“The Hunger Games” invaded movie theaters nationwide on March 23, 2012. Based upon Suzanne Collins’ immensely popular novel, which has sold over six million print and digital copies, the first film in a planned trilogy shows potential to become a pop culture juggernaut like “Twilight” or even “Harry Potter.”
The novel centers on Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl living in a post-apocalyptic version of the United States – now named “Panem” – where the Capitol rules 12 districts. Every year, the Capitol holds The Hunger Games, a contest pitting 24 randomly chosen teens, a boy and girl from each district, in a televised fight to the death. Katniss, a gifted bow hunter who provides for her mother and younger sister, lands in the Games fighting for her life. The fact that Peeta, the boy chosen from her district, has always harbored a crush on her only makes the situation more complicated.
The book is a simple story well told with a fascinating central character in Katniss. While briefly violent at times, it does not linger or glorify the bloodshed. Though the book is completely devoid of any overt religion, it does contain some spiritual connections/conversations that an adult could discuss with any young fans. [NOTE: My thoughts are based only upon the first book in the trilogy as I have not yet read the two remaining volumes, “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay.”]
Friends Lay Down Their Life for Another – Katniss immediately takes the place of her younger sister in the games. Other characters also display this sacrificial trait at times, lending the book its brightest flashes of hope and reflection of Christ. It’s good to remind the young people you lead that service and care doesn’t become optional when circumstances grow difficult. Christ calls us to be servants even in the most difficult times.
Survival of the Fittest vs. Serving Others – The book sets up a vivid display of our current society’s “Survival of the Fittest” mentality that stands in stark contrast to Jesus’ command that his followers serve and place others first. This tension is reflected in Katniss, who knows she must kill contestants in order to survive even though it’s her nature to help others. Unpack this tension in the lives of your students, how they can honor Christ in a culture obsessed with climbing the ladder to become #1.
We Don’t Know Other People’s Thoughts – “The Hunger Games” is written in first person, which means the reader only knows Katniss’ thoughts, feelings and motivations. We can only learn about other character by their present actions or Katniss’ perceptions of their past interactions. (Just like real life.) Katniss constantly tries to figure out the true motives and objectives of the people around her based solely upon what they do, but is often left mistaken and confused when their deeds don’t align with her assumptions.
It’s a fascinating reminder of real life – we can’t label, write off or place other people in a box because we simply do not know their hearts. We must follow God’s admonition against judging others while obeying His call to love and serve them. (Obviously, the Bible is clear that there is a correct time and place to judge people. I’m talking about humanity’s unfortunate tendency toward labeling, stereotyping and ostracizing.) Encourage your young people to turn to prayer or communication in times of relational confusion rather than snap judgments.
Reality TV Can Be Dehumanizing – The Hunger Games exemplify the depths of vulgar voyeurism, where a television audience enjoys the suffering and death of others. Are we very far from this horrifying concept becoming reality? “Survivor” entertains millions with suffering contestants. “Fear Factor” uses excruciating and/or disgusting challenges. Popular “torture porn” films like “SAW” and “Hostel” feed eager audiences horrifying murders. In the real world, Ultimate Fighters literally beat one another into raw pulp to wild applause. It’s not hard to see a return of Roman Gladiators fighting to the death (or Christians being fed to lions, for that matter).
“The Hunger Games” awaken us to the dehumanizing effect this type of entertainment has on our souls. Challenge your teens (and yourself) to examine the heart. What attracts us to the brutality or suffering woven into these programs and sporting events, where people turn into pawns? Every man and woman is created in God’s image, so we should honor and cherish every human life no matter if it’s standing before us in the flesh or televised.