal. Then one of my good friends went to see the movie here and we were talking about it. She enjoyed it and was able to give me a bit more of the plot. I decided that if I get into them at all, I'd watch the movie before deciding if I want to spend more time reading the books.
Your review addressed most of my concerns, especially about all the killing.

I haven't really thought about killing for self-defense. But I think that a lot of it would depend on what's at stake. Why are you being threatened? Is it for the sake of Christ? Are you the ONLY one they're after?

Ezra said...

Thanks for the comment. I think that I agree that the question of killing in self defense must depend on what is at stake. Would the person go and kill someone else right after you? Is there some reason that you need to stay alive (defense of family, etc.)? Could your death serve as a testimony of God's love? Hmm...

Lostariel said...

I disagree for one reason: Peeta. He says that he thinks he'd kill if the moment came, but he never does. If memory serves, he never does in the other two books either, which is something Katniss comes to long for as she gets worse and worse.
But it is a good analysis. I know what you mean when you say it enthralls you, and suddenly your think, "Wait. No. You can't DO this. This is wrong."
On an unrelated note, I wonder what you'd think of Doctor Who. The story seems to be based on time travel and aliens, but the evolutionary worldview isn't at all consistent. I watch it for the main character, who believes in the sanctity of all life (although he hasn't always).

Ezra said...

I yield to you if you have read the books. In the movie, though, he does end up knocking the one boy into the wolves. Although this is done to protect Katniss, I think it is interesting to note that his motive is romance more than anything else. Typically, when a secular author wants to make a character heroic, but doesn't want to borrow Christian ethics to do it, that author will use romance as a kind of substitute for what is truly noble. I suppose that there is a sense in which Peeta is likable, but toward the beginning of the movie, there is a scene where he does nothing to stop the death of another girl (who he is not in love with). So I don't really sympathize with him much. Perhaps I would if I read the books; I don't know.

I guess I always thought of Dr. Who as the british version of Star Trek. My little brother watches it sometimes. I don't really know that much about it. I didn't seem too bad when I watched some of it with him.

Kathleen said...

For me, the redeeming moment is where Katniss takes Prim's place. At this moment she knows that she has to sacrifice herself for her sister, no matter the outcome. I don't believe that either the movie intended to glorify violence, instead it tried to show what happens when a society becomes completely desensitized towards violence.
One thing that I feel it's important to understand is that no one wins.
Either one's life is cut tragically short, or supposing one wins that person will be forced to mentor other tributes from their district and probably see them die.
I definitely don't believe that Katniss was the best person ever. She was a flawed character, but in a way trying to get home was selfless of her. Katniss supported her family by hunting, and I think she wanted to give them the best life they could have, regardless of what would come after for her.
Also in the book Prim comes across as being innocent ( in good way) compared to Katniss so my take is that Katniss was not only protecting her life, but also her purity.

Ezra said...

I don't believe that this movie is trying to glorify violence either (or I would have recommended against seeing it). Though, I know that many non-christian will perceive the violence portrayed as "cool."

Also, I know that Katniss does sacrificer herself in a beautiful way toward the beginning of the film. But what struck me, and inspired this review, was that in the actual Hunger Games, she became a fallen person responding to a fallen world - killing as necessary to get back to her family. She might not have been nearly as evil as some of the other children, but she was not noble by any stretch.

I think the movie asked us to sympathize with her because she is "better" than a lot of the other children (better motives, less aggressive), and "better" than the affluent audience members in the capitol district, and "better" than the members of the oppressive government. Perhaps it would be more clear of me to say that I reject her actions because they are godless, even if they seem comparatively "better." Allow me to explain:

There was something much bigger than her family at stake in the Hunger games. There was the government's utter disregard for justice and for the sanctity of human life. Rather than face these evils, she gave up opportunities to speak against them in order to have a chance at returning to her family. This is why I do not see her as noble: she is in the same class as people who did not speak out against nazis or turned in their jewish neighbors in order to preserve their own families, or hutu who turned on their tutsi neighbors to avoid being killed themselves in Rwanda. A fallen person in a fallen world, without the light of Christ in her heart to cause her to take a more noble path.

Kathleen said...

Thank you so much for clarifying. However I feel there's something I'm not understanding. Do you believe it's wrong every time for readers to sympathize
with a flawed character, or is there some rule I'm missing?
Also, for Christian writers it would seem unbiblical not to deal with human corruption, and to make the main characters perfect.
Lots of excellent writers have created flawed characters, that I have liked such as Boromir from Lord of the Rings.

Ezra said...

No. You are very right that we should sympathize with flawed characters, to an extent. After all, we ourselves are all deeply flawed, just like Katniss Everdeen.

I just wanted to make the point that she was not justified in her actions, and that we should not allow the way in which the story is told to convince us otherwise. That's why I suggested that any Christian who has a good understanding of human depravity may see the movie without sinning (if they can stomach the violence). Someone who does not understand human selfishness and evil might become confused by some of the moral dilemmas in the story.

Lucy Anne said...

I have never watched the Hunger Games...and I don't plan to.

But I just want to say that I agree completely with you. I do not think it is right to kill someone or even wound someone in defense of myself. Because, Jesus said to love your enemies and killing them is not at all loving them.