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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. Todd E.

    I think it's a big stretch to analogize this movie/book and our remembrances of Christ's suffering and sacrifice.

    March 26, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  2. QS

    "...to become people who protest against injustices in the hopes of transforming them."

    If this is what Christians are doing, I haven't seen it. What I see is Christians creating false injustices based on their own dogma which they then try to use as justification for "transforming" the country and world to fit their views.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • Dwight

      Some yes, but not all. I regret that that's the only side you have seen though.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • QS

      I regret that others don't see it enough.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  3. milo

    what exactly is the point of this article and all the comments that followed? hilarious nonsense, if nothing else. thankfully the article was shorter than a movie. phew.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • slp

      The only revelation that I gain from reading these articles and comments is that most CNN readers are seriously ADD.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  4. Farooq Khan

    Borrrrrrringgggggggg!!!!

    March 26, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  5. James

    Its a movie. Don't look so deep into something made for entertainment and profit to find "mening". If you want "menaing", look at nature, or inside yourself. Are we really in a world so lacking of inspiration and "meaning" that we think we see it in movies like this?

    March 26, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  6. bm

    This move was great! I was impressed by how well they stayed true to the book! I can't wait for the next two movies, they are bound to make them with how well this one did in the theater! Just the right mix of action. suspense, drama, and romance! My husband and daughter (pre-teen) liked it just as much as I did!

    March 26, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  7. Richard Conn Henry

    I haven't seen a movie and years and don't have a TV. I read old Agatha Christies, and I recommend it.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  8. peter

    wasted time in a movie theater...

    March 26, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  9. Michael in Houston

    ya know...I read your article over and over and I STILL dont understand your point. I saw the movie yesterday and thought it was excellent. Its a great story, with deep conflict, good vs bad, haves and have nots, great effects and superb performances. It was entertaining and enjoyed thoroughly by everyone in the theater I was at. What point your trying to make here totally escapes me.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  10. Zues

    You want to watch the "Real" Hunger Games? Take a trip to East Africa !!!!

    March 26, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  11. What is your point Author?

    I don't really understand the purpose of this article. Is this to say that the christian religion has anything to do with this movie? Or are you trying to drum up readers by forcefully relating the hunger games to christianity?

    March 26, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  12. Johnnnn

    Terrible movie, far, far, far below Potter, Narnia, and the Lord of the Rings as adaptations...terrible

    March 26, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • bm

      Amazingly good movie! Stayed very true to the books!

      March 26, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • LoveHungerGames

      loved the movie

      March 26, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  13. Concerned in Cleveland

    Isn't this a movie about teenage girls and eating disorders?

    March 26, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • rosie

      No that would be a better movie.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  14. rosie

    Oh for the love of all things......intelligent. This is a load of crap, and that is my opinion.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  15. abaddon

    Danielle, STFU.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Orwell seen it before

      What is wrong abaddon? Got anger issues when somebody says something you don't like or understand? Beat up your mother lately?

      March 26, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • What is your point Author?

      YOU ARE OUT OF YOUR ELEMENT!

      March 26, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  16. Orwell seen it before

    Still puking after seeing Mel Gibson and Mad Max, or was it the Waterworld trailer?

    Pass on another post demise-of-civilization movie where the depraved are masters and the message is nothing.

    Unfortunately people pleasure watching the suffering of others, rather than solve real world problems like nuclear proliferation, health, poverty or climate change.

    Fist fight and a stabbing to get the merchandising at the front, can't be late for church.
    Protesting government corruption, not my problem politicians will fix it.
    $30000 dollar dress at the oscars, fabulous. $1/day for 300million people, not my concern.
    Critical thinking, too hard. Got to go, Rollerball is starting.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • ghost

      @orwell, what meaningless drivel.

      March 26, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  17. billf

    what an idiot.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  18. Ernie

    It was a great movie adapted from a great book by a phenomenal author. The blog is silly, unfollowable psychobabble. From an Episcopal priest, no less. I should've pan(em)ed it...

    March 26, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  19. Jared

    I understand what you are trying to say, but there is a reason that two of the major sections of libraries are called fiction and non-fiction.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • rosie

      LOL, nice one.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  20. Paul

    Saw the movie today. Too much hype and too little story. I was not impressed.

    March 26, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Rando

      Couldnt agree more. I thought it was boring and dry, with a terrible story.

      March 26, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • tai

      Maybe ya'll should read the actual story...in the book!!!

      March 26, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • burnz

      Tai, they didn't read the bible (they saw the passion) that they believe so whole heartedly, why woudl they read Hunger Games?

      March 26, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • Eric

      The movie alone isn't that great. Pretty much everything that made the book fantastic (the characterizations, emotions, struggles, etc) is lost in the adaptation because they have to squeeze in so much. The moves keep the main plot points, but the books are necessary to understand what makes the story so great. Think of the movie as a supplement to the book rather than as a standalone movie and it is fantastic. It does a great job bringing the main parts to life while the person watching can fill in the blanks with the knowledge of the book.

      March 26, 2012 at 5:03 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.