“Catching Fire” is likely to be one of the biggest blockbusters of the year. There are an extraordinary number of things to discuss in this movie. It is filled to the brim with points of interest. Christians would do well to see it and reflect on some of these themes. I have drawn out a number of them below. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.
Early in the film, Katniss is hunting alongside Gale. They see some wild turkeys, Katniss draws her bow to fire, lets loose and hits… Marvel? Marvel was the young man she killed in the Hunger Games about a year before. How could he be here? How did he get shot? The screen pans in, and Katniss is hyperventilating, struggling to comprehend the horror she has just witnessed. But… it wasn’t real. She comes back to the present. The nightmare, however, is not over.
The film explores this issue in moving, distressing ways. Katniss seems to be dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The memory of the violence she has wrought has come back to haunt her. Later, she is confronted by the families of those who died in the Hunger Games that she and Peeta “won.” Her heart is broken. She wakes with nightmares. Violence… is horrific.
But you, in the audience, are forced to deal with another level of the drama: is Katniss to blame for this? Yes, she did kill; but she was forced to kill or be killed. The system dealt her the cards she is playing with: did she merely play the part? Who is to blame? Surely, the system is to blame every bit as much as Katniss. Indeed, is Katniss to blame? An unjust system yields nightmares.
Katniss and Peeta are forced to put on a show to meet the expectations of the Capitol. In one (somewhat comical) scene, Peeta is trying to learn more about Katniss, who reveals that she doesn’t feel she has friends. But what is it that makes friendship? As I noted in my look at the book, Katniss betrays her own pragmatism in many points. Her compassion wins out, and demonstrates that she really does have friends and even–shock!–understands what friendship is, though she may not realize it.
Her willingness to sacrifice for her friends proves just how much she understands about the nature of friendship. It is self-giving, self-sacrificing; and not based upon the mere exchange of information, as the scene with Peeta shows.
The stark contrast between the lives lived by the people of the Capitol and those of the district comes through very strongly throughout the movie. One cannot help but shake one’s head when considering the way that Caesar Flickerman–the Hunger Games’ gameshow host–first somberly reflects that the people going into the games have been favorites of the Capitol for years but now will all die but one… and then his face turns into a grin and he says “it’s so exciting!”
To the people of the Capitol, it really is all a game. It is a show. But to those who are suffering, it is a remarkable sign of the great line of division between the haves and the have-nots. I think perhaps the most poignant image of this was when Effie Trinket, the escort for the tributes for District 12, is trying to grasp the reality of the horror with which she is confronted. The year before, she was just excited to have potential to win; it really was all just a game. But now, she is faced with the thought of losing her beloved winners. Now, it has become real. But the only way she can try to cope with it is to make them “a team” by purchasing gold things for everyone. Her hair is gold, Katniss’ pin is gold; everyone else should have a gold item as well!
But Effie should not be castigated; indeed, she has become enlightened to the brutality. As one who has awakened, it is right that she should try to fight against the unjust system in whatever way she knows how. Whether her struggle is successful or not, one should commend her for breaking out beyond her closed reality.
The theme of sacrifice runs strong throughout the movie. We have already seen that it comes out in friendship [and love] when Katniss is willing to lay down her life for Peeta; but there is another agenda going on of which she is unaware: she has become a symbol of hope for the people of the Districts.
As such, many of the other tributes in the Hunger Games are willing to sacrifice themselves to protect her. Time and again others give up their lives to defend both Peeta and Katniss from the dangers in the arena. But the plot to rescue Katniss is not revealed until the very end. Instead, the theme of sacrifice centers around Katniss and Peeta. Peeta is willing and fully committed to giving his life to save Katniss, but Katniss instead wants to give herself to defend Peeta.
Not only am I reminded of one extremely powerful quote: “Greater love love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” – John 15:13, but I also reflect upon the figure who spoke them himself: Jesus. Jesus did exactly that: he laid down his life for his friends; indeed, for all people (John 3:16). Could there be echoes of this same self-sacrifice to be found in the story of Katniss? I would suggest that yes, there indeed are; though they are by no means explicit or even intentional.
Yet the theme of hope draws out this theme even more strongly, such that one must wonder: who or what is Katniss?
Hope, President Snow realized, was the most dangerous thing of all. It was fine to have fear; one could use fear. But the moment hope was injected into the equation, fear no longer worked. With hope, people were willing to die for an ideal; for a person. Katniss, Snow found, was that embodiment of ideal into a person. Her action of being willing to give up her life in the Hunger Games a year before had become a symbol; the fact that she continued to live had become a rallying cry.
Yet Katniss herself did not realize the extent to which she had become just such an ideal. To Katniss, all she had done was try to survive. And it is in this that her story most clearly displays the disconnect between her and the one true Savior. But thematically, the message remains. A revolution needs hope; one spark can light a fire.
