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. Jim

    So let me see if I understand correctly. You, Ms. Tumminio, couldn't wait to see this movie and stayed for the entire film. Then you write an opinion containing a moral warning about the film for the rest of us. Do you really think that absolves you from your lack of moral clarity. Yes, you're right. We shouldn't watch it. You shouldn't have watched it. And yes, watching movies like that will slowly erode our appropriate sense of repugnance at the callous disregard for human life. I know it may seem impossible to say with with any compassion, but stated compassionately, your mea culpa was pathetic.

    March 26, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  2. thecollegeadmissionsguru

    When will people just realize that most of us who write for a living are NOT trying to do any of the things we are accused of doing. We are NOT trying to use our writing to change the world or make religous statements, what we are doing is attempting to write something people will relate to, something that people will read and something that will make us a living. That's it, NOTHING more!

    March 26, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • tony

      So that's why the bible is so long a d has so many authors

      March 26, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • Sarah

      Everyone wants to know they belong or are accepted, and everyone wants something to believe in. The point is we all have different beliefs, it's inevitable for them to clash.

      March 27, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  3. Dave

    Evangelists and militant secular-humanists are two of the most dangerous kinds of people we have today. Both are absolutely and resolutely disrespectful towards others who do not share their beliefs. They deserve one another really.

    March 26, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      Know what Dave, I actually agree with you for the most part. As an atheist, I try not to be one that is militant, but from time to time it's hard when we are so confronted by hatred, ignorance, and bigotry. So many "Christians" turn away from us when they find out we are atheists, including some of our own families. It's really easy to become angry at the religious.

      March 26, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • JoJo

      I'm an agnostic Humanist. I try not to be gratuitously disrepectful of peoples' religious beliefs, but I am disrespectful of religious hypocrisy, but not as disrepectful toward it as Jesus was, who condemned it.

      March 26, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • tony

      Private religious belief is not something that anyone can hate, if you keep it private. The problem is that religious belief in the Christian sense can only can only be acquired by someone, or book, teaching it to you at a young impressionable age. The story of Christ is not something that anyone can imagine into fact by logic. And it's clearly viral propaganda rather that just a story. The only reason Mormons think they are Christian but different, is because they were sold a different story.

      The reason for disapproval by thinking adults, is the deliberate "Spreading" of the story to keep it alive, despite the fact that it would not exist or continue without the adults spreading it on to their and worse, other children.

      March 26, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
  4. James

    Didn't watch, won't watch. It's sick and hurtful, don't need a better reason. I'm a little surprised that a self-proclaimed Christian wouldn't mention the Philippians 4:8 test. I wonder if she found Hunger Games to be "True" "Honorable" "Right" "Pure" "Lovely" "of Good Repute" "[possessing] Virtue" and "Praiseworthy".

    PS: Really? Christians look at the crucifixion because it's so bad, in order to remember that bad is bad, so that we'll be motivated to do the opposite?

    What if we look at the crucifixion of Christ to see what good looks like – what love looks like? Hunger Games sure isn't going to show us... Does that make me a non-Christian?

    PPS: Is there just not enough pain and ugliness in the world yet? Is that why we imagine more just to entertain ourselves?

    March 26, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • Matt

      I honestly find that you can't really make an accusation like that until you actually watch the film.

      March 26, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      James, you are right. There is enough in the Bible for us to find to enrage us.

      March 26, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • WASP

      @james: nah it's because humans are aggressive animals and enjoy violence, we evolved from violence of having to survive violent conditions from animals that could kill us in a single blow. so it is ingrained in humans.......unless god messed up and made us enjoy football, hockey, boxing and other forms of visual violence. face the facts, humans enjoy violence. doesn't make it right, but it's whom we are. we can avoid it, but you can't say you would stand there and let someone hurt your family without trying to hurt them; that my friend is violence.

      March 26, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  5. OhioMom2

    Ms. Tumminio – with all due respect, I think you missed the heart and soul of the hunger games. It is not about the actual hunger games nor children being forced to fight other children. It is Katniss' journey as she volunteers to take her sister's place in the hunger games and through her eyes we see how harsh Panem is. Perhaps some fans of the book and now movie made the actual games and deaths the focus of their reading, however I did not. As an adult, I believe the message is hope, loyalty, doing the right thing, love for one's family and close friends. Katniss becomes a reluctant heroine and befriends Rue along the way. She gathers supporters such as Cinna and Haymitch along the way too. And let's not forget Peeta, Peeta is such an excellent role model for kids to follow. He truly has Katniss' back as she becomes the face of the rebellion.

