My Take: ‘Hunger Games’ asks us not to watch
March 26th, 2012
01:44 PM ET

My Take: ‘Hunger Games’ asks us not to watch

Editor's note: Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio is an ordained Episcopal Church priest and author of "God and Harry Potter at Yale: Teaching Faith and Fantasy Fiction in an Ivy League Classroom."

By Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio, Special to CNN

(CNN) - “What if no one watched?” Gale Hawthorne asks at the beginning of the first "Hunger Games" film. What if not one citizen of the dystopian post-American country of Panem watched the annual competition where children from 12 districts compete to the death as penance for their insolence against the governing Capitol?

What if ...

But the citizens of Panem are forced to watch the 74th Hunger Games, in which protagonist Katniss Everdeen competes to spare her younger sister, Primrose. The Gamemakers hide cameras throughout the arena so that no event goes unseen, and every citizen of Panem must stand in their district’s square to watch key parts of the Games, which are televised live for the entire nation.

Watching also seems to be a focus for those who redacted the first of Suzanne Collins’ bestsellers into film: One of the official posters for "The Hunger Games" features the slogan “The World Will Be Watching,” and as part of the promotional push for the film, I received an e-mail from Panem Hunger Games coordinator Seneca Crane informing me that “attendance IS mandatory.”

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A cynic might say that these are clever marketing ploys, not-quite-subliminal messages designed to lure filmgoers to cushy movie theater seats and extra-large tubs of popcorn.

But I think there is a deeper purpose to this watching rhetoric, a purpose that by proxy has curious ramifications for Christians.

As I watched Katniss Everdeen fight to the death, I became aware that I could just as well have been a citizen of Panem, watching the Hunger Games on a giant screen, rooting for favorites, desensitized from the film’s artfully-orchestrated-so-as-to-maintain-a-PG-13-rating-but-still-incredibly-disturbing violence.

In fact, the film’s creators seem to want viewers to imagine themselves as residents of Panem. For the full immersion experience, the government of Panem, the Capitol, has a website with its own government domain, just like the United States or China or Fiji does. On that website, fans can get assigned to a district, after which they receive an identification card and e-mails from various government officials.

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All of this means moviegoers, especially those in the United States, are intended to see themselves as Panem residents. And like the citizens of Panem, who watch the Hunger Games either because the government forces them to or because they consider betting on children’s lives to be good sport, we must watch, which is exactly what I did.

I did not heed Gale’s call to protest the Games’ viciousness. I did not walk out. I even found myself jumping up and down with excitement as I entered the theater with my husband.

Does that mean those of us who buy advanced tickets to "The Hunger Games" — in record numbers — are so immune to the horrors of murder that we are merely voyeurs, watching the ill-timed termination of life with the same salaciousness of those who watched the Paris Hilton sex video?

For Christians, this issue of watching is complicated further. Christians are nearing Holy Week, the most sacred time of the church year, in which the faithful commemorate the death and resurrection of the Messiah.

On the Thursday of Holy Week, Christians keep a symbolic vigil with Jesus, watching with him during his final night in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he asks God to rescue him from fate. On Good Friday, we relive Jesus’ crucifixion by hearing the story of the Messiah’s death or sometimes, even, by watching re-enactments. What would Good Friday be like if once, just once, Christians stopped their church services in protest or stopped a re-enactment of Jesus’ death and took him down from the cross just in time?

Christians don’t do that, of course, because they are remembering an event whose course cannot be altered: Jesus suffered. Jesus died. The only thing that can be done is for Christians to voluntarily bear witness to that reality and to be disgusted by it, so that its carnage motivates them to protest violence.

In that way, watching for Christians on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday serves a purpose: It empowers them to take on Jesus’ ministry as a servant, to become people who protest against injustices in the hopes of transforming them.

As in Christianity, violence in "The Hunger Games" also serves a purpose: It is not gratuitous. It is not voyeuristic. But there’s a difference as well: We the viewers are not witnessing a past event. We feel like we are seeing the Games in real time, that we are part of Panem and, by virtue of sitting in the audience, part of its dysfunction.

That powerful revelation encourages us to contemplate the ways that we are complicit in violence in our own world and the ways in which we do not object.

So perhaps the great irony revealed by the film is that we are not meant to see it. We’re not intended to watch its violence, because this story, as Gale says, is meant to be protested. Which means that, ironically, "The Hunger Games’ " greatest triumph would be an empty theater and streets full of people demanding the kinds of changes needed in Katniss’ world and in our own.

What if we did this?  What if we didn’t watch?

I like to imagine that only then would the odds be truly be in Katniss’ favor.  And in ours.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Opinion

soundoff (857 Responses)
  1. M.E.