Consider the history of Christianity. It was the hope of the resurrection which brought about enormous social upheaval. Suppression did not work, for the Christians had hope in the risen savior. When I saw the people of District 11 reach out their hands in a symbol of defiance to the Capitol, I considered the defiance of the early Christians in refusing to bow the knee to false idols.
Bringing It Together
Of course these are extrapolations. Anyone could point out holes in the way I drew these themes together to point to a Christian message. But the film itself is so thought-provoking that it demands such extrapolation. It calls for interpretation. How might we apply it to understanding our own times?
First, we must consider the nature of the “system.” There is a call to action found within the Hunger Games, but it is not a call to violent rebellion; rather, the violent rebellion is symbolic of the call the film makes to us to end oppression.
Second, the imagery of Effie’s realization of the injustice is perhaps a wake-up call to those of us who are sleeping with the societal ills of human trafficking, hunger, and racism (to name but a few). Not only must we, like her, be awakened, but we should also make use of the tools we have been given to fight against these injustices. And, thankfully, there are many effective ways we can do so.
Third, the movie features a powerful call to realize the power of hope in what seems like a hopeless world. That power is found in the message of Christianity to a world which is in great need of hope.
Go see “Catching Fire.” I hope it lights a spark within you to fight against the iniquities of injustice in our world. More importantly, I hope it brings you to the realization that the Christian message provides the most powerful hope to the world. The self-sacrifice of one Lord has provided endless hope for all nations, districts, and yes, even the Capitol.
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Check out my look at the themes in the book, “Catching Fire” by Suzanne Collins.
Christian Reflection on The Hunger Games Trilogy– I discuss the entire Hunger Games Trilogy, with a number of comments upon the themes and events found therein.
The Hunger Games Movie: A Christian Perspective– I wrote about the movie, “The Hunger Games” and provided some insight into what Christians may take away as talking points from the film.
Do you like The Hunger Games? Check out my evaluation of Ender’s Game both in movie and book form.
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Thanks for your insights. Have you seen this (older) article on the Gospel Coalition blog? http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2012/05/17/why-hunger-games-is-flawed-to-its-core/
Yes, I have seen it. I think N(ate). D. Wilson raises a couple good points but is largely off-base. For example, the author says that Collins “should do” certain things in order to bring about certain types of characters. But of course the beauty of fiction is that there are many different ways to create characters. More particularly, Wilson wrote, “If Collins wanted her protagonist to be the kind of rebel who would start a revolution (and she does want that), she should have had Katniss cutting her locator out of her arm on night one instead of participating in and perpetuating the evil. ”
Really? How does Wilson know what Collins wanted? Even if Wilson is right on this count, how does he know exactly how the character should have acted? His comment really assumes a lot about exactly what a character should or should not do in order to accomplish the goal and doesn’t factor in the fact that Katniss is supposed to be a real human. Real people actually do make mistakes. Even if cutting out the locator were the smartest thing to do, real people don’t actually think of the smartest thing to do all the time. Real people might be even be rightly motivated but still do the wrong thing unintentionally! Wilson’s analysis does not allow this. He seems to have constructed an exact picture of what characters should do in order to satisfy his expectations.
Reflecting further on this one example, it is not at all clear from the books as a whole series SPOILERS HERE, CONTINUE AFTER BOLD FOR NO SPOILERS that Collins actually does want Katniss as a hero who starts a revolution. Katniss is actually confused the whole time and unsure of herself and even what is happening. She is kept in the dark throughout most of it and doesn’t really ever seem to want to be a hero. Wilson is just mistaken here, so far as I can tell. END SPOILERS.
Wilson’s entire review seems to demand characters to act against their personalities and to always do the best and smartest thing. I’m sorry, but I don’t think that’s what needs to happen in order to be able to teach good lessons even within a Christian worldview. Was the biblical David a perfect, always do-the-right-thing kind of guy? Absolutely not. Does that mean we should just throw that whole story out as demonstrative of the author not knowing human nature? Also, absolutely not.
Frankly, I think most of Wilson’s discussion is mistaken. Here’s another example that I would call a “howler”:
I am stunned by this. Really? Someone could just as easily say that “Men and women are not inspired to risk their lives because someone who was dead is alive again”; or “Revolutions aren’t started by an alleged massacre in a faraway place called Boston.”
SPOILERS AGAIN Moreover, the language used in this section actually downplays the symbolic nature of Katniss’ act which was indeed viewed by the people of the Districts as defiance against the capital and yet survival despite the defiance. It inspired hope. But of course Katniss didn’t do it for that reason, which makes Wilson’s earlier comment make even less sense. END SPOILERS
So yeah, I honestly don’t see a lot to recommend that article. Maybe it helped some people, but I am really unimpressed by the notion that Wilson knows Collins’ intent and that he seems to think that every character should always make the smartest decisions.