The movie version of the Hunger Games is about to hit the theaters. It will be a huge event. Let’s take a moment to look at this story and see if we can draw any lessons from it for our own lives.
Katniss Everdeen lives in a very cruel world. She and her family live in abject poverty, as do all the people of her district and in most of the other 12 districts. In Katniss’ world, the post-apocalyptic world that is presented in the Hunger Games, only those who live in The Capitol have a care-free life. The Capitol mercilessly oppresses the rest of the country.
Part of this cruelty is the tradition of the Hunger Games. They are a punishment for a rebellion against the Capitol that happened years ago. In punishment for the uprising, each year two teenagers are chosen from each of the 12 districts to fight to the death. The games are broadcast on TV and everyone must watch.
Suzanne Collins, the author of the Hunger Games, said that her book was a result of her trying to wrestle with the reality of war and oppression in the world.
Part of the genesis for the book happened as she was flipping though channels on TV. She saw news broadcasts of war, and then she saw quick flashes of reality shows.
Another part of origins of the her book came from her memories of her father. Suzanne’s father fought in Vietnam, and his descriptions of that experience still haunt Suzanne.
How horrible it would be if there was a world where reality shows glorified the cruel deaths that happen in war? How could someone survive that?
Suzanne admits that this is not totally fiction. The gladiator games in ancient Rome were exactly this.
She also recognizes that part of her inspiration came from the Greek myths of Theseus and the Minotaur. Theseus is a hero who has to fight many enemies to the death in order to arrive at his destination of Athens. Then he has to save his people of Athens from a cruel Minotaur who kills seven chosen young people every seven years.
Love and sacrifice
Katniss is not chosen for the Hunger Games. She volunteers. She does it to save her younger sister, Prim, who is chosen. Katniss volunteers to go in her place. She cannot bear the thought of her younger sister dying so cruelly.
Katniss’ decision to take her sister’s place happens in a split second, and yet she doesn’t ever change her mind after that. Her love for her sister is stronger than her own fear of death.
Strength in the midst of cruelty
We all deeply admire Katniss’ love for her sister. There is something very deep in all of us that wants to protect those we love from terrible horrors. We naturally root for Katniss to survive, as she promises her sister.
Yet, Katniss has to wrestle with the fact that in order to survive she will have to kill other innocent people. She tries very hard not to focus on that fact. She does not want to kill anyone. She just wants to survive.
And survive she does, but not without going through many terrible experiences and constant danger. What helps her to survive?
Part of it is the resourcefulness and inner strength she has already built up by difficult circumstances she has already faced.
Katniss’s dad died when she was 11 and her mom became dysfunctional at his death. In order to save herself and her family Katniss would sneak outside the fences of her district and hunt for food for her family. The skills she learned in this process serve her well in the Hunger Games.
And her ability to find a solution when it seems there is none also helps her during the cruel games.
Another thing that helps Katniss is a person. A boy from her district, Peeta, is chosen with her. Peeta has a secret crush on Katniss, something that Katniss is not aware of until later in the process, and something that she does not truly believe. But as the Games progress Peeta constantly does all he can to help Katniss survive.
A small girl named Rue also befriends Katniss, and helps her in a key moment.
Love is paid with love
And Katniss tries to return the kindness of these people. She tries hard to save Rue, but does not arrive on time when Rue is attacked. She is heartbroken.
At the end of the Games Katniss manages to save Peeta, taking a risk that is likely to kill both of them. At that moment she seems to forget her promise to her sister Prim. She feels that Peeta deserves to survive as much as she does. Her split-second risk for Peeta is just as impulsive as her decision to substitute for her sister Prim, but it is also based on love. Not a romantic love for Peeta (yet…) but a thankfulness for all the suffering he has endured for her sake.
Her risk pays off, and both Katniss and Peeta survive the Games: the first time that the Games have two winners, not just one.
Love and freedom
The Hunger Games are an epic story. A story of love. A story of danger. A story of a heroine who did not want to be a heroine, who just wants to live in peace with her family.
