The religious and political overtones of Hunger Games

Is a fictional plot in a movie worth a “Bible Study” or theological discussion?

VANCOUVER, WA, March 31, 2012—Christians often see religious and political agendas behind every Hollywood production—and often with good cause. “The Hunger Games” is no exception. Suzanne Collins’ successful series of three novels with the first in a full-length spring-break blockbuster movie has gone to great lengths to omit religion and the supernatural from her fantasy story.

Entering the movie lobby with a welcomed $7.50 discounted ticket, shock set in when I laid out $18.50 for a small popcorn, a bottle of water (free at home), M&M’s, and Skittles. My non-existent annual movie budget disappeared as the young attendant nonchalantly rang it up. But the value dimmed with the lights as I accompanied my daughter and high-school-freshman granddaughter into the theater, the theater volume at excessive decibels. I settled in for a two-hour-twenty-minute experience which included my seatmate’s bright mobile phone screen texting throughout the “thrilling” night.

The movie is set in a futuristic dystopia society that contains elements of the reality TV show “Survivor” and the movie “Gladiator.” It depicts a society ruled by despots who control the previously rebellious people by an annual “game” that pits 24 children (teenagers), chosen by lottery from 12 districts, against each other—televised before a cheering live audience. Some of the combatants kill reluctantly, but most with enthusiasm. The last one standing is given a life of luxury as a reward for the victory. The hope of surviving in style entices participants to do their best to compete for better TV ratings and assure future success.

As I watched this fantasy unfold, I kept asking myself, “What is the point?” Is there a hidden message which assaults my granddaughter’s Christian faith? Will I sit beside her and my daughter in horror as teenagers have sex and kill each other? Foul language often permeates Hollywood productions, but as my granddaughter reminded me, only two times did a swear word surface in the entire movie and it certainly did not depict any war between demons and humans, nor was any religious jargon an excuse for bad behavior. As the film continued many of my anxieties faded.

Then what is the point of this teenage phenomenon that has also enticed adults to spring for tickets and snacks? It certainly has themes that reflect moral and religious ideals. Many of the internal plots introduce issues that may be the stimulus for “Bible studies.”  

The theme of self-sacrifice is certainly a dominant theme. The heroine, Katniss, volunteers to be a substitute for her younger sister as the annual “tribute.” While her reputation with a bow and arrow are well known in her community, her chances of survival are minimal.

Self-sacrifice is applauded by most humans. The American soldier, Dennis Weichel, who gave his life to save an Afghan girl has epitomized the soul of America. The heart of Christianity rests on the self-sacrifice of Jesus as a substitute for the atonement of sins.

The theme of hope is an intricate element in Christianity. St. Peter writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” I Peter 1:3-5

Of course, as with any good story plot, the author introduces a central theme of love. Unlike many TV and movie features today, it is a love absent of bedroom sex. Instead, the mystery of love is revealed when Peeta’s unrequited love for Katniss, is announced on public TV. Their romance is evidenced through care and respect for each other. Love based on mutual respect and physical attraction is the basis of a love concept endorsed by Protestant and Catholic Christians, Jews, and other world religions.

While the Roman Catholic author, Suzanne Collins, attempts to remove all religion from the story, the central plot leads inevitably to the conclusion that a world without God leads to an environment that encourages gladiator-like cheering while children brutally kill children. All too often modern society is confronted with horrible news that another child has entered a school or public arena and proceeded to kill other children. Does the movie industry and print media need to reinforce such insane behavior?

Is it possible that our modern society will so separate church and state that we are in danger of a world devoid of morals; a world that enjoys entertainment to the exclusion of human dignity? While the movie displays personal moral qualities without religion, would that be the case in a real world without the influence of religion in general and Christianity in particular?

I was pleased that Hollywood exercised restraint in depicting bloody murders and the temptation to equate love with marital bedroom activity. This is not the usual practice.  At least as I sat beside two of the most important women in my life, I did not have to squirm in total embarrassment.

Perhaps we get too protective of our teenagers—it is, after all, just a movie. Maybe we don’t need to work so hard to make a 2000-year-old book relevant by viewing movies as a basis for Bible studies and dissecting the theology of every movie or book. Be aware of what they watch and read; talk to them about issues that concern you. They may surprise you; they may see what you see.

Am I anxious to view the second movie of “Hunger Games?” No! The golf course will get my next $26.00.

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Donald L. Brake, Sr.

Donald L. Brake, Ph.D., is Dean Emeritus of Multnomah Biblical Seminary, past president of Jerusalem University College, Israel; author of A Visual History of the English Bible: The Tumultuous Tale of The World’s Bestselling Book; Baker Books, 2008 (a 2009 ECPA Christian Book Award finalist), A Visual History of the King James Bible: The Dramatic Tale of the World’s Best-Known Translation, Baker Books, 2011, A Royal Monument of English Literature: The King James Bible 1611, Credo House Publishers, 2011; and antiquarian collector with his extensive collection of rare and significant Bibles and artifacts currently at the Dunham Bible Museum, Houston Baptist University, Houston, Texas.

Contact Donald L. Brake, Sr.


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