    This story is not about the hunger games themselves. That is just the sad and very shocking premise, that prompts Katniss to step forward and in this lone act, her life changes forever.

    If I had to choose one word this movie stands for it is – bravery. Not the deaths!

    March 26, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • thinquer

      Bravery is the courage not to go along with the madness of killing. What if everyone in Panem were really brave and refused to kill? During World War II one Christian group refused to put on Hitler's uniform and kill with his army. It was Jehovah's Witnesses and some other brave individuals who also refused to go along with Hitler's madness. Now Hitler is gone and they are still spreading the message that you don't have to kill, even when people try to force you into it. "He who lives by the sword dies by the sword". Teach you children there is an alternative, even when the whole world is all going the wrong way.

      March 26, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • Mel23

      Thinquer, I can't help but point out that Hitler is gone not because of the pacifist, but because people who are willing to fight defended the ones who couldn't. Using the defeat of Hitler as an example of how pacifism wins is, well, quite silly.

      March 27, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  6. Brad

    Nobody told you to buy or read book or buy or watch movie. My free will brought me to read your stupid article so you deserve a stupid response. Go Pray...Your an idiot...

    March 26, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • Jeremy

      "you're" learn to spell if you're going to call someone an idiot.

      March 26, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • Lee


      March 26, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • Matt

      I think you using the wrong your was God slapping you in the face with reality.

      March 26, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      HIGH 5 to Jeremy and Lee for correcting the English.

      March 26, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
  7. Sarah

    The author personally came across as making the point that action on issues such as violence is needed more than the common 'sit and watch/be served' seen much in our technology-driven world. If that is indeed her point, I agree that we can take the same passion for the plots of such movies for similar real-world events, I just don't understand how after watching The Hunger Games she invites the audience not too watch it.

    March 26, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  8. J R Brown

    As an atheist, I find this woman to be a superb example of how clueless Christians are to the tenets of their own faith.

    Maybe she should be writing articles on whether Jesus would take her to see the movie or whether He would think there are more important things she should be doing with her time.

    March 26, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • Sarah

      You're being stereotypical, most Christians don't think that way

      March 26, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • tony

      Most Christian's don't think. Otherwise they'd be agnostic or atheist (as they were born to be).

      March 26, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  9. Adrian

    Thos article started interesting, and then like most conversations with Christians they somehow manage to twist a conversation having nothing to do with religion and making it about religion.

    March 26, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  10. JoJo

    What if? Yes, what if Christians actually believed in the teachings of the Prince of Peace regarding violence (e.g., blessed are the peacemakers, turn the other cheek, love your enemies, he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword, forgiveness, etc. etc.), not just in his divinity. If they had and had spoken out against the falsely justified, unnecessary holocaust in Iraq, instead of enthusiastically supporting it, for one thing, I might still be a Christian myself today and not abandoned it as hypocritical nonsense.

    "The concept of preventive war does not appear in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. ……There were NOT sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. ……It was right to resist the war.” Pope Benedict XVI

    “It is essential not to lose sight of the moral dimension of war. ……..The War in Iraq did not even come close to satisfying the requirements of a just war.” Ron Paul.

    March 26, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  11. MIke

    Really what is this? If I wanted someones christian views of a movie I would go to Pat Robertson website or that piece of shiz foxnews... CNN I have higher expectations.

    March 26, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
  12. thecollegeadmissionsguru


    March 26, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  13. wonderwall

    "Battle Royale" it's a movie.

    March 26, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • battle royale

      it's a BETTER movie, and it came first.

      March 26, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  14. Machiavelli

    And the Games continue from the Roman Empire to us, distracted and entertained with no thought of what is really going on in our world. It doesn't make a damn bit of difference whether it is some movie, TV, computer games or MMA !!! Ii is easier to "tune in" to alternate realities rather than deal with the real world. Sic Glorium Transit Mundi !

