The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - the power of hope
I recently saw the latest Hunger Games movie Catching Fire. I must confess I hadn't read any of the Hunger Games books nor seen the first film, but I thought Catching Fire was a fantastic gripping tale.
Catching Fire is a cross between Gladiator, Survivor and Star Wars. It has gladiatorial contests to the honour and satisfaction of a supreme ruler (though without the gore of Gladiator). There is a 'game' of survival which involves strategy and alliances where the last competitor alive (literally) wins everything. And this is all set in a high-tech future fantasy world where a small rebellion is brewing against a powerful and domineering empire which employ 'peacekeepers', who act very similarly to 'storm troopers'. Interestingly Catching Fire finishes a lot like the Empire Strikes Back with no satisfactory resolution to the main plot. Instead the story is set up for a dramatic final showdown.
Gladiator, Survivor and Star Wars are three of my favourite shows, so no wonder I loved Catching Fire!
Catching Fire is the second episode in The Hunger Games trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. It is set at an unspecified time in the future in the land of Panem. Panem is ruled from the ‘Capitol’ by a brutal and totalitarian government led by virtual dictator President Snow. The Capitol oversees twelve impoverished outlying ‘Districts’ which are subjected to the annual ‘Hunger Games’. The Hunger Games were developed to punish the citizens of Panem for a rebellion 75 years earlier and to remind those in the Districts of the consequences of rebelling against the absolute power of the Capitol.
Catching Fire follows the victory celebrations of the joint victors of the 74th Hunger Games; Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Meelik (Josh Hutcherson). The decision to have joint victors is unprecedented. It came as a result of Everdeen’s declaration of love for Meelik during the Games where rather than kill, Everdeen threatened a joint suicide through poison berries. Rather than having no victor for the Games, Everdeen and Meelik were both allowed to win.
This outward display of love was widely admired by the populace in the Capitol. Yet to others it was seen as an act of defiance. Everdeen implicitly suggested that the Capitol could be challenged. She provided hope to the Districts!
This is a crucial theme in Catching Fire and is developed in a key conversation between Katniss and her younger sister Primrose:
Primrose Everdeen: Since the last games, something is different. I can see it.
Katniss Everdeen: What can you see?
Primrose Everdeen: Hope.
Everdeen provided hope to the Districts. Through her act of ‘love’ or ‘defiance’, she implicitly suggested that the ‘rules’ could be broken, that the Capitol might not be impervious after all. She provided hope to the impoverished and oppressed that the tyranny of the Capitol could be challenged even overthrown and that freedom and justice could be achieved.
The hope provided by Everdeen was the catalyst for uprisings in the Districts. This fact did not go unnoticed by President Snow. He was fully aware of the threat of ‘hope’. In one exchange he said,
She’s not who they think she is. She just wants to save her skin. It’s as simple as that. She has become a beacon of hope for them. She has to be eliminated.
Everdeen had indeed become a symbol of hope and it galvanised and transformed the people. Hope had become dangerous. Hope is a threat to the powerful. The key theme of the Hunger Games Trilogy is that of hope verses power.
As I watched and enjoyed this gripping film I reflected on hope. Hope describes something of human nature and it’s also a key biblical theme.
Victor Frankl spent three years in Nazi concentration camps between 1942 and 1945. He witnessed and experienced immeasurable suffering. After this ordeal he wrote a best-selling book, Man’s search for meaning. In it he describes the importance of hope. He says that prisoners who gave up on life, those who lost hope for the future were the first to die. They died less from lack of food or medicine but from lack of hope, lack of something to live for. He writes
The prisoner who had lost his faith in the future — his future — was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay. Usually this happened quite suddenly, in the form of a crisis, the symptoms of which were familiar to the experienced camp inmate. We all feared this moment — not for ourselves, which would have been pointless, but for our friends. Usually it began with the prisoners refusing one morning to get dressed and wash or to go out on the parade grounds. No entreaties, no blows, no threats had any effect. He just lay there, hardly moving. If this crisis was brought about by an illness, he refused to be taken to the sickbay or to do anything to help himself. He simply gave up. There he remained, lying in his own excreta, and nothing bothered him any more
Hope is also a great biblical theme which we are reminded of at Christmas. At Christmas we remember the coming of a small baby who will bring forgiveness, salvation, a future, and hope.
This hope was recognised by Simeon in Luke 2 where he observes the baby Jesus and says, ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.'
This baby came into the world to provide hope. Hope that ‘the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned’. (Matthew 4:16)
Jesus offers hope for us. Amidst our despair, difficulty, failure and ultimately death, there is hope. Hope of forgiveness and hope of a better future. This hope can transform and galvanise us to live very differently. Not in rebellion, but in love.
Catching Fire helps us realise the power (and threat) of hope. This Christmas may we remember the true and transforming hope that comes through Jesus Christ.