Hunger Games

My friend Paul has pointed out the interesting fact that the last three major books that have taken the United States by storm were all Young Adult books. This was said to imply that this was a poor reflection on our culture, but C.S. Lewis once said that a children’s book that is not good for adults is not good for children either. Nonetheless, both Harry Potter and Twilight came and went without me investing any energy in them if at all. The books were huge hits and were followed by movies with the same impact. I just couldn’t get into them before they were well into all the movies. When Hunger Games came out and I heard all the buzz I thought I would try to get in on this book before this too comes and goes.

The book by Suzanne Collins was an entertaining read, and I felt it had an intriguing presentation. It was written in first person, but felt really like a first person shooter video game. Everything was narrated through Katniss, the main character, which limits perspective in one sense, but is able to dive deeper in the character of the one narrating. I found it intriguing because it was written from the perspective of an eighteen year old girl, and I was privy to her whole emotional journey and ponderings. Though at times I found this to be a frustrating part of the way the story was told (mainly Katniss’ inner struggle of trying to figure out her feelings for Peeta or Gale), it did lend itself to an engaging presentation of the material.

The reason I bring up the book in this way is that I was interested to see if the movie was going to take the same approach. It would have been terribly difficult for sure, but I wonder if it would have been more rewarding if it was pulled off. Instead, I believe that the perspective that was chosen and many other decisions were safe ones, which made the story not bad but not great either.

The movie follows the narrative of the book closely. It is a post United States dystopia, where twelve districts are in submission to the Capitol, the victors of the civil war. As a way to remind the districts of the war and their punishment for their rebellion, the Capitol makes each district provide one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in a last-man-standing death to the finish challenge. The main character, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in poor District 12 and does her best to feed her family by hunting illegally outside the city limits. When the participants for the “Hunger Games” are chosen her younger sister who is only 12 gets picked for the games. Katniss takes her place instead, and a boy named Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is chosen for the boys.

Peeta is the son of the baker in town, which means that he has not had to rough it as much as Katniss, and probably does not have the same chance that she has. They develop a romance throughout the story that we are left guessing how Katniss truly feels, knowing that her old hunting partner, Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is back home watching her sister. (You see the seventeen year girl/boy old dilemma.) There can be only one victor even if there are two representatives from each district, which makes it interesting for Peeta and Katniss.

It is always difficult to judge a movie apart from the book. They are just two different mediums, but I sincerely felt that the book was a story better told than the movie. I just believe that there were a lot more themes that could have been explored with such an intriguing plot that the movie settled for action and not reflection. Not only that, but Katniss’ supposed outright rebellion during the games did not seem convincing in the effect that it was intended to have. In other words, the defiance that Katniss expressed during the games did not seem strong enough to elicit a response either from the Capitol or from the other districts that would not have been received from any of the games in the past.

One thing that kept coming to my mind as I watched the movie with my wife, Susan, was the apparent critique the book has on our society, whether it be our obsession with sports (and our children’s involvement in them) or just the obsession with entertainment in general. Though I understood the message of the movie, to be honest I felt very uncomfortable watching kids go at it to the death. It is to this point I believe that the movie itself seemed somewhat self-defeating in its analogy. The main characters appeared to be sickened by the fact that teenagers have to participate in such a brutal, inhumane activity, while the people of the Capitol watch on desensitized. But this very premise of the story is what sells. We are intrigued by watching a battle to the death, even if it is just teenagers in a movie. At that point how am I any better than the people in the Capitol who took such great joy in watching children die at each other’s’ hands?

One could argue that at some level Katniss seems to be inconsistent in her disgust at the games and then her participation in the games. But this gives her depth and makes her a round character. She is at war within herself because she is doing something she hates to do, but she wants to get back home to her family. However, this still brings up a lot of ethical questions, which would be most profitable to be explored. Should we condone all of Katniss’ actions during the games? Could there have been a better way, even a more effective way to be defiant?

It makes me think of a more interesting story. It is a story from which I could only guess Suzanne Collins was somewhat influenced by. Coliseums of Rome were filled with gladiators and other games that satiated the bloodthirsty palates of the citizens. Included in these activities were the killing of Christians at the hands of lions and other brutal beasts. Many of these Christians went to their deaths filled with joy. They did not fight back, but instead preached the Gospel, the message of hope and peace and redemption, until their final breath.