    March 26, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • clayton

      "glorium" isn't proper latin. I think you meant "gloria". Minor detail though just for future reference.

      March 26, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  15. Me

    This article is called a "Jesus Juke" where you're just having a normal conversation and they bring in something about your spiritual life and make you ashamed of something. I try not to do that.

    March 26, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • jm

      it's your choice whether to be ashamed or not. the writer doesn't seem to be asking anyone to feel guilty. she's posing a question – what if? (what if we actually practiced the religion we claim to be a part of?)

      March 26, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
  16. District-sympathizer

    Think of the parallels between modern-day society and the one created in the Collins trilogy. Think of the 99%, being us, working schmoes, and the 1% being the uber-rich, Wall Street speculators, corporate CEOs with their billions. Take it a step further and think of what might happen if the Earth was decimated by famine, global-warming and other devastating events. Might not the 1% band together to enslave the rest of us, using fear and intimidation (trademarked by the Republicans in recent years) to keep us in line, starving us, and "reaping" our children as a means of control? Therein lies the fascination with this trilogy; its frightening plausibility.

    March 26, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Sarcastro

      Think of this as another tween movie with a theme that's been beaten to death (Series 7, Battle Royal, etc, etc, etc...)

      March 26, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • Fox

      Seriously? Is everything political?

      March 26, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • Fox News

      Everything is sensational. That we report, anyway. Nothing else matters.

      March 26, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • WASP

      @DS: i would say your idea has merit; however one flaw. if the world experienced a global event, the 1% money would mean nothing. the 99% or less that know how to hunt,trap and grow their own food would be in demand. migratory tribes would spring up to follow food until a sustainable place could be found to root and grow again, if ever. plus most humans would be dead in almost all earth consuming situations in a year or so. mainly due to starvation. so t.v. and movies make things look pretty when if anything happens to our lovely blue and green marble, we're all screwed.

      March 26, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • Message to Fox

      Fox, it is clear you didn't read the books. The books are political. The story chronicles attempts to rebuild society after an apocalyptic event with two very different views of how best to do that. It is a scathing criticism of the use of power and fear to keep people in control, of greed, of violence both directly and through policies that starve people and finally of a society trying to enforce fairness through intrusive control and loss of freedom. It seems to me that most of the people posting either haven't read the books or haven't thought much about their meaning. Read what Collins says about her inspirations.

      March 26, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
  17. Me

    The last Indy movie sucked.

    March 26, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  18. Sarcastro

    So does the grand spiritual movement of this film cancel out the fact that Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull made me realize there is no God?

    March 26, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • Travis Griggs

      If you used a movie to decide that either there was/is a God or that there isn't one, I feel sorry for you either way.

      March 26, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  19. David

    Great More Religion Shoved Down My Throat. I Thought This Was Something Interesting About A Great Book And A Pretty Good Movie. As for the "still-incredibly-disturbing violence" What Crap! I Few Sprays Of Fake Blood? Give Me A Break! Let Me Just Say This...God Is Not Judgmental Right? He Loves Everyone Right? Then I'm Pretty Sure God Would Allow Story Telling In All Forms, Including Movies About Kids Killing Kids As Long As It Has A Message About Living Right At The End. Lets Get Off Our Moral High Horse Here And Realize Believing In God Does NOT Give You The Right To Dictate What God Would And Wouldn't Do/Say/Believe/Condemn. The Great Thing About God, Is Its YOUR Journey To Find Him If You Choose To. YOUR JOURNEY! Which Means I Don't Wanna Hear About It.

    March 26, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  20. Ernest

    I see this article as having no point. It goes in a circle and merely tries to get us to think about things. But ultimately there is no provocation here. There is nothing to make us think about. The Games are depicted as a horrible atrocity that can be overcome by the protest of a few people which will ultimately snowball into mass rebellion. One person can make a difference and start a revolution. That is the point. The point is not to make you watch some horrible murder of children unfold, it's to get you invested into a story that will ultimately force you to think about rebelling against that which you know is wrong, despite the odds. Katniss is almost a messiah in her own right, not quite Christ-like, but she risks her life to save Peeta's life and ultimately do the right thing against all odds knowing she full well could be assassinated in her sleep by the Capitol.

    March 26, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
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