The Hunger Games Post-Game Review

There was an interesting discussion this week over at The Personalist Project as to the lack of a sense of the Divine in The Hunger Games. Katie van Schaijik, in a perceptive review of the film, concludes thus:

This lack [of a sense of the Divine] renders the drama unreal in a rather problematic way. In truth, the “breath of the eternal” (to borrow Kierkegaard’s phrase) animates the ethical sphere, and all great human drama, real and fictional. When it’s left out, the inescapable impression is that the author is asserting–or perhaps unintentionally insinuating–something definite, namely this: the question of God need not enter the picture. It’s irrelevant.

These observations are absolutely correct insofar as we are talking about explicit reference to God. Both Suzanne Collins and the filmmakers who have adapted her novel present us with a world that worships no divinity. Yet I would like to contend that despite this failing, The Hunger Games does succeed in depicting a world in which the young, caught up in the tyrannic amusements of the Capitol, are forced to manifest their longing for goods that transcend selfish, controlling desire; and in this way, The Hunger Games–whatever the author’s explicit intentions–opens up a path, obscure and tangled though it may be, to an encounter with God.

To see more clearly what I mean, consider the following passage from Walker Percy’s essay, “Novel-Writing in an Apocalyptic Time” (from his collection of essays, Sign-posts in a Strange Land):

If the novelist’s business is, like that of all artists, to tell the truth, even when he is lying, that is, making up a story, he had better tell the truth no matter how odd it is, even if the truth is a kind of upside-downness. And if it is the novelist’s business to look and see what is there for everyone to see but is nonetheless not seen, and if the novelist is by his very nature a hopeful man–he has to be hopeful or he would not bother to write at all–he then sooner or later must confront the great paradox of the twentieth century: that no other time has been more life-affirming in its pronouncements, self-fulfilling, creative, autonomous, and so on–and more death-dealing in its actions. It is the century of the love of death….

Everyone admits the atrocities of the century, which we like to think of as horrifying, inexplicable, and occurring at a great remove from us. True, every century has its horrors, but what the novelist notices, peculiar fellow that he is, is that in these strange times people, himself included, seem to experience life most vividly, most immediately, remember places best, on the occasion of war, assassination, hurricanes, and other catastrophes. The real question is seldom asked. It is not: How do we prevent the final war? but: What do we do if we succeed? Can man get along without war?

In bringing Percy into this discussion I am not claiming that Suzanne Collins and her cinematic adapters share Percy’s incisive diagnosis of the symptoms and causes and abnormalities of our culture of death. But I think, almost despite herself, Collins hits upon one of the truths Percy mentions in the passage quoted: that what defines a culture of death is that in it one often feels only truly, vividly alive when confronted by the sudden finality of horrific death.

For isn’t this where Katniss Everdeen and her allies find courage, friendship, loyalty, and love: when gruesome death approaches both for them and those they hold dear? A death, moreover, that is dealt out by a Capitol that is grotesquely “life-affirming” in its pronouncements?

Even the friendship portrayed at the beginning of the novel between Katniss and her hunting buddy, Gale, comes about because of their risking death in sneaking outside the confines of District 12 in order to look for food. Of course, too, Katniss and Peeta’s willingness to die together in friendship at the story’s final crisis, rather than compete against one another in a final showdown, is a heroism that only the prospect of a brutal death makes possible.

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  • Maryroth

    My daughters and I have read the 3 books in the Hunger Games trilogy. We discussed how these books reveal life in a society that has forgotten or abandoned God. The young protagonists show that people still hunger for God who is Love, Compassion and Mercy even though they do not know His Name

  • Michelemorgan

    Where was the worship of God or, indeed, any so called higher power, in Tolkein’s work? The Grey Havens seemed to be a sort of refuge and rest for those who had sacrificed so much of themselves that they could no longer rest easy in Middle Earth, but it didn’t feel exactly like a ‘reward’ to the good and trusted servant, either. There was a marked sadness to the ‘passing away’ of those who left Middle Earth for the Gray Havens. I’ve read Tolkein’s four main books many times over the years, and seen all the films. If I had not learned, after I became a Christian, that Tolkein was writing a Christian allegory, I would never have known it. Yet that series of books touched me on a deep level, and once I became Christian, gave me a window into my faith (just as my faith then gave me a window into MIddle Earth) that I could have gotten in no other way. I’ve had friends tell me the same thing about C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series: they read it as a child having no idea it was a Christian allegory. One even told me he resented it when he found out. But the lessons were absorbed, all the same. Maybe they were even more profoundly meaningful because they were not seen by the readers as having an overt message.

    Fiction that uses faith to teach an overt lesson is just preaching. There is nothing wrong with preaching, but it seldom results in writing that withstands the ages. Great fiction examines the human condition, which does not really change because what it means to be human does not really change. While our external circumstances may change (I would love to live in the 16th century, for examle, so long as I can take modern dental care and my cell phone) our deepest needs and longings do not change. So great fiction touches the souls of all ages, not just that in which for which it was written.

    The fact that The Hunger Games does not mention God or faith is just as irrelevant to its power as transformative fiction as was Tolkein’s “oversight” of overt mention of these things. Its legacy will be the questions it raises, not those it presents as already answered.