I’m not very culturally relevant these days. I can tell you what size diaper a 22-month-old would likely wear (though my daughter wears size sixes up to her armpits so I don’t have to sort between her and her almost-potty-trained, just-turned-three big brother). I know what foods have to be bribed into little tummies (pretty much everything but popsicles), and I can discern between ten different cry pitches to know whether I need to sprint up the stairs praying fervently, or just be available in case a child wants to find me and complain. But I don’t usually know what’s on the New York bestseller list this month, or how many pieces of toast Justin Bieber ate for breakfast, or who the president is (just kidding about that last one, but don’t quiz me about members of Congress right now).
So when everyone in the world started tweeting happily about The Hunger Games movie, I was like “Huh?” And then a few months later I got an idea for an amazing novel I’ll never write, and decided it would make sense to see what people find fascinating these days, so I ordered The Hunger Games from the library. I read it, tried to tell Kerry what the huge takeaway was and couldn’t, and then didn’t give it too much more thought until we got the movie the other night from Redbox.
Ten or fifteen minutes into the movie Kerry said, “This is disturbing.” A little while later, as Katniss stepped off her pedestal and ran for her life into the woods of the arena, Kerry said, “I can’t watch this. It’s making me sick. This is a movie about kids killing each other.” He didn’t feel we should be supporting an industry formed around a story about teenagers being forced to kill each other. Maybe if it was based on a true story, he thought, then we would watch it solemnly and remember why our world so desperately needs its Redeemer. But a figment of someone’s imagination, meant to entertain? He didn’t like it.
For a moment I felt a wobble in my moral compass. Why hadn’t I gotten sick reading the book?? Was I completely desensitized? My husband doesn’t have a weak stomach when it comes to movies (which is helpful when I want to know what happened just then while I was closing my eyes and plugging my ears). But this one left a bad taste in his mouth.
Honestly, I didn’t really have much reaction to the book, one way or the other. Partly because as I read it I was thinking about the craft of story-telling and wondering how Suzanne Collins managed to think of all her supporting characters and details and subplots, and wondering if fiction writers have to stop every other page to research things like leg-waxing and textured camouflage and whether or not ferocious former-human beasts would really be thwarted trying to climb up into a smooth, horn-shaped object. I mean, it has to be plausible, right?
But Kerry’s strong reaction made me think a little more seriously (for a few minutes anyway) about what I really got out of the book. And I realized why I hadn’t been able to describe the book’s deeper themes the first time around. Mostly because it didn’t really seem like there were any.
That’s probably not entirely fair. But I would describe the book’s major theme and conflict as: The bad guys were the ones oppressing other people, and the good guys were the ones who didn’t like being oppressed. And the “good guys” weren’t all that likeable. They were kind of surly (or kind of wimpy, in the case of Peeta), would have liked more food to eat most days, and wanted to avoid a brutal death, if possible. They really just wanted to be less uncomfortable.
And I think that’s what left me uninspired and empty-minded at the end: “Good” didn’t really mean anything in the book. There was no hero. There were only the people you hoped would manage to avoid a brutal death. And really, who doesn’t fall into that category?
The story needed a real hero. Someone who was just and kind, merciful and strong, passionate and patient, awesome and humble. Someone who loved right and hated wrong. (I think a lot of people might feel it’s enough to just love the right things. But a truly good person also hates the bad.) It needed someone who was self-sacrificing not just to save a sweet sister, but even also to save people who didn’t know they were being saved.
It needed Jesus, of course. Or at least some people who were trying to be a little bit like him. Which Katniss and Peeta weren’t. (And neither was Gale, FYI.)
Disclaimer: I haven’t read the second two books in the series. Are they awesome and redemptive and heroic?
Scripture references: Hebrews 1:9; Jeremiah 9:24; Micah 6:8 … and a whole bunch more.