Finally – a Dystopian Movie I Loved

Hunger Games

My daughters enjoy movies like "The Hunger Games," "Divergent," and "Maze Runner." We've seen all three "Hunger Games" movies – with one more to go. I finally finished the last Hunger Games book on my trip to Corinth and I didn't enjoy how the series ended at all. It was a huge disappointment.  

Divergent

I've never liked fantasy or science fiction very much. I enjoyed "Lord of the Rings" but didn't love them (which makes me feel guilty among some devoted fans). I've never seen one Star Wars movie (which I could blame on not being allowed to go to movies growing up, but I still haven't seen one of them). Basically, I don't love watching movies where something is totally impossible and infeasible. A movie loses me at that point (although I did enjoy Harry Potter quite a bit, I suppose). But for the most part, I've never been a big fan of fantasy or science fiction. And I assumed that is why I also didn't enjoy these dystopian-type movies.

Maze Runner

I also knew that I didn't like them because there was no worldview to them. Often, movies can have some semblance of a biblical worldview even if they don't realize it. But those movies don't seem to. (Although I'm speaking particularly of "The Hunger Games" because I've read the entire series. I have no idea how the other series end.) 

All that to say – I wasn't surprised that I didn't love the movies that have been plentiful and popular – like The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Maze Runner. I supposed I enjoyed the first two movies in The Hunger Games more than the third or the other two movies I mentioned, but I was always unsettled. 

Recently I read a positive Christian review about a movie called "The Giver." I had no idea it was the same genre as the other movies. I assumed it was about generosity. But once I checked it out of the library, my youngest told me that it was the basis of all the other movies with a dystopian theme. (If dystopian is a new word… just think of the opposite of utopian society. It could literally be translated, "not a good place.")

The Giver

Well, surprising to myself and my daughter, I loved "The Giver." If you have been a bit mystified by the movies I've listed or didn't enjoy them – I would encourage you to watch "The Giver." 

Here are three main differences that I noticed in "the Giver" compared to other dystopian movies:

  • There is a clear darkness and light – right and a wrong. And those going along with the wrong aren't even aware they are blinded. They just can't see. Something must happen to them so they can see clearly. There are wonderful biblical themes there. 
  • Right is found outside of ourselves – not in ourselves. With the other movies, it seems that hope is found in the young. And they don't have a basis for that morality – it is just somehow in them and not in anyone else. "The Giver" doesn't claim that God is that morality-giver, but you can tell that right is found outside of the darkness (or black and white) that everyone is living in. In movies, I always want to know where the hero gets their morality from. And in the movies I listed above, it is almost always a young teenager who has morality that no one else seems to possess. There is something bothersome about that to me.
  • There is hope. And hope is found outside of yourself. I haven't read the Divergent or Maze Runner books – so maybe hope will show up, but so far – I don't see it. And The Hunger Games was terrible when it came to the theme of finding hope outside of ourselves. 

 If you haven't seen it – watch "The Giver" and tell me what you think.

8 comments
  1. I was disappointed in the “The Hunger Games” as well. I like science fiction and fantasy, but Hunger Games set up an unbelievable world and structure that has to fail and is no surprise that it does, and Katniss is just a horrible person which doesn’t come across in the movies because Jennifer Lawrence is likable. I haven’t read Divergent or Maze Runner but what I have read I get the same feeling. Maybe I should check out “The Giver”

  2. The Giver is very new in the dystopia genre (early 90s). Sometime in middle school I had to read a few and I loved them… I ended up reading a whole bunch of the classics (Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Childhood’s End). The genre was at its strongest from the 20s through the 50s.

    I think, if you read them, you’d find MUCH stronger worldviews in some of the older ones. Those books were often written to criticize current events by portraying the “logical end” of those current events — i.e. what will the world look like if we head down this path? So they often are hypercritical of some ideological idea (fascism, communism, socialism, imperialism, etc). They are fascinating.

    The difference between those and what we are seeing today (Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Divergent) becomes a little more clear when we consider that these modern versions are classified under “Young Adult” literature. Instead of using a character rebelling against a broken caricature of our culture to make commentary on that culture, the novels focus on the characters themselves.

    That’s why we see those novels focus on finding hope in the main protagonist. The “young adult finding their way in the world” trope is strong in these stories. They usually find some hidden talent, knowledge, strength, or bravery that they didn’t know they had (and others don’t possess). I think the reinvention of this genre invites young adults to feel unique and powerful — it almost definitely speaks to a broken worldview and gives us a glimpse into the kind of egocentric culture we live in.

    When I read through the older books in the genre (it’s been a while), I was always amazed as the common theme that ran through them, NO MATTER what point the author was trying to prove. They all seemed to agree that humanity was very broken — that even our very best attempts to create a perfect system would inevitably fail (either because a system created by humans would be naturally broken or bent, or because broken or bent individuals with an agenda, like “pursuit of free will”, would come along and break something beautiful). I always read those stories as retellings of the tower of Babel — and I would try to figure out where the author was aiming with their tower (essentially, who was God for them?).

    It makes me sad that you don’t like science fiction much. I would recommend C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy if you want to see it from a different angle. They are fascinating and read more like allegories set in the present. (The second one, Perelandra, imagines the character arriving on Venus while God sets up that planet’s “Adam and Eve” — and he must engage with the antagonist and explore morality pre-fall. It’s fascinating!)

  3. Hi David,

    I actually do enjoy the dystopian themed movies, but even more so, the books. If anyone had asked me to predict which of the more recent ones would resonate with Christians, I certainly would pick The Giver. I have not yet seen this movie but I really enjoyed the book and highly recommend it! I agree about the Hunger Games books… the ending of the series drags on and then falls flat. However. Although there seems to be an absence of what you might call a “Biblical Worldview”, I can see great merit in examining the characters and how they respond to events. Hunger Games can inspire great conversation starters, with teens especially; provoking questions like “can you recognize elements of modern American culture among the people of the Capital?” or “How should Christians respond under unfair or abusive rule/authority?” While the specifics of a story may not hold water, the theme and the character development can almost always pique my interest. šŸ™‚

  4. I haven’t seen a Star Wars Movie either…for a lot of the same reasons as you (not the not allowed thing). At this point, I feel it’s too late to give in just to say I saw them.

    My favorite part of your blog: “Basically, I don’t love watching movies where something is totally impossible and infeasible.”

    –David Whiting (favorite Christmas movie?? ELF)

  5. My husband took an elective class in college on literature and film that followed the dystopian theme (and I took took the class vicariously). One book that I’d definitely recommend you read is Walter M. Miller’s “A Canticle for Leibowitz.” It’s one of my favorites, and it’s very unique. I think you would find it interesting and enjoy the themes that run throughout. (Josh, I recommend it for you too! Let me know if you like it.)

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