I had no intention of “reviewing” The Hunger Games. In fact, I rarely (if ever) write a review of a movie, because if it’s controversial enough, then most likely other people with whom I agree will have already written about it, and this introvert hates being just another voice spouting the same thing as everyone else. But for this book/movie, something was different. Almost every time I read a review, something seemed wrong. Even if the review was good, I would read comments that readers posted, and their thoughts would trouble me. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what was bothering me. Vaguely I knew it was because people were just spouting but not thinking through their arguments (yeah, I debated in high school, and yeah, it still affects me). But an odd sensation was growing inside of me: I wanted to write a response to the reviews of The Hunger Games. Something about all the other reviews made me think that something was missing. And then I figured out what it was.
I did not watch the movie for entertainment. If you are going to watch it for entertainment, just don’t.
I watched the movie for instruction. Because I had read the books, I knew what was coming. I knew about the violence. I knew it would be hard to watch. But I chose to watch it anyway because I knew that seeing the movie would make me think, and think really hard.
In our entertainment-driven society, it’s hard to think about reading a book or watching a movie for a purpose other than entertainment. And that’s why so many of the Christian reviews that I read bothered me. It’s because they weren’t actually reviews of the book or movie as a book or movie, but they were cautionary cries against going to see a movie that was so “dark” or so “violent” and they claimed that “as Christians” we shouldn’t be watching or thinking about things that are not pure, lovely, virtuous, true, etc. etc.
And that’s why I said that if you’re only going to watch the movie or read the books for entertainment (and have NO discussion of the ideas), then don’t do it. From things I’ve read from and about the author (Suzanne Collins), the series was meant to critique our “vulture-culture” that loves to see and hear about violence in the news, in stories, and in our own neighbors’ lives. (You’re probably guilty, too. Ever wished the person giving a prayer request at church would have provided just a few more details?) That was her intention. It saddens me to see all the entertainment hype surrounding the opening weekend of the movie, because that goes against the very critique of the book. But maybe it also illustrates a point. And that point may be this: That our society no longer knows how to watch a movie or read a book and be instructed or warned by it; a movie today automatically says “entertainment for a couple of hours” and viewers, figuratively speaking, shut their brains off. That is tragic to me. Why? Because one of the best ways to be instructed is through stories – stories of another person or society’s failure or triumph. Through those stories we gain knowledge and wisdom about how to live our lives, how to love well, and how to influence and understand culture.
The simple truth is, every story has a message. No movie or book is exempt. And if a person is mature enough to read or view a story with discernment and take instruction from that, then by all means, go read or watch. If a person doesn’t have the discernment to watch for a purpose other than being entertained, then please do not go see this movie, and do not read the books. In fact, I can’t think of very many movies or books you should read if your sole purpose is entertainment and you aren’t willing to think a little bit. As Christian viewers, we’re called to “take every thought captive” in every area of our lives. I don’t think this means we shy away from controversial issues, because our whole existence consists of controversial issues. Instead, I think it means we tackle them, know them for what they truly are, and use discernment in how to think about them.
What did I learn from reading and watching The Hunger Games? I saw a bleak picture of where our society could be headed. It happened to Rome, and there is nothing to say that it could not happen to the United States. I entered into the story and ached for the Districts of Panem whose sons and daughters were forced to endure a bloodbath every year. I was sickened by the violent society that enjoyed watching the bloodbath. I was touched and inspired by the courage of some of the children that defiantly stood against the evils of the Capitol, and were willing to suffer personal pain and the possibility of losing everything and everyone they loved because they knew that the Capitol was wrong, and that there was something better to fight for. I was moved by the themes of self-sacrifice, unconditional love, and honor and courage that stood strong in the midst of the violence.
I want to offer a brief aside before I wrap this response up. For those who have not read the book or watched the movie, please understand this while you read all the reviews: The story is not about violence. That was one thing that really bothered me about many of the reviews that I read; the author (sometimes someone who had not even seen the movie or read the book) thought that because there was a lot of violence in the story and that because so many people in the culture enjoyed watching it, that the book and movie advocate violence, and therefore, people should not read or watch it. This is a far cry from the truth, and we should not be guilty of such blatant misrepresentation of the story. The story uses violence to illustrate a point; it is not about violence, and in fact portrays it as being against everything that is good and true.
Interestingly, I watched this movie as I was finishing up the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer written by Eric Metaxas. He was the real-life embodiment of so many of the themes of this book and movie, and his courage and perseverance in the fight for what was good and true was inspiring. Knowing about his life and his dedication to the truth helped me think through many of the themes in the book/movie and see how they play out in “real life.”
To live the Christian life is to be called to more than either partaking in the mindless entertainment mentality of the culture or standing against it and refusing to even think through the ideas presented. It is a call to understand who we are, what we were made for, and how to live in the times in which we were chosen to live. That doesn’t mean that every Christian needs to go see The Hunger Games. But I think it does mean that whether you see that movie or any other that you are called to think, and reason through ideas and know how you can be instructed by them.