Skip to comments.Starving for Religion in 'Hunger Games'
Posted on 03/27/2012 6:46:41 AM PDT by rhema
The importance of religion in the wildly popular "Hunger Games" books and new movie is a lot like the barking of a dog in the Sherlock Holmes story "Silver Blaze."
Holmes directs a police inspector's attention to "the curious incident of the dog in the night-time." "The dog did nothing in the night-time." "That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.
The dog, of course, did not bark.
If you've been cut off from all popular culture for a while, "The Hunger Games" and its two sequels are novels by Suzanne Collins. She creates a dystopian future where the remnants of the United States are ruled by a despot who enforces his rule with an annual "game" that's a cross between Roman gladiator contests and a modern reality TV show. A couple of people from each province are chosen by lottery to enter into a group battle to the death, all televised. Last person standing is the winner.
Eventually, there's an uprising.
The plot is a gumbo that includes elements from Roman history and mythology; "The Truman Show" movie; Robert Heinlein's 1960s novel "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress;" "The Lottery," a short story written in the 1940s by Shirley Jackson; Madeline L'Engle's "A Wrinkle In Time" and who knows what else.
The core conflicts that drive the plot are moral choices when there are no good answers. And yeah, there's a romance conflict.
For my money, it's better written than the Harry Potter books -- more internally self-consistent with much more sophisticated character development. Like the Potter books, it's marketed as "young adult" fare but includes plenty of adult adults in its fan base. The first movie in what will surely be a series opened last week. Critics were generally kind and the box office was tremendous.
So what about religion? There isn't any. Not a prayer. Not an oath. The word "god" does not so much as appear in any of the books. Nobody even says "oh my gosh."
There's no ritual that isn't totally grounded in some materialistic purpose. Not a hint of serious superstition. Unless I missed it, there's not a remotely idiomatic reference to the supernatural.
The story is plenty busy without it, but such an unequivocal expunging can only have been intentional. We learn fine details about fashion and food and weaponry and the shape of furniture and the color of dust and so on and so on. She easily could have dropped in a couple of casual references to faith.
I've not been able to find any interviews she's granted on the topic, but it's pretty clear that, like Gene Roddenberry did when he created Star Trek, Collins wanted there to be zero religion in her world.
Based on her source material, she could have used religion as a positive or a negative. Here in the real world, people have turned to various kids of religion in the darkest moments of history. Victims of the Nazis prayed in the death camps. On the other hand, religion has been a tool of oppression in much of real history, too. From the imposed state faith of the ancient Roman Empire to the Catholic Inquisition to the Muslim theocrats of our own era, faith has been used by despots whose histories parallel some of the villains of Collins' story.
It's hard for me to imagine a real human future where either use of religion vanishes without a trace. But for her own reasons, Collins went in neither direction. It's a curious incident, a dog that should have barked.
A friend of mine who has read the books asked me a much more interesting question than "where is the religion." Where, she asked me, was God in this story? Had he abandoned humanity?
My friend is a person of deep and abiding faith who has survived some hard times. Her question was heartfelt. I thought about all of the real-world examples in human history where one might ask the same question. Theodicy is the toughest challenge for any religion that posits an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good deity. Why does he allow evil to persist? Where is his hand in stories where horrors pile upon horrors?
Is God in the world of the Hunger Games? Religious commentators are trying to find him. There's a book titled "The Hunger Games and the Gospel." A paper titled "The Gospel According to The Hunger Games' Trilogy." "Hunger Games" bible studies.
The authors focus on plot elements that turn on moral questions, on discussions about good and evil characters, on redemption and faith in family and friends. Even though there's not a scintilla of actual religion in the stories, they are able to find aspects that represent their own religious values.
Finding the Almighty in apparently secular details has an ancient and honorable history. Look no further than the Bible and the Book of Esther. This is the basis of the Jewish holiday of Purim. The tale includes violence and romance, sexual wiles and betrayal, despots and heroes. (And like the Hunger Games, the central hero is a young woman.)
What it doesn't have, famously, is a single unequivocal mention of God. Not one. Yet it made it into the canon for Jews and Christians. And generations of theologians have delved into it to find religious meanings.
So maybe it is fair to search for God in the world of the Hunger Games. But given how hard Collins worked to scrub her work so squeaky religion-clean, I wonder what she thinks of the bible studies.
I finished The Hunger Games last night - 2 AM or so... great fun read. I'm also reading On Character - Essays by James Q Wilson, they dove tail nicely... Good and evil are defined in traditional terms in both books. It's religion - just not obvious.
A certain conservative blogger (who is banned on this site) described the film as feminist propaganda in the guise of a snuff film marketed at kids. Gotta love the Internet.
Does it have a point? Killing people randomly is bad?
Does it have anything to do with reality?
Look, if you want to subject your kids to stuff like that, its your prerogative.
The problem with monopoly, compulsory schooling is that there is no escape for literary dissidents such as myself.
And literature is playing for keeps. It’s religion by other means.
The Humanist Manifesto crowd intended it that way.
-—If there were no god, man would invent him.-—
How do you know?
