Friday, April 20, 2012

Lessons from The Hunger Games and Battle Royale

A number of years ago I did a companion piece where I saw two long movies on the same day, The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, recently I did the same thing, seeing two similarly themed movies on the same day, the current blockbuster The Hunger Games and the Japanese horror classic released in 2000 of which The Hunger Games has often been compared to, Battle Royale. While there are many common traits to the films, the violence involving children is the overwhelming theme that has drawn the attention of many. In both movies there are games which are held which entails young children and teens entering into a competition which has them killing each other, with a single survivor declared ‘the winner.’
 Battle Royale over the years has received both acclaim and disdain. The film based off of the 1999 novel by the same name written by Koushun Takami was directed by the late legend Kinji Fukasaku. The film a top 10 all-time blockbuster hit in Japan is a thought provoking, yet horrific story. There are times the film is gory and a unique characteristic of the film is the occasional comedic moments. The action is virtually non stop and personally if doing a comparison between the more contemporary The Hunger Games and Battle Royale, I enjoyed Battle Royale more, that isn’t intending to take away from The Hunger Games as it is a quality movie but I can see why Quentin Tarantino stated that Battle Royale is his favorite movie of recent, stating: “If there’s any movie that’s been made since I’ve been making movies that I wish I had made, it’s that one." This grind house type of film is filled with meaning and graphic, horrific images.

To See Tarantino’s list of his top 20 movies, including his top movie Battle Royale, click on the following video.

If the video doesn’t appear, click on the following link:

To see the trailer for Battle Royale, click on the following video, if the video doesn’t appear, click on the following link:

Meanwhile, The Hunger Games is the 3rd largest opening feature film, and the largest non sequel opening film of all time. Based on the 2008 book by the same name by Suzanne Collins, the movie takes place in a post apocalyptic future where there are 12 districts. There is a random lottery draw which has a young child or teen male and female from each district compete in a nationally televised game where the contestants fight until the death.

The Hunger Games is well filmed, well acted and deserving of the studio hype and success it has received. The comparison between Battle Royale and The Hunger Games are well known. While many critics are critical of The Hunger Games for its apparent similarities to Battle Royale, I don’t think the comparisons end there, most notably, in many ways, the theme of violence among children go back even further than these two films. The film that comes to mind for me is the classic The Lord of the Flies, first published in 1954 and turned to film in 1963. While there are abundant similarities between The Hunger Games and Battle Royale, there are thematic similarities with other works including The Lord of The Flies. To provide negative commentary towards The Hunger Games for the lack of creativity is a little disingenuous as it is likely the themes that come about from these movies are rooted deeper in history than many want to give credit for.

 Click on the following video to watch the complete original movie, The Lord of the Flies, if the video has issues or doesn’t appear, click on the following link:

Click on the following video to watch the trailer from The Hunger Games, if the video has issues or doesn’t appear, click on the following link:

With the popularity of The Hunger Games and Battle Royale in particular, one begs to ask the question, why are these themes so prevalent?

Let me state first off, this is my opinion and represents my opinion, it doesn’t represent the views of Hollywood Jesus or others, but the concepts have caused me to ponder, are there underlying themes these films, and others like them address that we can learn from?

An amazing point of interest between these films is the youth audience that is supporting them. Not just these movies and/or books though, but others with dark themes involving youth.

One of the mistakes I think adults often make is that these themes are unique for the youth of the day, they aren’t. There have always been dark themes that youth have adapted and grasped for virtually each generation. I was drawn to The Lord of The Flies and the fight for survival. While not quite the same story stylistically, it has many similar traits and themes. There is the theme of rebellion, and survival, mixed in with a perspective of a society that cares little about the youth of the specific generation. This attitude is not only represented in story via movies and books, it has also been presented in other media such as music.

To see this theme in two popular videos from different eras click on the videos below, if the videos don’t appear, appears distorted or there is trouble, click on the links:

I am convinced, one of the reasons youth from around the world are drawn to themes as are presented in The Hunger Games and Battle Royale are because of what they perceive is the lack of respect, love and attention they deserve, thus producing a lack of hope. While there are horrific events that take place in these two movies in particular, they take place at the hands, discretion and direction of the adults in the story. In both situations, it is the adults that are presented as the ‘bad guy.’ One thing of value we can learn from is that this view of adults abusing youth is nothing new. It is as is stated in Ecclesiastes; ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’ Unfortunately, the current generation may also be making the same mistake of previous generations, which is not giving, allowing, or seeking the wisdom that each generation of youth happens to need in order to mature. Some may argue this is a part of the maturing process, unfortunately, that future and hope with current world events may be harder to grasp than ever before. The continual news coverage of how we are spending our ‘children’s future’ or the discussions about the ‘end of the world’ whether it be the Mayan Calendar or Global Warming. Youth like never before are seeing homes foreclosed on and their parents dreams destroyed, as a result, many have little confidence in the ‘promise of the future.’ It is here that in some ways The Hunger Games excels. It excels in a little monologue given by Donald Sutherland as he discusses the power of hope.

