Suppose you are a teen and adults plunged you into a situation where you are forced to kill other teens or die yourself? What would you do? Could you find a way not to sin by outsmarting these adults. That’s the desperate dilemma put forth in Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games.
What’s the appeal of this horrendous set up? Why have young adults devoured 26 million of these books in the US, with millions more published in 47 languages? Why did the film earn $155 million opening weekend, the third most successful opening of all time? What does this phenomenon tells us about this generation? How should adults respond?
These questions flooded my soul after watching the film. It cost me $6.50, a night’s sleep, and hours pondering the message? Why are young adults drawn to this dark story? Is it simply a well-written page turner, or is there something more?
The scenario is nothing short of appalling. It’s 74 years after a civil war in North America has ravaged our nation, resulting in an opulent group of spoiled haves who run the country and twelve districts of have-nots who work to supply their every whim. The haves control the have- nots through starvation and intimidation. The worst is a yearly Survivor on steroids with children competing to the death–The Hunger Games.
Twelve teens between 12 and 18, a boy and a girl, are chosen by lottery from each district and forced to participate. Teens trade lottery tickets with their names on them for food to keep their families from starving. Chosen kids are introduced to the haves in parades and pageant-like interviews. They recruit “sponsors” that provide life savers (not the candy) during the ordeal. The victor wins a year’s food for their district. Outrageous. The plot alone made me shiver. It smacks of futuristic gladiators (but with children) and pagan child sacrifices, all too real in our world’s history.
If you can get past the plot, and not all can, you are faced with the real question of the story: how does one respond if placed in this horrific situation? Maybe kids identify with this question? Their world is full of violence, hateful wrangling, chaos, and off-the-wall supernaturalism. Where is it heading? What kind of a world will they inherit?
The heroine of the story, yes, it’s a girl, is sixteen year old Katniss Everdeen. (If you plan to see the film, you might stop reading here and join me with your insights afterwards.) When her sister’s name is drawn, Katniss volunteers to take her place. Sacrificial love. Katniss is a fit, smart expert hunter with bow and arrow; she feeds her family from forest game. She will be pitted against hefty boys groomed for this bloody competition and the odds are not in her favor. But she is resourceful, clever, compassionate, and above all good. She cannot be corrupted even when her life is on the line. And she outwits the adults in an intriguing series of heart-wrenching cliff-hanging incidents. I don’t want to spoil the ending with any more details.
What questions should adults be asking as we observe the appeal of this book and film to a young adult audience? The theater was packed with youth and we just happened to find two seats next to a middle school girl and her mother, my friend from Bible study. I watched the girl’s responses during the film, talked to her before and after, and got her take on the story. She had difficulty putting into words why she loved the story, but she did. She was compelled by good.
Sadly, God was absent in the film. Katniss must save herself. After she is mortally wounded, a healing salve from a sponsor sails down on a tiny parachute, but such balms are fiction in real life. Except that the Holy Spirit sends those balms to believers. I know because God rescued me. Healing is available through Christ. Will Katniss and the kids she represents find Him?
My questions and concerns are legion. Do kids fear that adults will lead us into catastrophes that will destroy their futures, like the scenario in the film? I understand their concerns but I don’t know what to do. I’m thinking about renting an RV this summer to drive all over America to work for my political candidates, but I probably won’t. Will I even figure out who is running and make informed choices or continue to trust that others will make good decisions on my behalf? I must not do that anymore. I’m overwhelmed with the violence, lies, and hate in our culture that invade my orderly world, but, hey, it’s free speech. What can I do?
Watching The Hunger Games was hard. The story makes me want to stand up and shout,
I love you kids. I’m sorry the world is so crazy. There is hope in Jesus. Seeing kids value and honor goodness in Katniss cheers my heart. I’m stirred to find ways to reach them with the good news. Help, please.
Maybe I’m overanalyzing here. After all, it’s just fiction, or is it?