I saw the first installment of the Hunger Games last year. I had no real notion of what the movie would be about. But the movie really struck a cord with me. Laura happened to have the whole series of books and I read through them in fairly short order.
When you think about how young people are for the most part trained to be good little slaves to the all powerful state, the Hunger Games series of books and movies is to me a very promising development in our pop culture. It takes the notion of revolution for the sake of liberty out of the realm of men in tricorne hats and powdered wigs and into the our modern world in a very compelling way.
What follows are what I see are the main themes of the Hunger Games.
Tyranny. From start to finish and throughout, probably the overarching theme of the Hunger Games is tyranny by an all powerful state. We see a dystopian future of the United States where empovrished districts are ruled with an iron fist by a decadent capital where the population seems pre-occupied with the latest fads and fashions.
Self-sacrifice. Again and again in the series, we see a willingness to give one's life for someone else. We see this most poignantly in the fight to the death Hunger Games where by the rules, out of an original 24 combatants, there will only be one survivor. We a very strong young man carry around an old woman whose has no chance of surviving the games. Yet as they flee and one from one place to another, we see him carry her on his back.
Revolution. The Hunger Games puts the concept of Revolution against a tyrannical government back into the popular culture.
Shallow superficial pop-culture. The capital in the Hunger Games is completely taken with pop culture and the latest fad. The Hunger Games is a big annual event on par with say our own Super Bowl. The movie makes you ask if this is where we are headed and to what extent we are there already.
The Risk of Revolutions. There is a bit of a warning at the end of the last book. Not all revolutions end in liberty. Often, the result of a revolution is the exchange of one tyrant for another.
Background. The Hunger Games is an American dystopia set perhaps 75 years in the future. The country is divided into 12 districts each recognizable as some American region. And there is the Capital district which rules the other districts with an iron fist. This division of the country is the result of a rebellion which occurred 75 years in the past.
As a consequence of their having lost in the Rebellion 75 years previously, the Districts must each year send two teenagers to participate in what are called the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games is an annual fight to death contest that is a big deal in the Capital.
The Hunger Games exist for two reasons: the keep the Districts subjugated and to show them who is boss and also to keep the population of the Capital entertained, to fill their empty shallow lives.
The whole Hunger Games thing makes you think of say our Super Bowl. The participants, who are called tributes, are selected with lots of fanfare in a lottery that is televised back to the capital, in fact throughout the country. Of course, to be chosen a tribute is essentially a death sentence because only one out of the 24 tributes survives. But the Capital takes no notice of this. The Hunger Games is a media event and the tributes are celebrated with interviews, sponsors and breath-taking speculation.
The movie is not a Christian movie. But it does cause one to think and and ask good questions of oneself and on where our society is headed. It takes good Christian virtues and puts them on display in a very compelling way.
Selflessness for example. Katniss, the main character, is a young woman of about 16 or 17 who is very capable with a bow. In the opening scene we see shoot birds on the wing with her bow. When she gets back to the town of her District 12, there is the public televised lottery selection of this year’s tributes to the Hunger Games. To Katniss’s horror, her 13 year old sister is chosen as the female from District 12. Katniss, steps forward and says she will go in her place. She knows it is a death sentence.
The people chosen to be tributes cover a broad range of teenager types which is perhaps one reason it appeals to teenagers. Almost any teenager will see someone in the games that he identifies with. That what's I think is so power about this series of books of movies. The teenager is drawn in and identifies with at least one person up ther on the screen. They ask, what would I do in tha situation?
For example. we see jocks which in the Hunger Games are kids from certain districts where actually train and volunteer to participate in the games. They are strong, athletic and deadly. And then there are kids who have seemingly no skills whatsoever. In Lord of the Flies like fashion, the jocks band together and seek out to destroy the lessor skilled kids. It's not unlike what happens in school!
But Katniss is not going along with the program. It is clear she does not want to do this. Katniss takes a girl named Rue under her wing and tries to protect her. Rue is a sweet thing and her real skills are ability to climb trees and to be a somewhat fast quick runner. They work together. It is clear that should Katniss and Rue become the last two survivors there is no way that Katniss is going to kill Rue. At one point Rue is killed. Katniss is hearbroken and lays Rue's body in a bed of flowers in the forest and mourns Rue. All this is televised and it sets off a chain reaction in the districts.
The first movie ends when the survivors are down to the 2 tributes from District 12, Katniss and Peeta who earlier onn nationwide t.v. had declared his love for Katniss. They refuse to kill each other. Instead they choose to simulateously eat poison berries together and deprive the Games of their victor. Instead, they are declared joint victors and it is on this note that the first movie ends.
The second movie takes these themes further. We see more self examples of self sacrifice.
As a bit of background. At the beginning of the second movie, we are almost a year later. Katniss has become a bit of a problem for the President who is a very evil cruel man. Katniss is become something of a symbol for a growing rebellion in the districts. But the President can't kill her outright without causing problems to himself. It is tradition that the victors be spared from further risk and become the equivalent of rock stars. They go on tour and give speeches and become part of the unbelievably shallow pop-culture of the Capital.
So the President comes to Katniss's home and warns her to shape up or that those closest to her will suffer. Katniss and her co-victor, Peeta from District 12 go on tour and it is obvious that the other districts are in a high state of agititation.
And Katniss can't help herself. In spite of the President's warning, when she is in the District that Rue came from, she ignores the script given to her and gives a speech that praises Rue and she talks about how much she loved Rue. In response, the crowd give a left handed three finger salute (this came out during the games of a year earlier and had become something of a gesture of defiance of the regime). The response of the police was immediate. They single out the person who first raised his hand for extreme retribution even as they are dragging Katniss away.
Clearly, Katniss isn't doing what she is supposed to do. So the President comes up with a plan to get rid of her. In this year's Hunger Games, the contestants will be drawn out of the victors from previous games. And since Katniss is the only living female victor from District 12, this means she is going back to the games and she knows there is no way the President will allow her to survive this time around.
That's the background that sets the stage for the next rounds of acts of mercy. From one of the other district, there is an old woman who is a victor from a games many many years previous. She volunteers to take the place of a much younger female victor from that district. But the mercy doesn't end there. The guy victor from that district has a strong love and affection for the old woman. In fact, during the games, he carries the old woman around on his back as they flee from one danger to the other. Even though she doesn't have a chance to survive the games he is determined to do what he can to keep her alive.
All in all the Hunger Games is an intriguing series of books and movies. It seems to be big hit among young people. One of my hopes is that it gets young people to think outside of the 'be good little slaves' proproganda they usually get and to perhaps looks at the governments big promises with a little more suspicion