The Hunger Games: A Spiritual Review of the Film
By: Dr. Dillon Burroughs
|By: Dillon Burroughs; ©2012|
|The bestselling young adult book trilogy The Hunger Games hit the screens last weekend with much hype, declared by media as the new franchise to replace Harry Potter or Twilight. Midnight showings were sold out nationwide with much fanfare. While the film connects deeply with the same audience as previous teen novels turned movie, many have also asked whether the film will generate similar spiritual concerns—leading parents and church leaders to ask what concerns exist before sending their own children or members to the theater.|
The Hunger Games: A Spiritual Review of the Film
The bestselling young adult book trilogy The Hunger Games hit the screens last weekend with much hype, declared by media as the new franchise to replace Harry Potter or Twilight. Midnight showings were sold out nationwide with much fanfare. While the film connects deeply with the same audience as previous teen novels turned movie, many have also asked whether the film will generate similar spiritual concerns—leading parents and church leaders to ask what concerns exist before sending their own children or members to the theater.
To start, the film is a futuristic, dystopia (the opposite of Utopia) along the lines of a teenage Mad Max. A fallen North America is now renamed Panem, divided into twelve districts, with each district required to send “tribute”—two enslaved young people who participate in a fight-to-the-death battle featured on reality television.
As expected, the concerns with such as storyline are primarily related to violence, not the theological concerns of Harry Potter or the supernatural oddities of Twilight. In Schindler’s List-like manner, The Hunger Games uses violence to show the ugliness of violence in a world where society views gore as entertainment.
On the positive side, the storyline works. The graphic teen-on-teen violence featured in the novel finds itself played out on screen utilizing quick camera cuts and other tricks to keep the scenes in the PG-13 range. While violent, the scenes are what Americans have come to anticipate in a PG-13 action film.
The film quality is also far better than average, offering both special effects and bold drama that compete with the best films of recent years, particularly those targeted to a teen audience (in contrast with many of today’s superhero spinoff films).
On the negative side, the same action that drives the novel’s rapid pace unfolds on screen featuring repeated teenage violence and murder on a scale that both horrifies and desensitizes the viewer. We are shown the sad end of violence while also encouraged to cheer the ugly end of certain characters in a good-defeats-evil style that ultimately reveals the dark side in us all.
From a biblical worldview, much can be mentioned. For example, Peeta is somewhat portrayed as the Messiah-like figure, a baker’s son (bread of life?) who gives his life to suffer for others. The key characters, especially the lead female Katniss Everdeen, express concern for those who are exploited, hurt, or left in poverty, especially the weakness of her own sister and younger opponent Rue.
A strong sense of “family” and friendship can also be observed throughout the drama. Disparities between the rich and poor are clearly articulated. Both Katniss and Peeta are often forced into situations that question our ethics. For example, would we kill in self-defense? Would we murder a teenager to save the life of someone we love? While the decisions in the film are primarily displayed from a situational ethic, the questions are both universal and spiritual.
As a parent or church leader, would I want my teenagers to watch this film? Personally, I absolutely would not. Why would it require seeing the opened eyes of multiple dead young people to teach my children that killing is evil? Why would I encourage young people to watch yet another film that displays violence and death among teenagers? Even the positive moral lessons presented in The Hunger Games do not require viewing such graphic content to communicate the lesson.
In fact, what if even one unstable teenager takes the Hunger Games idea seriously? What would result? A teen murder mob fighting to the death until one remains? Art, including films, do not only reflect culture; they also shape culture. Time will tell whether the impact of The Hunger Games will primarily be remembered by its positive virtues (such as Katniss volunteering for the Hunger Games in place of her sister) or its violent murder-as-sport storyline.
Certainly, many will watch The Hunger Games and have questions regarding the film’s message and content. In addition to deciding whether you should see the film or encourage others to do so, you can seek to provide answers to questions people have after watching it.
In many cases, these questions will likely revolve around the decisions we are forced to make in difficult situations. If so, this opens a powerful opportunity to discuss the importance of developing a biblical worldview that informs the way we make decisions or deal with moments of life and death. Ethics of right and wrong are behaviors decided based on our beliefs. As Christians, our goal must therefore be to develop beliefs that honor God and are built upon his desires for our lives.
On a side note, in terms of language and sexuality, the concerns are relatively mild compared to many PG-13 films. Words such as d— are used on occasion. A typical teen kissing scene occurs on one occasion. The name of God (“Oh my God!”) occurs a couple of times. Again, the thematic concern is violence—and lots of it—that should concern us all.
When teens killing teens as sport becomes a culture’s bestselling film, what does it say of our culture? As Christians, we are called to embrace the importance of every life. Jesus calls us to serve as peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), living distinctly different from the society around us.
In the end, The Hunger Games provides a graphic tale of a world gone wrong to portray the importance of critical values to society—especially love, compassion, and freedom. While we can affirm these positives qualities, we don’t have to affirm the need to portray graphic violence, especially targeted toward teenagers and children, to communicate the message.
Many teach that we learn best through our experiences, an idea The Hunger Games appears to affirm. Yet it is far better to learn from God’s wisdom, both in his Word and through the positive examples of faith-enriched films, media, and people that present better redeeming qualities than those represented in this film.
Other Faith-Based Reviews of The Hunger Games film:
Christianity Today review: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/movies/reviews/2012/hungergames.html
Focus on the Family review (reviews the book, not the film): http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/protecting_your_family/book-reviews/h/hunger-games.aspx
“Jesus in the Hunger Games” from Christianity Today: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/movies/commentaries/2012/hungergames.html
PluggedIn.com (part of Focus on the Family): http://www.pluggedin.com/movies/intheaters/hunger-games.aspx