Wednesday, May 30, 2012

REVIEW: The Hunger Games

The hype and hubbub surrounding this film has been ferocious. It has been praised for extolling the value of life and accused of preparing the way for Nazi Germany- both of which by people whose opinions I highly respect.

At first, I didn't want to see the film. I knew I would enjoy it- and I wasn't happy with that. It seemed like the perfect blend of toxic worldview with artistic excellence- a classic example of situational ethics- a deadly trap for the teenage romantic imagination- the kind of film that would thrill my flesh but burden my spirit.

After all of this blazing controversy, however, I've been looking forward to seeing it for some time now. Yesterday, Dad and I marched into the theater with the express purpose of taking the film captive to the obedience of Christ.  After seeing the film, we made our way to a coffee shop in our local Barnes & Noble and set to writing down our thoughts, throwing our voices into the arena of the blogosphere.

Before we get started, please know this:

We are aware that The Hunger Games are actually three books, and that the books surely provide more context, more resolution, more detail, more information. However, we are analyzing this film on its own merit. Whatever the books construct as their worldview system is irrelevant to our purpose, which is to explore the worldview infrastructure of this film as such.

To whom it may edify, here goes:

The Art

The Good

The film was very well done.  The cinematography was intricate, the score was masterful, and the acting was first-rate.  The graphics were very good as well.  The whole film was very industry-standard.  A few things stood out: the story, the world-building, and the close-ups.

The story was gripping, intense, and powerful.  In a day of shallow, insipid stories, The Hunger Games has a plot that is deep and well constructed.  The tension was constant, but varied, so that the film was always gripping but never monotonously so.  The filmmakers made good use of this, using the story to drive the film instead of relying on "secondary strengths" like graphics or gore.

The makers of the film constructed a very believable visual world.  The use of costumes, make-up, and set-creation made the world of The Hunger Games unique and fascinating- as well as garish and disgusting where it needed to be.

The film made extensive- and skillful- use of close-ups, and perhaps was to close-ups what the Bourne films were to shaky-camera cinematography.  Which leads us to...

The Bad

...the shaky-camera cinematography.  I found it a bit frustrating in the beginning, not being able to get my visual bearings.  This leveled out very nicely for the majority of the film, though, and Dad also points out that it created a feel of disorientation and captivity very fitting to the film's opening.

The credits music was, in my opinion, a real let-down.  That happens a lot.

Overall, though, the art in this film was top-notch.

The Worldview

The Good

The structure of the film is very anti-statist.  The social commentary written into the story is powerful.  The film leaves the viewers wanting the districts to rise up again- to fight for liberty- to be free.  The tyrannical government of Panem is all the more disturbing when one compares it with the encroaching government of today.

Throughout the film we see the oligarchs controlling- or attempting to control- the will of the people.  The actions of Katniss and Peeta, our protagonists, trouble the plans of the tyrants, and awaken sparks of that same fire that led the districts to rebel years ago.  We found a strong parallel between this control of the masses by the media and the same power wielded by the American media today.  It was also admirable how the protagonists used the enemies' own tactics against them, wielding the media against the establishment.

The social commentary offered by the culture portrayed in the film is also instructive. The culture of the "bad guys," in the big city, is very shallow.  It's a facade, a glimmering show of makeup and shapes and colors.  The Hunger Games are seen as just that- as games, a cause for merriment, jokes, and laughter.  The portrayal of young people slaughtering each other with lighthearted enjoyment is not only chilling but terribly true to the nature of sinful man.  Give a humanistic society enough time, and death-games are the logical result.

Dad points out that the film did not portray the heroine as an invincible masculine machine who could pin all the boys down with one hand tied behind her back.  Katniss was skilled with a bow- but that was all.  There was none of this "just-as-strong-as-the-men" nonsense, and we greatly appreciate that.  She was very feminine throughout the entire film.

The Bad

I have never found it attractive when women swear.  Why Katniss does so multiple times in the film- especially since she is almost the only one to do so- is a total mystery to me.  It was not necessary, it was not edifying, and it was certainly not the language of a heroine.

Overall, the film is impressively clean.  The language is minimal, the violence is not nearly as graphic as it could have been, and the love scenes stayed away from anything beyond some kisses.  Which I still could have done without, of course.

