The meaning of the Hunger Games

Book cover, 1st edition of The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

Everyone is abuzz about the Hunger Games after apparently all going to the theatres to watch it this past weekend. The movie raked in $152 million domestically in its debut, indicating an appeal on par with that of ‘Harry Potter’, and claiming the number 3 spot on box-office charts.

A friend of mine mentioned he was planning to see the flick on its opening night. Having vaguely heard of the Hunger Games, and still relatively in the dark about the phenomenon, I asked what the movie was about. He said, “It’s about a bunch kids who go in the jungle and fight to the death.”

“Hmmm,” I shrugged thinking of the reality TV show ‘Survivor’, followed by the thought, “I don’t like to watch Survivor so…” suffice it to say I did not make the effort to look up movie times and find a babysitter.

This morning, however, I awoke to the news that the Hunger Games struck a major chord with America in particular. Not only did American’s bother to get out of the house and shell out the bucks at the box office, they also bothered to write commentary on what the movie means, or simply to vote for ‘Team Peeta’.

Here’s a sampling:

James P. Pinkerton, of Fox News writes, “’Games’ is not just another slasher/horror scream flick—but rather a furious critique of our political system, in which the central government grows rich from the toil of the masses…”

Penn Badgley, of “Gossip Girl” says, “It’s the one percent [killing the kids].

Julie Clawson, author of “The Hunger Games and the Gospel”, blogs that the story is “about love”, “not simply romantic love, but the kind of love that nurtures and sustains life.”

Each of these comments represents a noble cause, whether it is fighting against greed on Wall Street, or fighting against the political machine, or fighting for love (the unconditional kind).

And here I am as well writing my own two cents about a movie I have not seen, based on a book I have not read. From where I sit, the Hunger Games isn’t simply a survivor-esque movie. It’s a movie about the rising dichotomy of America, of the oppressed and the oppressor. It’s about a fight that we feel deeply connected with, a fight against ‘something’, we feel is intrinsically not right about our country this day and time, whether it be against the 1 percenters or big government (or both if they are the same), or simply against the dark side of America, where the individual is more important than the whole, or where materialism triumphs over spirit.

It reminds me a bit of the obsession with 2012 and Armageddon. Environmentalists use December 21, 2012 as a time for environmental change or else face cataclysmic environmental disasters. Doomsayers use the end date as a time for judgment of the Righteous over the weak of heart. The Mayans may have simply been noting the date as the rolling of the calendar from December 31st of one year to January 1st of another year, albeit on a much larger cycle.

The underlying currents to these strong fixations point to a deep, perhaps spiritual, hunger in America, a hunger for change in a dramatic and critical way, as if we can sense the absolute need right now to pick a side (and a weapon if need be) and to fight, without losing moral ground somehow, for what we each believe in our hearts is right, before it’s too late.

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