Across America, our eyes are locked on Hunger Games. Two new fantasies are debuting, Wrath of the Titans and Mirror Mirror, but media experts predict the Games will continue as the biggest spectacle. One reason: Fans are going back again. To conclude our coverage, veteran faith-and-film writer Edward McNulty returns for a second viewing and shares an even bigger list of must-see “dystopian” movies.
JUST CATCHING UP?
Here’s our earlier Hunger Games Coverage at a glance:
TWILIGHT-EXPERT JANE WELLS: Movie review of Hunger Games. AND: Hunger Games vs. Twilight.
Spiritual Wanderer RODNEY CURTIS: Why “dystopia” is my favorite word. AND: Mom may hate it!
EDWARD McNULTY: How to spark a great Hunger Games discussion. AND: What’s a movie “dystopia”?
Second Thoughts on Hunger Games
By EDWARD McNULTY
WARNING: Spoiler alert. If you haven’t seen the movie, jump to the next section, below …
A second viewing of the film version of Suzanne Collins’ book brought into clearer focus for me the subplot concerning those responsible for the Games. As I wrote previously, the film includes more scenes involving President Snow and Gamemaker Seneca Cranethan than the book does. An important sequence is the one in which Haymitch, worried that his ward Katniss will be killed because she evinces a note of rebelliousness, convinces head Gamemaker Seneca that she should be spared because she and Peeta are underdogs and the public roots for the underdog.
Seneca talks with President Snow in his rose garden, and the latter is disdainful of the concept of underdog. He asks the Gamemaker, “Do you know why we hold the Games?” He cynically explains that the Games instill hope in the masses and thus keeps them submissive. However too much hope can be dangerous. Like a spark, it must be contained, lest it break into flame. The President’s displeasure with the way the current Games turn out leads to that brief scene in which Seneca is conducted by guards to a chamber where he finds a bowl of berries that will not promote his good health. Adding that to the filmmakers’ invention of the scene in which District 11, led by Rue’s father, break out in a riot against the Peacekeepers—and we are ready for a sequel. President Snow, like the shrewd politician that he is, is correct in perceiving in his new victors a dangerous spark that must be contained.
A NOTE TO CHRISTIAN VIEWERS: I should also add that as a Christian I found it unfortunate that Suzanne Collins shared the belief, fostered erroneously by so many science fiction writers, that the church is just another human institution that will die away if our civilization should be destroyed. There is no sign in the book of any form of religious practice or institution, Christian or otherwise, that opposes the barbaric games in the way that the Christians stood up and condemned the ancient Roman gladiatorial games. Because of this neglect, I felt that the world otherwise so graphically created by Ms. Collins was not a complete one. And yet I know that I will be watching this movie another time—and enjoying it.
THE “NEXT SECTION” …
Seven More Great Dystopian Movies
Following up on Edward McNulty’s earlier list of great dystopian movies, here are 7 more:
Possibly one of the best sci-fi films ever made, certainly any made by director Ridley Scott, and of all the host of movies made from a Phlip K. Dick story. The film is set on a future earth where it always seems to be raining. Most people who are able already have left the overcrowded planet. Harrison Ford is Deckard, a “blade runner,” a cop trained to run down and kill any replicants, androids created and programmed to work as slaves in the mines and other dangerous places on the outer planets. Several do escape, slaughtering a number of humans, and head for earth in order to find their maker. The replicants want their maker to extend their four-year life spans. Facing this challenge, Deckard is forced out of retirement to hunt them down. He apparently has retired because he realizes that he is becoming dehumanized in his work, whereas with each new generation androids, the replicants are becoming more human. The movie has prompted a multiude of interpretations, including debates about the way it ends (and multiple endings exist in various versions of the film). The film might have been made 30 years ago, but its special effects are still an eye-catching source of wonder, and its characters are far more rounded than those in most sci-fi films. More than a nail-biting thriller, Blade Runner raises lots of questions about humanity and the automated culture we continue to build in our quest for a better life.