The romance itself was interestingly woven.  On one hand, it was an effective tool of deception by which to play the system against itself.  That, I have no quarrel with.  On the other hand, it raises some serious questions and models "young love-" infatuation without any foundation- kisses without covenants- something which we see more than enough of already.

I can also see a love-triangle a'comin' in the sequels.  I sure hope they don't ruin the series with teen drama.

A Question for Peeta

Peeta states early in the film that he doesn't want "them" to change him.  Katniss asks if that means that he won't kill.  He doesn't mean that.  One is left wondering what he does mean.

Of all the ways to remain unchanged by the games and their masterminds, what greater way than to stand in defiance of their godless commands and say "No!"

The Big One

With a film like The Hunger Games, the primary question is this: when is it right to take a life?

It is never right to take an innocent life.  (Ex. 20:13)

It is always right to protect innocent life. (Neh. 4:14)

The "Just War Theory" has some relevant points to add to this discussion.  According to the Just War Theory, aggression is condemned.  Only defensive war is acceptable.  The cause must be just.  The use of force should be a last resort, and should be applied only in the proportion necessary to stop the foe- we don't need to fight someone for insulting us (Matt. 5:38).  Dad likes to say "eliminate the threat."  We're at war until the threat to peace has been eradicated.  To take this from a national to a personal level, self- and other-defense stops the moment the attacker does. It's not about killing them, it's about preventing them from harming the innocent.  Maybe that will require lethal force, and maybe (hopefully!) it won't.  At the root, though, we are pursuing peace (Matt. 5:9).

A key distinction here is that a Christian philosophy of defense leaves the attacker's fate in his own hands.  It's his choice to attack, and it's his choice to stop threatening the innocent.

The Christian worldview holds that man is evil (Jer. 17:9) and needs restrained (Ex. 20).

I would like to bring into the discussion two other very different films- one of which we watched yesterday, for Memorial Day.  The black-and-white classic, Sergeant York, is a film with much the same premise as The Hunger Games- that it is right to take life in order to protect life.  The other film (which is actually a TV show), 24, on its face preaches the same message.  The crucial distinction between the messages of Sergeant York and 24 is this- that one justifies the killing of the attacker in defense of the attacked, and the other justifies the killing of the innocent in defense of the other innocents.  Scripture portrays the defense of the innocent as not only the right but the duty of every righteous man, but this is done only by resisting the attacker.  Never are we permitted by the word of God to do anything otherwise.  To choose the "lesser of two evils," to take an innocent life in the name of saving a thousand others, is to sin, to violate the Law of God, and to become a murderer oneself.

This is a second key point in the Christian philosophy of violence- Christian violence is wielded in defense of the innocent directly against the attacker.

The Hunger Games stays on the right side of this crucial distinction.  Like Sergeant York, the protagonist uses force only when necessary to preserve herself or other innocent people.

Here we come to the third and final line that I would like to draw in this section: that humanism always leads to death, in a very literal way.

Sergeant York sees the world through a self-consciously Christian worldview construct.  The argument is over what The Bible says, and the conclusions that Sergeant York reaches are based on Scripture.  The Hunger Games gives us no such standard.  We all know that Katniss did the right thing, because The Law of God is written on our hearts (Rom. 2).  However, "if there is no God, anything is permissible," and Katniss' sacrificial choice that we praise today we may condemn as foolish tomorrow.

Without God to define right and wrong, The Hunger Games becomes just one more step on the road to 24.  Mockingjay amulets don't care how you live.

Katniss does the right thing, but in the world of The Hunger Games there is no reason for her to do so.  It falls to us, as Christians, to supply that reason- to cry "Thus says The LORD!" as we strike down the wicked in defense of the innocent.

The greatest weakness of The Hunger Games is not the use and portrayal of violence, but rather the creation of a world in which there really is no standard by which to judge the use of violence.

Last Resort

Before we totally endorse Katniss' actions in The Hunger Games, it is important to ask the question: "What could she have done?"  It's easy to get caught up in the world of the film and just assume that "they have no choice," but before we put the arrow on the string we need to make sure that we have exhausted our peaceable options first.