What virtues do we admire in Katniss? Well certainly love is the big one. She loves her sister deeply. She is also willing to risk her life to save others.
As well, we admire her strength. Not physical strength, but inner strength. She manages to find the small solutions along the way that build up to the big goal: survival.
Yet, Katniss does not just survive. She and Peeta also accomplish something, almost without meaning to. They show that even in the midst of cruelty and manipulation they are free. They choose to do good when they are forced to do evil.
Obviously, killing others in order to survive is not a good thing, but Katniss and Peeta draw no satisfaction from what they are forced to do. They only do it in self-defense or defense of someone else.
No one would want to be put in their situation, but you end up admiring the goodness that both of them exhibit throughout the ordeal.
The Hunger Games is a reminder of the inner freedom that each of us possess, even the midst of the most terrible circumstances. We can still choose to do our best, to defend others, to not let cruelty invade our hearts.
Our Christian faith is a reminder of our inner freedom. We follow a God, Jesus Christ, who does not simply allow evil to happen. He chooses to suffer its consequences. Even though Jesus has to respect our freedom and allow us to make bad choices (sin, evil), our God, as Christians, is a God who gets involved in our world, the world of cruelty and injustice, in order to save us.
Jesus comes to world not to kill all the bad people, the oppressors, but to let himself be killed by us. He lets evil hurt him as much as it hurts us.
Jesus’ triumph, his resurrection, does not happen only because he is God. It also happens because he is love. Love that is tough enough to suffer evil and cruelty, and yet return love instead.
Many times we feel that we do not have that kind of strength. Many times we feel that evil is stronger than we are. Yet we believe in Jesus. We know that his triumph over evil is the beginning of our triumph as well. When we look at his love on the cross and when we look Jesus risen from the dead we have more strength to be heroic ourselves.
Katnis and Christ?
So is Katniss a Christ figure?
In a way, she is. So is Peeta.
But the story is cool in itself. So, let’s enjoy the movie. And maybe we can try to use this experience to strengthen our resolve to be persons of love, even when it seems hopeless.
Because love is stronger than death. (See: Song of Songs 8, 6)
No has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15: 13)
Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be as shrewd as serpents and as simple as doves. (Matthew 10: 16)
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch forth Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, And Your right hand will save me. (Psalm 138: 6-8)
So Pilate said to Jesus, ‘Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?’ Jesus answered, ‘You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above. For this reason the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.’ (John 19: 10-11)
“The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our life for our brothers.” (1John 3: 16)
This dramatic situation of “the whole world which is in the power of the evil one” (John 5:19, 1 Peter 5:8) makes man’s life a battle… (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 409)
Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield man has to struggle to do what is right, and it is at great cost to himself, and aided by God’s grace, that he succeeds in achieving his own inner integrity. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 409)
Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. “Structures of sin” are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a “social sin.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1869)
Without the help of grace, men would not know how “to discern the often narrow path between the cowardice which gives in to evil, and the violence which under the illusion of fighting evil only makes it worse.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1889)
Charity is the greatest social commandment. … Charity inspires a life of self-giving: “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33) (Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 1889)
“During the Nazi dictatorship and the war, we were, so to speak, “hemmed in” by the dominant power structure. So we wanted to break out into the open, to experience the whole range of human possibilities. I think that, to some extent, this urge to break out of the ordinary is present in every generation.” (Pope Benedict XVI, August 6, 2010)
“To suffer with the other and for others; to suffer for the sake of truth and justice; to suffer out of love and in order to become a person who truly loves — these are fundamental elements of humanity, and to abandon them would destroy man himself” (Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical on Christian Hope, no. 39)
“… because the Son of God wanted freely to embrace suffering and death, we are also capable of seeing God’s image in the face of those who suffer. This preferential love of the Lord for the suffering helps us to see others more clearly and to give them, above and beyond their material demands, the look of love which they need.” (Pope Benedict XVI, August 20, 2011)