My teenage daughter read "the Hunger Games," --and all the other books in the series. So, of course, I had to go see the movie with her (not actually "with" her. She sat with her friends. I was in the room somewhere). Movie review? The movie gets a 3.5 out of 5 stars on the grown-up scale. My daughter would give it a 5 out of 5 of course.
The characters are interesting, the pace is fast, the lead actress captivates. On the negative side, the "shake-the-camera" technique is used many times throughout the movie, making me feel a bit car sick. Also, the story begs the question, "Why?" If you live in a cave and haven't heard the plot line yet, the story is about a futuristic North America where the people live as a slave class, producing wealth for the elites who rule them. Once a year, the elites remind them of the futility of rebellion by choosing, by lottery, 24 males and females --aged 12 to 18-- to participate in the Hunger Games. The 24 are dropped into a wooded area and given access to sharp objects and told to survive and kill all the other young people. The Last man, woman, boy, or girl standing wins. This process is viewed on t.v. nationwide, in a surreal mix between Roman Gladiators and American Idol and Survivor.
While that sounds like a great t.v. show, one wonders how this bloody contest keeps the masses in line. In fact, my guess is that the game would have the opposite of the intended effect. After all, if children (young adults) from my district were killed on t.v., myself and my neighbors would seek to put a stop to such foolishness -- or at least have a riot in response. But, when I point this out to my daughter, of course she says, "Well, you don't understand because you haven't read the books." Point to daughter. She is as tall as her mother and, as with her mother, I've learned that it is foolish to fight certain battles. So then, if you can get over that non-sequitur in the middle of the plot (and it is only a non-sequitur for fellow non-book readers), and you can get over the fact that you just paid $8 to watch children kill one another, the move is entertaining. Truth, sacrifice, love, and integrity are held up as desirable virtues; hypocrisy, greed, and the like are put in their proper place. All in all, the movie has many fascinating elements.
So much for the movie review. What I find most interesting regarding the Hunger Games story is how it is resonating in our society. Politically, people on the right and the left point to the movie and say, "See! I told you we were right!" Religious folks consider it a battle cry for good and a tool of evil. But no matter what the reaction, it resonates. Our culture, at this time, is ready for a movie like this. Hunger Games strikes a note of a song everyone is already singing. As far as movies go, John Carter also came out recently. That movie has a more coherent story, better action, and is great fun. But it is not resonating.
We live in an age where the culture, the politicians, the educators, and the people in general are trying to figure out the new media, Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party Movement, the Arab Spring, the Kony campaign, spontaneous hoodie rallies, flash mobs, and increasing numbers of Twitter followers. In all of these, we see the common thread of a movement of people made possible by the internet. The internet has changed our lives in many ways, both small and great. One of the larger changes that we are seeing is that the internet gives people tools to challenge power. The plot path of the Hunger Games books is empowering of the people (no I haven't read the books, but this is obvious in the story). The hero or heroes are rising in the first book. My guess is that as the story develops, we will be treated to the satisfaction of watching the arrogant elitists "get theirs." At least I hope that is the case. This message is ripe for our times.
What happens next? No, not in the Hunger Games movies, but in real life? The movie is just entertainment, but the culture it resonates within is real life. A quick glance in the distant past reminds us that the technological jump to the printing press and moveable type changed the world within a couple of hundred years. Christians started printing Bibles in common languages and the reformation transformed Europe and shaped the thinking of the New World. The less-than-Christian world also propelled forward on this rapid jump in knowledge made possible by the printing press. We had an "age of Enlightenment'" that would be hard to imagine if knowledge were transferred the old-fashioned way (that would be Monks copying books by hand to preserve all human knowledge in dusty church Libraries so that the unwashed masses could be taught by the learned class).
Technology that increases our ability to communicate always pulls more people into the power-games of human politics, religion, and culture. The internet doesn't simply increase our ability to communicate, it jumps us to light speed. I don't think I need to give any examples to prove this point. It is common knowledge. And with this jump in communication, we are Occupying Wall Street, or organizing Hoodie rallies, or staging Tea Parties, or rebelling against governments, or overthrowing nations, etc... People power is on the rise, and change is not coming, it is here, it is happening, and it is ongoing. People power can be good, but it doesn't have to be.
As an American, I believe individual freedom is worth dying for. However as an American, my heritage teaches me that my individual freedom is restrained and granted by God. That whole thing about, "endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights?" We take that seriously. If God says we have rights, then our human government must respect that. This is the idea that gave us all that is good in America. But we might have forgotten that, after the American revolution, another great nation revolted over individual freedom. That nation was France. However, they did not philosophically restrain that freedom with the idea that God determines what those freedoms are and how they are to be exercised. The result? In America as we were working out freedom and seeking to apply it to our many problems, and "progressing forward" --and progress we did, ending slavery, ending child labor, increasing in prosperity, increasing in the arts and education-- France took another path. Their path was much darker.
When people are empowered without the restraint of a transcendent philosophy of the Divine good, then the result is not freedom, but riots, chaos, and mob rule. France showed us how this works by having their revolution lead to a reign of terror and the mass lopping-off-of-heads. Into this chaos, order was restored by a hero riding in to save the day. That hero was none other than Napoleon. He brought order back to France. He also brought what dictators always bring-- a power-hungry self-exalting insatiable appetite for more people, land, and treasure to rule. So, as we were working out freedom and enjoying life in America, the French were declaring war on all of Europe, and trying to invade England (this didn't work, thank God). Along the way, Napoleon declared himself to be the Emperor while the Pope watched. Emperors can be such annoyances to the human race!
So what will we see around the world in our warp-speed-information age? We are already seeing it. The Arab Spring has shown us that when people throw off their government but their transcendent philosophy is not one of individual rights, chaos gives opportunity to whoever organizes fastest and sends in a hero. It looks like the Muslim Brotherhood might win out in Egypt. If so, the End will be worse than the Beginning, as it was in France.
As Americans, we must remember that we do not believe in Individual Freedom as an absolute good. We believe that individual freedom is a gift from the Absolute Good, the Divine, a.k.a. God. As such it has restraints. We are free, but free to do good in the eyes of God. I know this causes religious difficulties, but it can't be helped. What I am saying is the historical reality of the foundation on which our nation was founded. Realizing that some would seek to rewrite our history to remove the Divine, I am not seeking to win a political argument by typing these words. Rather, I am asserting that we will see what new world we will be living in, and history teaches us the dangers and rewards of various options.