CHILDREN OF MEN
The film is set in 2027 England where chaos reigns and humans have not been able to procreate for 18 years. Everyone lives in fear, except for a few of the wealthy or those able to find refuge in some overlooked section of the country. Europe and Africa have collapsed, their citizens trying to immigrate to Britain, but when they are caught, they are rounded up and placed in overcrowded detention camps. Central character Theo has tried to settle down into a bureaucratic government job, but his former wife Julian, still an activist, recruits him to escort a young pregnant woman named Kee to the coast through warring factions so that she can be smuggled out of the country. The goal apparently is a colony of scientists to whom she might be useful in their research to restore fertility to the human race. Hunting Theo and Kee are a brutal bunch who want to capture and use the woman and her coming child for their own purposes.
PLANET OF THE APES
In the far future Charlton Heston’s George Taylor is one of three astronauts who survive a crash on a planet similar to Earth. They discover that the planet is inhabited by intelligent chimpanzees, who kill one of them and capture the others. Taylor’s throat is damaged, so at first he cannot communicate. His companion dies when ape scientists perform experimental brain surgery on him. These are humans, but they are savages compared to the apes and are allowed to exist only as slaves. How Taylor befriends a female chimpanzee, escapes and makes a startling discovery about the identity of the planet makes for exciting viewing, while raising such issues as animal rights, religious differences, creationism vs. evolution and more.
In what has become a cult film, Keanu Reeves plays Neo a computer hacker who is introduced by a group of rebels led by Morpheus and told that his seemingly real world is the construct of machines. In the midst of a devastated wasteland they keep the bodies of humans in a suspended form so that they can use their heat and energy. The minds of the humans are imprisoned in the artificial reality known as the Matrix. Neo is given the choice of becoming the One who will lead the revolution against the machines or returning to his old humdrum way of life. Red Pill or Blue Pill?
The dystopia in this intriguing 1998 film is not some political tyranny, but a black-and-white blandness that robs life of its vitality. In what can be seen as an attack on TV culture itself, the story features the TV-loving David and his more adventurous sister Jennifer who are mysterious transported into a TV series set in the 1950s. Once they are stuck inside this retro-TV world, they seem to have it all: loving parents and a crime-free society. But everything is in black and white. When Jennifer ventures to introduce changes, the residents resist. Eventually, intolerant citizens threaten violence—until at last the town is far from the utopia intended by its name.
In this powerful film pleading for tolerance amidst the raging controversy over illegal immigrants, South Africa’s old Apartheid is replaced by a new one directed at real aliens. A large space ship of extraterrestrials fleeing from tyranny in their own civilization landed 28 years earlier at Johannesburg. At first, they were accepted kindly. But, by the time the film opens, they have been branded as “Prawns” and relegated to what amounts to one of the old black townships. A giant munitions corporation, which is contracted to remove the Prawns to a district far from any urban area, has placed Wikus van der Merwe in charge of the project. Soon, this otherwise mild-mannered civil servant finds himself transformed in shocking ways until he becomes an advocate for the aliens.
THE BOOK OF ELI
In this post-apocalyptic tale Denzil Washington is Eli, a lone man transporting an important book cross country. The ruthless boss of a town in the Southwest tries to take the book because of its power over the minds of people. The book, we gradually discover, is the Bible—the words of which have inspired people to great deeds. Eli’s martial skills and determination lead him to risk his life many times in order to deliver it into the safe keeping of a remaining outpost of civilization in California.
The above are but a few of the science fiction dystopias available on DVD. Also deserving of mention are Minority Report, Gattaca, Solyent Green, the Mad Max films, and a Japanese film that I have not seen but that some film writers claim was an inspiration for Hunger Games: Battle Royale.
Also news this weeekend:
Before there was Hunger Games, there was a Battle Royale
Care to read more from Edward McNulty?
- Read Ed McNulty’s earlier series in ReadTheSpirit: TOP 10 JESUS MOVIES!
- Another series for ReadTheSpirit: ‘THE HELP’ and more movies on the civil rights struggle
- GET THE BOOK: Ed McNulty has written three books of reflections on movies that are great for sparking spirited small-group discussion. Praying the Movies, available via Amazon, includes McNulty’s look at Star Wars, Schindler’s List and Pulp Fiction. Praying the Movies II: More Daily Meditations from Classic Films, includes McNulty’s reflections on Gandhi, It’s a Wonderful Life, Harry Potter and O Brother, Whereart Thou? Faith and Film: A Guidebook for Leaders, includes Amistad, Erin Brockovich, the Matrix and Shawshank Redemption.
- CHECK OUT HIS WEBSITE: Ed’s own website is Visual Parables.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.