Click on the following video to watch the trailer from The Hunger Games, if the video has issues or doesn’t appear, click on the following link:

One of the mistakes many people of faith make is they tend to judge without understanding. They either forget the difficulties in their own lives of growing up, or don’t fully understand the plight and difficulty of the realities in today’s world, or for reason of convenience in their own lives, or ignorance, they simply don’t understand or care. There is another tragedy though, that is that the youth in need of hope also often ignore the reality of the potential, and possibility of hope and of where it is discovered. It is here that I have come to my own conclusions in life. My constant need that I haven’t lost sight of at this point in my life is the place I have found hope.

In regards to hope we can see the message and desire for it goes back thousands of years, here is an indication of a cry by King David in the book of Psalms:

Psalm 61:1-2 Contemporary English Version (CEV) ~ (1) Please listen, God, and answer my prayer! (2) I feel hopeless, and I cry out to you from a faraway land. Lead me to the mighty rock high above me. 

Yet for many, while there has been a cry for hope, there have also been answers to that cry for hope that can also be seen in The Bible.

Acts 2:25-27 Contemporary English Version (CEV) ~ (25) What David said are really the words of Jesus, “I always see the Lord near me, and I will not be afraid with him at my right side. (26) Because of this, my heart will be glad, my words will be joyful, and I will live in hope. (27) The Lord won’t leave me in the grave. I am his holy one, and he won’t let my body decay. 

Romans 5:3-5 Contemporary English Version (CEV) ~ (3) But that’s not all! We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. (4) And endurance builds character, which gives us a hope (5) that will never disappoint us. All of this happens because God has given us the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts with his love. 

Romans 15:12-13 Contemporary English Version (CEV) ~ (12) Isaiah says, “Someone from David’s family will come to power. He will rule the nations, and they will put their hope in him.” 

(13) I pray that God, who gives hope, will bless you with complete happiness and peace because of your faith. And may the power of the Holy Spirit fill you with hope.

Is there an answer or a directive that leads to the place one can discover the one who has given or provides a measure of hope? You bet there is, certainly within the Christian faith there is.

Titus 3:6-8 Contemporary English Version (CEV) ~ (6) God sent Jesus Christ our Savior to give us his Spirit. 

 (7) Jesus treated us much better than we deserve. He made us acceptable to God and gave us the hope of eternal life. 

(8) This message is certainly true. 

These teachings are useful and helpful for everyone. I want you to insist that the people follow them, so that all who have faith in God will be sure to do good deeds. 

There is no doubt that there is a search for hope that exists, certainly a search that exists among the youth of today’s generation. While all youthful generations have been on this search, we have to honestly ask, are we as adults contributing today to the lack of hope? Are we in fact, that much different than the adults in Battle Royale and The Hunger Games? The sad thing is, it is clear, the message of hope isn’t being presented in the ways it should, if it were, we wouldn’t see the epidemic of hopelessness we do. The box office successes of such films as Battle Royale and now, The Hunger Games wouldn’t have the youth appeal in the masses that it does. An indication of the failure of many within Christian circles is the mass evacuation from the church that is occurring among most youth. Barna research indicates that as many as 75% of all youth leave the church and don’t return after High School. The search for God, the desire for hope is not unique amongst Christians though, it is a constant for all religious groups due to the attitudes, and events existing in today’s world.

There are many factors one can look at, from the home family unit and its apparent break up to the economic and political events of the world. It certainly doesn’t take long for one to discover the hypocrisy that exists in today’s world on issues of all type, not just within the church, but within society as a whole. There is also the lack of believable answers that are presented and apparently likely exist to the youth searching for hope. For those within the church, it could be the concept of turning the church into a social club as opposed to a body of believers that address social issues and providing the hope expressed in their belief systems of serving a Savior who has given direction in specific areas, like serving the poor and needy, the orphan and the widow. It could be the emphasis placed on governments as opposed to faith and even worse, faiths that have been polluted with a political emphasis as opposed to a spiritual hope. There is no doubt, hopelessness exists, not just amongst adults, but unfortunately a large percentage of youth who haven’t even entered into the early stages of adulthood and in many situations, I can’t help but believe, it is the adults that have contributed to this.

Movies like The Hunger Games and Battle Royale can give us insight into the attitudes within society. Movies can be, and often are, far more than a few hours of entertainment either at home or the local cinema. They are reflections on society which we can learn from. Of course if learning there is an implication that we will work to change negative societal concepts that exist, whether as a society that rules by force and places an emphasis on the elite, or a society that takes away the hope of individuals who has yet made valuable contributions to others with the strengths that only they have. In that regard we can all learn from the success of movies like Battle Royale and The Hunger Games. They are more than movies about a violent society, they are indications as to what our society is, and has become. I believe the discussion of those themes, and the answers to those problems are worthy discussion. For me as stated earlier, I have found that place of hope. It has taken me and multitudes of others beyond a religious belief system, but to a way of life. A way of life that can be obtained by all, we don’t have to live in a cut throat world trying to take out our friends for survival, we can live in a world of peace, where ultimately, we discover the same hope, the same potential, the same tomorrow which will allow for individuality, and wholeness. It is up to some of us who are adults to be respectful, caring and loving enough to share and show that message, otherwise, maybe we are more like the adults in these movies than we realize, and that my friends, isn’t such a good place to be.

To see the video posted below, click on the video, if the video doesn’t appear or appears in distorted form, click on the following link:
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