I remember the first time I read Shirley Jackson’s shocker of a short story, The Lottery. Most American schoolchildren since 1948 have shared the experience of the brutal surprise that accompanies the realization that this annual festival in a small American town is not what it seems to be. Years later, we would encounter The Running Man, an '80s film loosely based on a Stephen King novel where criminals were offered redemption for surviving a murderous gauntlet of “stalkers,” sent into a “game zone” witnessed by millions of nationwide TV viewers. Needless to say, only one “criminal” overcame the impossible odds: “framed” killer cop, Ben Richards.
Well, spoiler alert. The Hunger Games is, essentially, The Lottery meets The Running Man, with a little bit of Red Dawn thrown in. In the end, we have a reality TV broadcast, the promise of redemption through human blood sport, and more than a dozen brutally murdered children. By this point, I’m sure a lot of Suzanne Collins fans are already preparing to make me a “tribute” (and if you’re a fan of the series, you know that’s not a good thing). Since I admittedly haven’t read the books (and won’t), I’ll just have to examine the film (and its message) as a movie, and not as an “adapted screenplay.”
As I watched the carnage unfold, I struggled to make sense of the mixed messages. OK, so the “Capitols” are the “1-percenters” ... right? The evil corporate types, once again using the rest of us as mere disposable entertainment. Or, are they the Washington ruling class, who habitually send our best and brightest young people into war, often for indefensible reasons? We have the prerequisite female protagonist who — in the end — always makes the noble choices (we see her "shaking sense" into her own mother in the film, a favorite teen fantasy). Maybe it’s a story about how love (even when born of convenience) conquers all.
I tried hard to appreciate the excellent visual effects, spot-on casting, and outstanding acting — The Hunger Games is an exceptional film. But a long time before the credits rolled, my father’s heart was already hurting. Pardon my characteristic sappiness, but … shouldn’t our instinct, as adults, always be to protect our children? And I’m not just talking about the adults in the reality TV show control room, concocting new ways to terrorize and — ultimately — kill off the kids in the movie. How about the adults who feel that it’s profitable in any way to portray the murder of children…in entertainment targeted for children? I pray that I may never be counted among them.
“… choose life, that you and your children may live …” Deuteronomy 30:19 NIV