“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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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.
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There has been much furor recently over the release of the Hunger Games movie. My own discussion of that movie has drawn a number of comments from Christian visitors, both good and bad (and I appreciate the candor!). One theme that has reverberated throughout the discussion is the appropriateness of Christians watching violent movies or even considering using them to try to engage with the culture at large. There are no easy answers to these questions, but in this post I seek to provide a brief guide for Christians who hope to use movies to engage with the culture at large.
Perhaps the most contentious issue that was brought up in my own discussions of the Hunger Games was the appropriateness of viewing violent movies and even using them to engage with others. Jonathan Morrow, in his important book Think Christianly, provides an excellent discussion of the topic at hand. He prefaces his remarks with the comment that “the Bible would probably get… an NC-17 rating in [some areas like the end of Judges]…” Yet it is important to note that “The Bible does not use evil for exploitation” but rather “always records evil and sinful behavior and the consequences that come with them” (193). Violence in a work does not necessarily exclude it from the Christians’ sphere of engagement.
Morrow provides a number of useful questions for Christians to consider when looking at a movie. Here are a few samples (see p. 194):
These are the types of questions Christians must ask as they consider a movie. Now, it is clear that Christians won’t always agree on the answers to these questions. What some consider gratuitous might be something someone else considers necessary for a plot. But violence of itself does not mean a Christian cannot engage with a movie. In particular, some movies use violence in order to point out the horrors which follow from it. This is, in fact, Biblical. Throughout the Bible, violence is depicted along with its consequences, yet it is clear that in all God is in control (see, for example, the Joseph narrative). As Christians interact with movies that have violence, they can focus the discussion on the consequences of humanity’s sinfulness and the need for a savior.
Engaging With the Movies
Morrow suggests a three-layered approach to movies: examine the form of the film (this involves engaging with the artistic elements such as music, cinematography, and the like); observe the content of the film (what is the message the director is putting forward? who is the hero/villain [these characters generally convey that which the director wants to show as good or bad]); note the function of the film (what is the film’s purpose? does it portray sinful behavior in a positive light?) .
These questions allow one to proceed to the level of engagement with the culture. If a film is inappropriate, it is not enough to simply dismiss it as a horrible, immoral movie. Rather, one can engage thoughtfully with those who want to discuss the movie. “Why did you enjoy the movie?”; “What kind of message do you think the movie tried to put forward?”; “Do you agree with the central theme of the film?”–these are the types of questions Christians can ask in order to engage with the culture. Note that none of these questions comes across as antagonistic or angry. Rather, they come across as interested and thoughtful. Whether one has seen a movie or not, one can easily engage in a dialog which can lead to some interesting discussions.
The brief overview I’ve given here is merely a guide. Interested readers should check out Morrow’s book (linked below).
A Case Study: The Hunger Games
I’ve already discussed The Hunger Games at length in both the film and book versions, so I won’t repeat that discussion. Here, let me just apply what we see above. There are a few minor spoilers below.
What is the form of the film? -Generally, it seems to be a blockbuster movie with grandiose special effects and stirring musical scores. The visuals often dazzle with bright colors in the capitol but they are very subdued in some parts, particularly in the districts which are under the oppressive rule of the capitol.
What is the film’s content? -In my post on the movie, I argued that the content largely serves to direct the audience’s attention inward: we are, in a sense, the capitol. We are the ones who actively participate in activities to give ourselves comfort while there is great suffering around us. The violence in the movie is there, but it is portrayed in a way which does not glorify it. It is the people of the capitol who glorify the violence, and it is the people of the capitol who are the confused villains.
What is the function of the film? -Again, it seems to be a social commentary on the evils we bring about here. The decadence of the capitol is our own indulgence; the violence going on in the Games are the evils of the world. I see the film as a stirring commentary on social injustice.
But what if you think the violence is too much? What if you think I’m just wrong about this particular film? Should you jettison it altogether? I think not. Instead, I suggest you turn to the questions above. Ask: “Why did you like the Hunger Games?”; “Do you think the film glorifies violence, why or why not?”; “What current problems do you think relate to the film?”
Christians are called to engage the culture around them in a transforming fashion (1 Cor 9:19-23). Engaging with popular films is just one way to engage with the culture. As popular movies come out, it is important for Christians to know the relevant issues they raise and be ready to comment on them as they come up. If we can more effectively open discussions with people about these highly relevant topics, we can help show Christianity is an extremely powerful worldview that touches upon every aspect of our lives in a positive way.
Jonathan Morrow, Think Christianly: Looking at the Intersection of Faith and Culture (Zondervan, 2011).