The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
The books and the first film in this series caught a lot of negative comment from Orthodox Christians because of some of the issues which Suzanne Collins and the film makers dealt with – mostly the idea of children killing children, and the graphic violence. While the violence isn’t any less in the second film, the story this time focuses on adults in the arena, pitted not so much against each other as against the capital and President Snow, and contains an interesting message for Orthodox Christians.
In the first film and book, Katniss Everdeen selflessly takes her younger sister’s place in the “Hunger Games,” a cruel and violent annual event pitting pairs of young “tributes” chosen from each of the 12 districts against each other until a single victor survives. Through the choices she makes in the games, and by exploiting Peeta’s love for her (to the delight of the viewing audience in the film), Katniss unwittingly becomes a symbol of hope for the disaffected and oppressed populace in the districts. Her final act, a last ditch effort to ensure both she and Peeta survive, forces President Snow’s hand. He has to declare two victors rather than be faced with the prospect of no victors and a public relations nightmare of the two young lovers killing themselves.
The second film opens after the “star-crossed lovers” have returned home. Katniss inadvertently enhances her position on the victory tour of the districts, and it’s clear that she has become a symbol around which rebellious groups have formed and are acting. Snow wants her eliminated or discredited in order to dissipate her power. To that end, the new Games Master, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Capital’s victory in the original rebellion, announces that the tributes will be chosen from previous Victors in each district, thereby ensuring that Katniss will again compete – she is the only female Victor in District 12. The games are different as well, this time, as the Capital itself seems intent on killing as many of the tributes as it can, in an effort to eliminate Katniss. Alliances form and stay solid throughout the games, and Katniss again enhances and strengthens her position as a symbolic rebel in the choices she makes in the games. Additionally, the underground rebellion has ensured enough tributes’ cooperation to guarantee her survival, hence the solid alliance. The film ends with a new rebellion well underway, waiting only for the final instalment of the story.
Through Katniss’s one act, born of love for her young, gentle sister, all the rest of the story falls out. She is never an overt rebel. She never acts with a larger agenda than to deal with the situation in front of her, and the actions which bring about the largest changes are enacted from immediate and personal motives, on the spur of the moment. Her position as a symbol of resistance and rebellion is generated more from people’s interpretation of her actions and the manipulation of her image by the State, than by any political, revolutionary agenda of her own. In fact, when she’s faced with the choice of staying in District 12 and joining their underground or running away with Gale, her long-time hunting partner and would be lover, she wants to run away. She doesn’t want to risk her life and the lives of her family for a revolution. But while some of her actions are born of love, more of them are generated by frustration, anger, and a sense of powerlessness in the face of the authority of the State, and in acting from those motives, she brings the revolution out into the open, sparking a civil war.
Christianity and the Orthodox church came about through the single action of God becoming man, which was born out of love for His creation. All of His actions in His human life as Jesus were directed toward our individual and corporate salvation. He created the church and taught the first Fathers, the Apostles, how to live in love and in communion with Him, and through the interpretation of those individual, personal actions, we have built the entire structure of Christian and Orthodox history. The danger for us, as it was for Katniss and the people of the Capital and the districts, is in the interpretation of His actions.
Katniss’ aim was to save her sister and survive the games with Peeta by her side. The people in the districts saw her actions as those of a rebel and revolutionary. They took heart and instituted rebellion, based on what they thought they saw. The Capital took her exploitation of Peeta’s love and built it into a sugar-glazed, pap-filled love story that fed into the populace’s view of her as a romantic, doomed revolutionary.
It’s too easy for us to mythologize and add agendas to Jesus’s actions, to see meaning in Christ’s teaching that was never there, and was never intended to be. The danger is in making Jesus of Nazareth not the Saviour of humankind, but the symbol of a political or social agenda. He becomes the Feminist Saviour, or the American Saviour, or the Outcasts’ Saviour, or the Muscular Jesus, or the New Age Saviour, or the Prosperity Saviour, or a great man, or one that wasn’t really divine, or wasn’t really human, or didn’t really die and rise again. Even we Orthodox in our efforts to live our faith in a modern, secular, and confusing world, have a tendency to try and fit God into a box that suits our interpretation of what Christianity is and should be.
We need, both individually and corporately, to guard against misinterpreting Jesus’ words and actions, the way the people in the film misinterpreted Katniss’s actions, whether it’s by some group within the faith, or by ourselves, in what we see and think and understand in the Gospels and the witness of the fathers. We need to see the Saviour for who He was and is and always will be: the God who is larger than the universe but able to fit into a woman’s womb, the author of all that is, yet concerned with the fall of a sparrow. All of His actions and all of His motives came from love, for He is Love, and to be faithful to Him, we must take care that we don’t substitute the Mockingjay of our own fallen desires and needs for the immortal God who, out of unimaginable love, died on a cross for us, His children.