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During a screening of The Hunger Games two weekends ago, a clearly agitated guest walked out of Parmer Cinema. I could hear from the hallway that the film was at the point where the bloodbath at the cornucopia reached its frenzied climax and the Games began in earnest. "That's not my idea of entertainment," she said. "It's terrible."
I was caught off guard because the film had been out long enough that I didn't think the content would be a surprise to anyone. I also have to admit I took it somewhat personally, being the person who chooses the films and hopes that they'll be generally accepted and well attended. I never want anyone to hate a film I spend a great deal of time (sometimes months) wondering over. On the other hand, I was glad; once I un-bristled, the response that came to mind was, "Well, good, because I never want these films to be just entertainment."
And that is the mission of Lost Films.
A lot of thought goes into what ends up printed on a schedule or announced on Facebook each semester. Research, deliberation, weighing, adding, removing, adding again. The final product is a labor of love specifically designed to offer an experience of which the film is just a small part. SAB's mission statement contains four criteria that are applied while deciding who or what to introduce to Messiah College’s campus: artistic merit, cultural relevance, truth communicated, and appropriateness. Obviously, each component cannot be contained equally within every film, band, or artist we bring, but we do strive for balance. Sometimes one area weighs heavily enough that it balances out the lack of another.
With The Hunger Games, for example, the truth communicated and cultural relevance within the film (as well as the books) caused me to include it in our lineup despite potentially offensive content. I was willing to risk offense for the hope that people would not merely be entertained by the film but also engage with it. It was incredibly appropriate that the woman's response was revulsion at teenagers killing one another for "sport" since the film itself is a commentary on society's tendency to celebrate the profane. Author Suzanne Collins constructed a world where it is not inconceivable that adults should become immune to such horrors. If we watched The Hunger Games and were not appalled by it on some level, wouldn’t we be just as guilty as citizens of the Capitol in all their excess and finery? Isn't this happening on some level today while entire nations ignore atrocities like human trafficking (the end product being pleasure) or child labor (the end product being cheap clothing for the rest of us)? Though the Colosseum is a ruin and gladiators historical footnotes, humanity is not far removed from that particular brand of brutality.
Whether or not you are a fan of The Hunger Games, the truth it communicates about human nature is more relevant than ever. It is intentionally provocative for purposes of reflection. It is possible, however, to react to the wrong things or focus too much on singular elements out of context, missing the point entirely. The challenge, then, is to not merely be entertained; in fact, I wish that everyone would refuse passive entertainment absolutely. I implore you instead to be moved, to think, to ask what the director/writer/singer/actor meant when they placed their product in front of you and said, "Consume this." Do not trust blindly; do not reject on principle.
Why is it important to avoid these pitfalls? Because people are fatally flawed. We are often panicky, selfish, pleasure seeking, and proud. We abuse one another to ensure our own comfort; those in power get carried away; we naturally take the path of least resistance. History has shown that left to our own devices people will make poor judgments. When we're deliberately cruel, we often redefine the word; when we're well meaning, wrongdoing still is perpetrated. "Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it." This is not a threat as much as it is fact – one from which every generation is confident they are immune but prove ultimately to be scarcely different from the rest.
The cure for this insanity is neither willful ignorance nor careful apathy but intentional, measured participation by people who refuse to be passively entertained. By watching or reading something like The Hunger Games (or Harry Potter, Fringe, Looper, Blade Runner, To Kill a Mockingbird, etc.) and allowing yourself to be moved by it, you open yourself up to growth. There is no stronger catalyst for change than an uncomfortable idea that forces you to justify its existence. Only then can a person expect to relate to anyone different from himself or herself.
I later learned that the woman who walked out has a teenage son. He stayed in the theater with his dad for the remainder of the film and the three of them spoke animatedly afterwards about what I imagine to be a difference of opinion regarding appropriate family time. I was struck with the thought that she probably imagined her son in such a harrowing scenario – him having to kill peers in a do-or-die situation. Admittedly, not a pleasant thought for any parent. It added another dimension to her dismissal of the film: that even poignant cultural commentary couldn't override raw emotion. Experience can be a powerful simplifier. Her judgment of the film might have been an extreme one, but it was based in personal experience that, despite any number of valuable or “correct” messages, caused it not to be worth her time; and caused me to reevaluate an aspect of culture I hadn’t considered.
Be a thinker rather than a consumer. Do not settle for mere entertainment.