    Waaaait a minute. So Christians doing the "Christian" thing would help, but instead they just sit there and watch because that's what they're really supposed to do. So really the "Christian" thing is to sit idly by as others suffer and then complain after the fact. Suddenly it's all making so much more sense. In essence, if you have a heart and want to stop violence before or during the fact you're doing the "better than Christian" thing because you're being proactive and making a difference when the "Christian" think is to sit by and do nothing.

    March 26, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  2. Unknown

    I think you're taking a fictional story a tad too seriously.

    March 26, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • damo12345

      That's the entire point of CNN's Belief Blog.

      March 26, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • Roscoe Chait

      This is one of the most juvenile articles I've ever read. The Hunger Games is fictional. The link to Christianity is marginal at best. Perhaps if Katniss was fed to some lions then Tumminio would be happier and her article might make a drop of sense.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  3. AA

    LOL @ JW and agreeing with Seter.....this writer is a little off. Maybe you and your husband should stay home and Netflix...wouldnt want you out in public thinking that the Hunger Games is real. You might off someone from another district...#really??getalife.

    March 26, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  4. Debby

    I'll wait till it comes on ppview its cheaper just like the Twilight Saga's.

    March 26, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  5. BW

    The sooner this planet figures out all the "gods" we kill each other over are man made illusions the better off we will be...

    March 26, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • dzp


      March 26, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Wesley

      I Know Right??!!!

      March 26, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • Wesley

      DZP is wrong for saying your wrong

      March 26, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  6. ben cappel

    well – i'm not watching it. don't like watching stuff like this (kids forced to fight to the death??) – and i'm not even a christian. i'm a jew. in light of this article that may seem ironic...but it's really not.

    March 26, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  7. duh

    I haven't seen it, read it and don't plan to. doesn't sound interesting to me. just another twist on an old fight to the death to live plot.

    March 26, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • LWK

      Then why did you take the time to read the article and comment on it? Seems pretty stupid to me.

      March 26, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  8. WMoonFox

    Considering how many people have been murdered over the centuries in the name of Christianity - how many cultures either absorbed or completely obliterated - contrasting your religion against a fictional totalitarian regime goes a little bit beyond the normal bounds of "absurdly silly" that I generally grant to opinion pieces. In fact, you can probably make out the shore of "asinine" from your current location.

    March 26, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • cilia


      March 26, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • wmoonfox

      I like blue! It is my favorite color! Yea!

      March 29, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
  9. Lauren

    Get a life everyone! its just a stupid movie!

    March 26, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  10. Steve

    What a ridiculous article. Is she really trying to suggest that if we watch the movie, then we're supporting the same type of lives they live in the movie? And I understand that the author of the article is a priest, but I don't understand bringing up religion when reviewing a movie that has nothing to do with religion. The books and movie are just entertainment, as they have an interesting plot.

    March 26, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • Concerned Citizen

      I agree. A ridiculous article which totally misses the whole point of the books/movie.

      March 26, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • Sarah

      Agreed. In fact, by the end of the series Katniss finds the courage to challenge the corruption in the govt and she changes the world. I think it'll be good for this younger generation to be influenced by that message.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • Brent Slensker


      March 26, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • LWK

      Peole–this is in the BELIEF BLOG area. As in . . . the area to discuss various events in the context of religion. Get it?

      March 26, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  11. ToddT

    The meaning of this book/movie isn't that violence should never be encouraged or witnessed. It's that pointless violence should be shunned. When it's time to rebel, they rebel and their violence is justified to provide a better life for many people, free from the terror of their children being taken away to be killed.

    March 26, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  12. Anonymous

    I have heard several people say similar things along the line of "ironically, "The Hunger Games’ " greatest triumph would be an empty theater". If we are not meant to watch the movie, then shouldn't we not read the book? Of course, not. The message of the book (assuming Collins hoped for us to take it literally) is not to boycott the film, but to fight against real injustices in the world. To do otherwise would be applying the message to the movie, and not the world, which completely misses the point.

    March 26, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Steve

      Why can't people ever read a book or watch a movie and just be entertained instead of trying to find some purpose or meaning behind it. Does it really never occur to people that maybe the author was just trying to entertain the audience?

      March 26, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • Tracy

      Not in this case, Steve. There are plenty of examples of empty entertainment on screens... but for a lot of people, especially in the creative community, that gets really boring. being able to tell a good story AND have it address a greater idea that affects people in a positive way. That is the holy Grail of artistic fulfillment. Even light hearted comedy will sneak in some of the good stuff... I just saw a Bollywood film about a robot that blew me away

      March 26, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  13. Rev. Rick

    Quoting a line from the article: "...where children from 12 districts compete to the death as penance for their insolence against the governing Capitol..."

