Last week, I went to see a movie, and had a choice: "Hunger Games" or "October Baby"; with a little guilty conscience, I chose "Hunger Games" last week. Today I saw "October Baby."
I enjoyed them both. They are very different. Do they have anything in common?
Last week, after seeing "Hunger Games," I found myself thinking about the way so many books, films and other forms of entertainment bear a dystopian message. So it seems; is it just me, or do few films today present a hopeful view of the future? If it's not jst me, why is that?
Somewhere, I remember someone saying that what our fiction says to us is coming from our cultural subconscious: we tell truths in fiction we don't want to say more explicitly. I wish I could remember where I heard that now.
So what does "Hunger Games" say? And what does "October Baby" have in common with it?
I'm assuming you are familiar with the general outline of the "Hunger Games" stories--which I haven't read; it portrays a world similar to ours, but whether it is supposed to be our world, sometime in the future, is ambiguous. It's a world that deliberately echoes pagan Rome; there is no overt religious elements to the story; the utter absence of any religion is noteworthy. And, if you've googled "Hunger Games" by now, you know that there is a "bread and circuses" theme at work, complete with human beings forced to die in the arena.
Father Robert Barron wrote this at National Review and it got me thinking; I'll let you read his remarks rather than try to summarize them. But his thoughts remind me of how Flannery O'Connor used to speak of her Southern society being "Christ-haunted"; that's a good description of our culture, today. "Hunger Games"--the movie at least--is Christ-haunted.
So now to "October Baby." This is a "message" movie, which is fine, but I admit I'm leery of them; sometimes the creators lay it on pretty thick. I'll leave it to others to say if they go too far here, but I think not. I went over just now--in the midst of writing this--to see what "Rotten Tomatoes" had on this ("Rotten Tomatoes" is a website that does a great job aggregating both critics' and audience reactions to movies); no surprise the critics mostly panned it. I'll grant some of their criticisms are valid; the critiques might be summarized as, "not the right way to tell the story." OK, fine: but the fact remains that "lesser" lights are telling stories like this--and "Act of Valor" and "Courageous," two other recent movies the critics hated, which perhaps laid it on too thick, and yet are striking a chord. Is it possible our creative elite actually thinks the themes of valor, faith, courage, forgiveness aren't worth telling? Why can't they tell such stories? They must leave these stories to others?
In the midst of this, I'm reminded of a video I saw last week--perhaps some of you saw it too--of a debate between Cardinal George Pell and noted God-denying scientist Richard Dawkins. One of the points I took from Mr. Dawkins was that he thinks belief in God is foolish and unnecessary; the world alone, without God, is enough. He has little patience for people who persist in the delusion of believing God is real, and he mocks religious accounts of reality, such as the Bible, the story of Creation in Genesis, the story of the Incarnate God coming to save us through the Cross.
So...ok, Mr. Dawkins, explain this: how is it that the realistic folks such as you, who have shaken off the delusion of God, cannot match the beauty that comes along with all those pesky believers? Where are the athiests' cathedrals? Where are the works of art created by materialists? Give us stories! On a purely evolutionary, materialistic basis, you must admit humanity craves a compelling narrative; man wants the transcendentals: the true, the good and the beautiful. Man wants hope: if you are correct about reality--there is no God--then why must man look to religion for these things?
It reminds me of this scene from C.S. Lewis's "The Silver Chair":
“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a playworld which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.”
"October Baby" offers something the world of "Hunger Games" doesn't--or at least, not much: hope.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not finding fault with "Hunger Games." By all means, go: if only to see what a world without Christ looks like. And go see "October Baby" to see what difference Christ makes.
And if Christ is fake, then it's a remarkable thing when what is fake is better than what is real.
Viva Christo Rey!