There are a myriad of things that Katniss could have tried before lethal force became necessary.  Remember, just war and Biblical violence are last-resort options.  Starting at the very beginning of the games, Katniss could have encouraged the tributes to unite- to refuse to give the oligarchy what they wanted.  Perhaps in one of her struggles with the other tributes, she could have proven her ability to kill, but shown mercy instead.

Poison and Puppies

There are two major points in the film where the decisions that the protagonists make are very problematic.  The first comes as Peeta and Katniss are one tribute away from being the sole survivors of the Hunger Games.  Having fled from vicious cyber-dogs to the top of the "cornucopia," they are confronted by the only person who stands between them and their victory.  He attacks them, and the ensuing struggle results in him being cast off of the structure into the mouths of the dogs.  Good so far- all in self-defense.  It was the following seconds that were so dangerous.

The fallen tribute is undergoing an agonizing death.  Katniss, without a moment's hesitation, shoots him, "putting him out of his misery."  This is not, however, a Biblically justified decision.  Their course of action should have involved doing their level best to save the dying man, rather than killing him.

Matthew Young put it well in his review:
We spend the entire film disgusted by the cold, cruel way highly trained “Career” Tributes kill less fortunate combatants. Yet in the final moments, viewers are treated to a climactic struggle culminating in Katniss “mercifully” killing a Tribute in pain. All the other murders are portrayed as barbaric and evil, yet Katniss’ deed somehow does not warrant the same judgment because the victim was “going to die anyway.” The future that “The Hunger Games” warns against is less frightening than the future derived from accepting its world-view. If killing is justified under those terms, how long will it take before euthanizing elderly citizens or performing partial-birth abortions on  “handicapped” babies also is justified? How long until the accepted treatment for any terminal illness is a lethal injection?

The second erroneous and humanistic decision was made at the end of the film.  Peeta and Katniss decide that since they refuse to kill one another, and one of them ostensibly has to die, they will kill themselves.  Together.

This is truly indefensible- it runs directly contrary to Scripture.  This romantic suicide should not have even been considered as an option by our heroes.  So what could they have done instead?

Why not simply sit down, cross their arms, and say "No!  I refuse to play by your rules, to go along with your game, to allow your semantical dancing to dictate the commands of my conscience and my God!"

What more moving display of love, vision, and strength of character could there be than that?

Both of these issues bring us face-to-face with the foundational problem in the world of The Hunger Games- that there is no Law by which each man must judge his own conduct, and there is no Lawgiver to Whom each will stand accountable for the choices that they make.  Our heroes make their decisions based on what seems best to them.

Usually, of course, this results in the right decision, because who would want to watch a film where the hero was a consistent atheist?  There is a reason why we cheer for Katniss as she takes her sister's place, and not for Cato as he gleefully slaughters a 12-year-old boy.  The Hunger Games neglects to give us that reason.

The Hunger Games was a fascinating, thrilling film.  It was deep, enjoyable, thought-provoking, and appropriate for our times.  The worldview was imperfect, but was overall very satisfying.  Its greatest weakness was that it presented a world without God- a world in which every man is left to do what is right in his own eyes.  This causes The Hunger Games, a book which was meant to decry the society which it portrays, to contribute to the construction of the very world that it condemns.  The story held me to the very end, concluding with a sad but hopeful semi-resolution which begs for a sequel.

It left me hungry for more.


From the awesome training rooms to the physically and mentally demanding games themselves, if the objective wasn't murderous I think I would really enjoy participating in the Hunger Games.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why Bother with Mother's Day?

Proverbs 31 - Kinetic Typography from Jeremiah Warren on Vimeo.

Mother's Day rolls around once a year.  What exactly is this ritual?  What purpose does it serve?  In a society that increasingly looks down on motherhood, despises the covenant of marriage, spurns the blessing of children, and destroys the distinctions both physical and occupational between men and women- why bother?  Is this another leftover from the Christian feast of our forefathers?  Is this just one more bloom from the springtime of Christianity that simply hasn't yet been successfully scorched by the humanistic heat of the Marxist summer?  I think so.

Because, really, if we don't like motherhood, why do we celebrate it?  Or is it really motherhood that we're celebrating?

"Even bad men love their mommas."

