Faith in Film, Week 4

“We cheer for our favorites then cry when they get killed, it’s sick. If everyone just stopped watching they’d have nothing.” - Gale, "The Hunger Games"

The past two weeks we've taken a look at mainstream franchise films to see what they're saying about our contemporary culture. Last week it was "Jurassic World," which stays true to the original film, "Jurassic Park," in looking at the idea of what happens when you attempt to play god. But more importantly than that, it layered on a message about our current culture of more, and the pressure that creates on innovators to keep moving forward no matter what.

Tonight we look at "The Hunger Games," another popular film franchise that takes some very deliberate looks at a couple aspects of culture. And that is a credit to Suzanne Collins, the writer who first crafted "The Hunger Games" as a three-book franchise and later worked on the film adaptations. She set the series in a future world where a totalitarian regime ruled with an iron fist and, for 74 years, had held the Hunger Games, forcing the 12 outlying districts to provide two children, a boy and a girl, ages 12-18 to fight to the death. Twenty four children enter, only one comes out.

The idea of death matches isn't new. We've had plenty of films based on this idea, including an Oscar winner in "Gladiator." And it isn't even new to history, considering that the Romans actually had people fight to the death in the gladiatorial arena. But what was striking to some about this story was the idea it was children. And it was meant to be striking and, I think, open up a conversation.

Collins famously got the germ of the idea from two places. One is an ancient myth about a people forced to sacrifice children to a ruling nation until a hero rose up to free them. And you can see where that fits in this story. The other was a contemporary inspiration. Collins noted that she was watching reality TV on night, flipping through the channels and seeing it inter-cut with footage from the War in Iraq, and that sparked something in her.

“I was tired,” Collins recalled later, “and the lines began to blur in this very unsettling way, and I thought of this story.”

So this is meant to be a commentary on the voyeurism in our culture, and I think it succeeds in that. While the violent aspect was sparked for her by news footage, it made me think of the entertainment we choose to consume. We have violence in our sports, like the NFL and NASCAR, the two most popular sports in our country that both have levels of violence ingrained in the culture. It's present in our video games, first-person shooters like Halo and criminal adventures like Grand Theft Auto. And it's present in our films. In fact, that jumped out to me the most (surprise, surprise), as during the time Collins was working on these books a sub-genre of horror called "Torture Porn" was a big part of our cultural landscape. Basically people were paying to come and watch fictional stories about people being brutalized and literally torn apart. Is it such a leap that those desires would fuse with our obsession with reality competitions at some point? It's probably not. And as one writer put it, these kind of stories, "have allegorical appeal — they draw a parallel between certain base aspects of our society and what could result if those aspects remain unchecked.”

The other part of the story that jumps out to me is the look at Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), more specifically what the rigors of this kind of combat and violence do to her. This, too, is personal to Collins, who is the daughter of an Air Force office that served in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Given that, it makes sense that Collins would be interested in exploring the toll being a hero in this way would take on someone like Katniss.

That's something we'll talk about more in depth tonight.

Discussion Questions:
1. Did this film work for you, why or why not?

2. Katniss seems to be someone who inspires and rallies others through the way she conducts herself, despite the fact that was not her intent. Why is it, as a society, we’re often drawn to the archetype of the reluctant hero?

3. Peeta comments that he wants to find a way to show the game-makers they don’t own him, but Katniss says she can’t afford to think that way. Yet, what do her actions display about this concept?

4. This was an idea that many found upsetting, and that’s the point. What is Collins — and by extension the film — saying about our culture through the idea of The Hunger Games?


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