This calls to mind a couple of verses from Scripture. Psalms 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.”  1 Peter 2:16-25 is potent and I will quote it at length:

“Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone, Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

I don’t think I would say that Hunger Games is a bad story. There are many elements that are intriguing, specifically the ethical questions that are raised in the difficult situations in which Katniss finds herself.  It is no doubt told in an entertaining fashion that engages the audience. I just wonder if we could have had a hero that was defiant in a way that allowed her to be sicken at the activity forced upon her without participating in it. Sure, she might not have killed as many people with a bow and arrow, which to many would not have been as exciting, but I believe she would have had more depth. I also believe that the story would have been much more interesting because it would have shown a more beautiful defiance that honored humanity all the more.


6 responses to “Hunger Games

  1. I’m about half way through the last book Mockingjay and love the whole series, I’ll be very sad to see it end. What makes the book very real to me, is that I just finished a book called Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The PBS show Independent Lens will have a related documentary airing early October,

    Reading Mockingjay after finishing Half the Sky, I’m convinced its the same message. How can people of privilege, such as us in the USA, ignore the plight of others suffering to provide us the luxuries we enjoy (gold, precious metals, electronics, clothes)? Well this isn’t the actual focus of the Half the Sky book, but the connection is stark to me. I am wondering if anyone has that connection?

  2. I agree with you that this is one of the social critiques in Collins’ book, and it is a vivid one. I have yet to see Half the Sky but they very well might be touching on the same points. Thanks for posting Anne.

  3. I think your all wrong about it being a better story if Katniss \”defied\” the Capital by dying meekly; mostly because it goes against the strength of her character. It was not her character to stand around and let her family go without food, she hunted illegally, it was not her character to watcher little sister be taken by the selection and put in to the games. So if what your saying is that she could show true defiance, which I understand is your segway to the Christians giving their lives unconditionally for the Gospel, she would also be going against her true character. Katniss did all she could to stay out of the fight, running to the edge of the playing field, reminiscent of Jim Carrey’s The Truman Show, but the Capital would have nothing to do with and started a fire. Katniss did all she could not to kill, but in the end it was either kill or be killed, which led to reviling her human nature side. That\’s is what I think so attracting to people young and old about the books, true human nature, what would you do in that situation, would you take the place of a loved one in a sure death situation, could you kill someone if your life or your close friend/relative depended on you pulling the trigger; or bow in this instance.
    I am not sure where her being defiant by dying with no resistance would have made for a better read or story other for you to reference the lions killing Christians. Katniss representing the District and winning, to the dismay of the Capitols, while entertaining to us as watchers, not readers as I would never read the book, read many blogs about the different meaning of things though, was extremely defiant to the Districts that usually won, and Capitol leaders as well; winning to me was more defiant than laying down any dying without cause. Kantniss’ self-sacrifice for her sister does approach the way that Jesus brings redemption to humanity, but only in a symbolic way as she never had to die, only had a real threat of death because of her self-sacrifice. I know Katniss is no Christ-like figure, but there is a twinge of symbolism there. Even though there is no religion or a Savior I see some Biblical parallels in The Hunger Games because it is a REAL story, probably not intentional, but still there. The Gospel is not present. But, if you read Ecclesiastes or Judges in the Bible and you see the meaninglessness of wealth and power and the presence of human depravity and violence on display, you will recognize what Collins is saying in her novel and the sheer numbness of the people in the Capital who are looking at the destruction of lives as entrainment and as a way to prop themselves up.
    This is kinda rambling, but I think you get what I’m trying to say; for me it’s a turn in your writings I have never seen.

  4. Thanks, Steve (“The Great One”) for your comment. A couple of things in response:

    Much of this post was a reflection upon her defiance and whether that was the most ideal form of defiance. In other words, I was asking if her defiance was the most virtuous and/or the most effective. I’d rather be virtuous before effective, but in my argument I was pondering whether in this case it could have been both.

    You describe Katniss’ character as “strong” if she defied the Capitol in taking part of the violent game and winning it. You characterize the action of Katniss dying without a fight as “meek” almost to imply that it was the “weaker” option. Why is this so? Though I am not a pacifist, I wonder if it takes more courage to stand up to an oppressor without fighting back. You say that she would have died meekly, almost to imply that it was not a strong death, or even a strong defiance. I would disagree and argue that such defiance we have seen throughout the ages in Christianity as seeds to plant hope, specifically hope in Christ Jesus. Christians during the times of the Romans were not the only ones I thought of when I was thinking of such defiance. I also thought of Martin Luther King Jr. who fought against racial prejudice not through violent means (though he could have), but through peaceful defiance. This, in my opinion, was a more virtuous and more effective form of defiance…and one could argue a better story.