It’s about a society that was cut off from the outside world and developed differently. It’s a fantasy. Literature is supposed to disturb...like Aristotle said, purge that stuff so you don’t have to deal with it in real life. Can kids be exposed to something as disturbing as ‘Crime and Punishment’ or ‘King Lear’? It is high school we’re talking about I presume.
Like the article implied, there is really nothing original about this film, or the books for that matter...
A part of me was entertained by the movie, the other part was disturbed by the giddiness of the patrons who were mainly little teen and pre-teen girls and boys who don’t seem to see through what the film is trying to communicate to them...
There were several moments in that long film (2hrs 20mins) that you could have heard a pin drop...Everyone was apparently stunned by some of the scenes, but of course the romantic trist was predictable, and what I believe most of the teenage crowd was there to see...
IIRC, that movie was rated PG-13...I believe it should be noted I considered it to be a HARD PG-13/SOFT R rated film...
Like I said a part of me was entertained, but a part of me wondered what was so socially redeeming about it??? What does it say about our world we live in now...You know, reality???
I have not read the book(s)...Not sure I have a desire to do so...So I went in and didn’t see this country’s future, or anything resembling America, past, present or future...
I kinda thought this was more like an “alternate” reality in popular Sci-Fi vernacular...
What was amzing to me is how sheeple the district people were, and how 17th century the “Capitol” (ruling class) carried themselves...Don’t know why it lasted even 74 years with this type of “game” going on before someone finally decided they had had enough...
I wonder how long it would take us (in our reality) to say enough is enough???
Too many cowards out there...There may be a few, but we’ll get chopped up and mixed into the meat you buy at the grocery store these days for our efforts...
I will hold out final judgement on the series of books and films coming out of this franchise...I give this first installment a 5 out of 10 for effort...
Maybe the sequals will complete the series and warrant a better outcome and consideration from me...
- Evelyn Waugh
Some smart man said so. I just can’t recall who it was. :o)
I haven't read the books, but is this a case of either an unreliable narrator or unsupported bragging by one of the characters (think Colonel Klink bragging about Stalag 13). Or maybe the author just decided that internal consistency got in the way of the story telling. Or even a case where the fanboys memorized the stories, while the author just cranked them out and didn't remember all the details like Arthur Conan Doyle's case of Dr. Watson's wandering war wound.
There is not a lack of “religion” in LOST, the series-but although it plays like it is Christian at times, this series is based on New Age and the Occult (sorry to ruin it for you), but having watched the whole thing (and ‘bought’ a couple of the seasons, and then regretted it-I threw them away rather than sell them and subject others to this trash!~ In the end this show isn’t a “science vs. religion” thing it is purely the “Mystery religion” of the devil mentioned in The Revelation of John.
Was that the episode where the situation was like Earth but if the Roman Empire hadn't fallen? That episode bugged me because the plot point relied on confusion between sun and son, which would only take place in some Germanic languages but not in Latin.
There’s no “thank God” ever on broadcast TV. Standards and practices is afraid people will complain they’re taking the Lord’s name in vain.
Si Dieu n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer.
English translation: If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
Épître à l'Auteur du Livre des Trois Imposteurs (1770-11-10)
These days, all teenage literature is disturbing. Just take a walk through the Young Adult or Sci-fi/Fantasy section of B&N or your local library. It’s a horror show.
The other problem is that literature is presented as, “Here’s something.” “Here’s something else.” There’s no rhyme or reason to the presentation or analysis. Even worse, the implication is either that pursuing meaning is not worthwhile, or simply impossible.
No they’re not. The kids know them because the kids read them and talk about them. Kid culture self perpetuates very well without any help from the schools. You can tell the kids are reading them voluntarily because they went to see the movie, nobody ever pays to watch movies made from assigned reading.
I haven’t seen the film - could be true about it. It’s not true about the book. Well, ‘snuff film’ part might be right - the idea behind the book is a fight to the death in a future day arena. If accurately portrayed in a film, it would be gruesome - twenty-four teens go in - one is to come out. There’s some twists and turns that make it into a love story - but the deaths are detailed and some are overdone even in the book. Hmmm, might skip the film.
That was the FIRST highly vaunted book!!
First person present writing will never get popular with the writers, it’s too difficult and counter intuitive. Series that use it have been popular with readers before, but because so few writers are comfortable with it it never takes off.
I saw the movie,took my entire family.I did see God in the good versus evil,The heroine only killing in self defense or in mercy,as she killed the last boy to end his suffering.I saw it in the way she cared for the little black girl.I saw it in the way she prepared a funeral for the little girl,and in the way thar her black partner saved our heroine because of her treatment of the little girl.I saw no sex or nudity anywhere in the movie,and the blood and murder scenes were toned down to the point that you almost wondered if anyone actually died.I dont really even recall any cursing.I saw the way she inspired hope in people,Like a younger Sarah Palin perhaps.I saw her sacrifice herself for her younger sister,and in the way she was able to save both herself and her partner.
I saw God,maybe you dont or cant,but I did,and I saw good triumph over evil and inspire hope in a hopeless populace.