    It would seem to me that this arrangement would likely increase the level of violence from adolescents, rather then reduce it. Especially among those children who already have sociopathic or psychopathic tendencies. They would most likely commit offenses just to participate into the game. The weakest and least skilled would die. But then you essentially reward the survivor, the most skillful and murderous of the compet-itors, who then lives to pass along their dysfunctional genes to their offspring. Talk about survival of the fittest! My god!

    March 26, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • J.W

      Sounds like this movie is trying to promote the idea of natural selection, although I don't know if the winners reproduce and pass their abilities to future generations.

      March 26, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • Observer

      Rev. Rick, obviously you have not read the books.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Ernest

      Sir, if you think the point of these books/movies is to promote violence then I strongly suggest you read the books and watch the movie again if you haven't already. The death of Rue, a small young innocent, is a truly powerful scene both in the book and movie. The message is quite the opposite. It's difficult to help a psychopath who already has those tendancies on their mind and it won't take much to set them off. If you recall you might see similar violence in the Bible. Remember when Abraham was to set Isaac on fire? What's to say some psychopathic/sociopathic child couldn't read the Bible and do the same as watching a film?

      March 26, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • Rev. Rick

      @ Ernest said, "It's difficult to help a psychopath who already has those tendancies on their mind and it won't take much to set them off. If you recall you might see similar violence in the Bible. Remember when Abraham was to set Isaac on fire? What's to say some psychopathic/sociopathic child couldn't read the Bible and do the same as watching a film?"

      Thanks for helping make my point!

      March 27, 2012 at 7:11 am |
    • Rev. Rick

      @ Observer said, "Rev. Rick, obviously you have not read the books."

      Please re-read my post. I wasn't quoting from nor commenting on the book or the movie. I quoted from the CNN article and how the article was slanted.

      March 27, 2012 at 7:19 am |
  14. J.W

    I am thinking of seeing the movie just because the girl is cute.

    March 26, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • Franklin


      March 26, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • jimmy

      jennifer lawrence? heck yeah! she is more revealed as mystique though.

      March 26, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  15. Monumental

    In search of America's National treasure!

    March 26, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • Brad


      March 26, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • GodPot

      "In search of America's National treasure!" It might surprise you I know, but you will not find Nicolas Cage in this film even though he never says no to a script, it's just this one was never offered...

      March 26, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • BigRed

      Why do I get the feeling that "Monumental" is nothing more then Christian blathering about their right to rewrite history so that they can have their ultimate Christian theocracy. America is secular, and will always be. Any Christian control would simply put us into the realm of the Christian dominated oligarchs who we sought to separate ourselves from.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  16. So

    Are we supposed to see it or not? Or is it ok to read the book but not see the movie?

    March 26, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Brad

      If you want character development, read the book first. The movie doesn't do it.

      March 26, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  17. hippypoet

    the overall message of the movie is whats important – and it is a good message, however its not always written on the wall!

    March 26, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  18. Mark

    Finally, a reviewer who got the point.

    March 26, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  19. JohnQuest

    This reads like Danielle is reaching, I enjoyed the movie and loved the books (looking forward to the other two films). Ms. Collins left any mention of religion out of this, why is Danielle trying to add it in?

    March 26, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • WASP

      @john: because two things. 1) christians don't know when to hush and enjoy something that has nothing to do with their faith. 2) it makes for a easy way to earn a paycheck. encite the masses by pulling the cord easily seen.

      March 26, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Steve

      @WASP: You don't understand Christians. For true Christians, everything relates to their faith. You don't set down your faith just because you are going out to a movie.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  20. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    March 26, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • Brad

      Pray for better movies, please.

      March 26, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      Brad, like "The Grey" a much better movie, one of the best of the lot so far.

      March 26, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • Jesus

      -.You've been proven a liar over and over again on this blog. A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested Friday morning...

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      Plus don't forget. The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.!

      March 26, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Stupidity is not healthy for Christians, but it is the status quo for them

      Prayer changes 911 to 811.


      March 26, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • J.W

      If you pray you will never need 911 because nothing bad will ever happen to you.

      March 26, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • seter

      You are delusional....

      March 26, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • Dogmatic Religion Isn't Healthy Either

      Enough said.

      March 26, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Josh

      @John "The Grey"?!?!?! Best movie?!?!!? OMG I could make a movie on what a piece of crap that movie was. Totally full of BS and plot holes. The only thing good about that movie was the acting. Liam of course putting out an excellent show.

      March 26, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      I like cookies! Yum!

      March 29, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.