    Now, given Katniss is an eighteen year old girl (I think) in the most difficult of situations that I could not even imagine. I am not sure if I could judge her too harshly if it was a true story. Like I just said, I am not a pacifist, and I would be intrigued how Katniss’ situation would fit into a “Just War” ethic. In many ways, we could evaluate Katniss situation according to the criteria of a Just War, and it very well could have applied. My post was more or less reflecting upon the possibility of it being a better story if her defiance could have been more virtuous. A great example of this with a very similar premise is in Francine Rivers The Mark of the Lion series. My point about it being a better story was a simple opinion, not necessarily an objective observation.

    In a way, I do believe you are on to something in that Katniss does represent Christ at a certain level. Any time we see a person take the place of another it shadows substitutionary atonement. Katniss is a Christ-figure in as much as she takes the place of her sister. I think that is the most beautiful scene in the book and in the movie, primarily because it points to the beauty of the Gospel.

    I appreciate your challenge to the post and especially bringing the social critique of the abuse of power, corruption, and the subsequent desensitization of the culture to the forefront. Thanks for the comment, O Great One, who misuses “your” when he should have written “you’re”. 🙂

  5. The biggest difference between Kaniss and the Christians of gladiator’s days is that she had the power to win/not die; the Christians in Roman rule time did not. The Christians could win a battle here or there, but ultimately were going to die in some form or fashion, whether it be by a lions mouth, fighting each other to death or meekly laying down to die, which for them should have been the best opinion instead of being entertainment for the legions of Romans watching in the stands. That’s dying for a cause. Katniss dying without a fight would have just been stupid; she had the power/smarts/training to win, nowhere in the bible does it say to be a loser and give up when you have a chance. In fact Jesus said 19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” in the face of knowing he was going to die. Boldly go and tell about me, not lie down and die. MLK jr knew, like the early Christians that they were the minority, they did not have the guns/training/people to win an all out shoot’em up war with whites/police wasn’t a winnable fight. Therefore non-violent resistance was a far wiser choice than fighting in the streets; he had a choice and made the right one. Katniss had a choice and made the right one. She boldly defied the Capitol and upper class Districts and won; much like Christians should boldly defy the world and boldly declare Christ as our Lord and even though man will ridicule us for it.

  6. I understand the distinction you are trying to make between the Christians in the Roman coliseum and Katniss in the hunger games. Like I conceded in my last response to your comment, I think there is a possibility (though I have yet to explore it) via a Just War Ethic of validating Katniss’ actions in fighting in the games and winning.

    However, I do disagree with a couple of points in which you attempt to make your argument.

    You said, “Katniss dying without a fight would have just been stupid; she had the power/smarts/training to win.” Just because one has the ability to do something does not make it right for doing so in every context. At times it’s the choice not to use your ability that communicates a stronger message. For example, in Gladiator, Maximus has just taken down one of his opponents. He has his axe raised waiting for the thumbs up or thumbs down from the crowd and the emperor. The emperor gives the thumbs down. Maximus has the complete ability to kill the man at his feet but decides to defy the emperor all the more by not killing him. Though not completely analogous, it gets at my point that Katniss was not forced to use her abilities to kill and there are times where non-violence defies even more than violence.

    You then say, “nowhere in the bible does it say to be a loser and give up when you have a chance.” This is to say that Katniss not putting up a fight because she did not want to participate in the brutality of the games she disagrees with is being a loser. I would strongly disagree. It might not be the best option or even necessary option, as I conceded before, but it definitely would not make her a loser. Since you bring the Bible in to try to make your point, I will give you a couple of verses and you tell me whether Katniss’ actions mirror the principles of these verses.

    1 Peter 2:18-19, 21-23: “Servants be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly…For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might following his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to himself to him who judges justly.

    Matthew 5:10-11: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

    Now the argument could be made that Katniss was not suffering directly for Christ if she were to not fight back in the games. However, I believe it could have been very courageous, virtuous, and inspiring for her to have suffered and died, refusing to partake in the terrible thing that is the games. In fact, I wonder if Rue’s death inspired more than Katniss’ victory. I would argue that would have not made her a loser at all.

    Like I have said before, I can see the argument that Katniss was not necessarily wrong in beating the Capitol at their own game by fighting back. I could even concede that it was permissible given a Just War ethic. But, I will not concede that if she had refused to fight and take life even at the peril of her own she would have made a wrong decision or even one that would constitute her as a loser. I believe this type of thinking does not line up with Scripture especially the passages quoted above.

    Thanks for the comment, Great One.

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