We all know that it is a good thing to have a day for recognizing all of the vastly under-appreciated labor that mothers do for their children, to step back, look at all of the little and insignificant things that our mom did for us that seem so small in themselves but amount to a staggering collection, and to say "thanks, Mom!"

Do we see beyond the simple (precious) fact that our mothers love us, anymore?  Do we see the immense power that lies in the hands of faithful mothers?  Do we fully understand the earth-shattering ramifications of the well-worn adage that "the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world"?  Do we treasure the awesome calling of running a home?

Our world downplays this calling.  "Housewife" is now an insult, and "stay-at-home mom" means "lazy slob" or perhaps "abused weakling."  We celebrate Mother's Day, but not because motherhood is awesome.  We just happen to like our moms.

I hope that we as Christians see more to motherhood than just "thanks, Mom."

Dad has often said that women (as mothers) are "one generation removed."  While the men are pressing God's Word into the city gates, the women are at home, raising the next generation of leaders to do the same.

Somehow we see this as so derogatory- so shameful- so second-class and subservient.

That's a humanistic thought that needs taken captive.

(This statement, by the way, is not meant to downplay the roles which men have in the raising of the next generation, nor which women have in here-and-now discipleship pursuits, but rather to point out a pattern that we see in Scripture- in Pr. 31:23 and 26, for instance.)

Often, when I hear the power of Godly womanhood extolled, I feel like we are doing it simply to placate the latent feminism that rears its head when Biblical gender roles are discussed.

Not today.  I ain't placatin' nothin'.

Godly womanhood is powerful.  Immensely powerful.  Motherhood- the simple act of bringing a living being, a soul, a person created in The Image of God, into this world- is a gift and a treasure.  To be so intimately involved in the shaping of the next generation is an opportunity that no social worker, schoolteacher, nanny, or babysitter can ever dream of having.  The power that rests in the hands of mothers across this nation dwarfs that of any government agency or media enterprise (even in spite of our best efforts to relinquish that power to the state via the school system).

This nation needs more women who will forsake the lies of feminism, reject the opinion of a godless culture, and come home.

This nation needs more women who will pour themselves into raising the next generation for Christ.

This nation needs more women like my mom.

I spoke above about how important it is that we have not just an appreciation for our mothers but a deep passion for the power of Godly womanhood.  While I do believe this, it in no way detracts from the importance and value of recognizing the one mother that God has given to each of us.  Mother's Day is a great opportunity to do this- to "arise and call her blessed," and to respect and acknowledge the massive amount of labor and love that our mothers have poured into us.  In that vein, I want to praise my mother in the city gates a little bit, here.  :-D

Here are three of the biggest things that I admire in my mother, and wish to apply to my own life:
  1. Faith - Scriptural submission in a marriage relationship is not a simple matter of a wife gritting her teeth and begrudgingly following the lead of her husband.  Some of the biggest decisions in our family's history, some of the most scary leaps of faith that Dad has led us to, were opportunities for Mom to do this- to react in fear or stubbornness, to resist or remonstrate.  She didn't do this.  Her confident, supportive attitude towards my father throughout these times is a legacy that I treasure.
  2. Frugality - Mom's ability to stretch a penny is legendary in our circles.  For some people, careful spending might seem shameful ("You shop at GOODWILL?" followed by a shocked expression).  Not in our house.  In our house we have a name for penny-pinching- we call it good stewardship.  Mom's a master at it, and it has been a major asset to the family over the years.
  3. Depth - I asked my sisters for some of the things that they admired about Mom, and when they said this I realized how true it was.  Mom has never been concerned about what other people think.  This has, perhaps, its fullest ramifications in the simple fact that Mom embraces her calling as a homemaker, wife, and mother wholeheartedly and vigorously- in the face of a culture that despises everything that she stands for.  Her desire to please God rather than man has allowed her to support Dad even when friends and relatives thought he was crazy.  This depth of character also manifests itself in smaller ways.  No matter where it comes out, though, it is a blessing.

Oh, and it sounds trite, but she's an awesome cook, too.

Long story short, if an excellent wife is worth far more than rubies, then my Dad is a rich man.

Thanks, Mom!  I love you.  Happy Mother's Day.  :-)