Catching Fire, the second installment of The Hunger Games movie franchise, follows the lives of the heroes of the first film – Katniss and Peeta – as they experience the aftermath of their newfound fame as “victors” of the 74th Games. As victors, they secured for themselves a lifetime of wealth, comfort, and ease, in contrast to the impoverished communities – exploited by the oligarchy that reigns in the opulent capital city – from which they came. Yet as they travel throughout the 12 Districts that comprise the nation of Panem on their obligatory “victory tour,” they immediately discover that the defiant manner in which they achieved victory and their willingness to sacrifice themselves for each other has fomented a rebellion. And their tour, contrary to the government’s design, is fanning the flames of revolutionary fervor.
Their tour culminates in an enormous celebration at the mansion of the president at which they are the honored guests. There they are offered an endless array of the choicest foods. When Peeta declines an offer of some sumptuous pastry because he is too full, another of the guests offers him a lavender colored elixir that will “make you sick so that you can keep tasting things.” This offer is clearly intended to make the audience sick in their conscience over the injustice of severe wealth inequality in their society: while the masses toil to find just enough food to survive, the privileged eat not for nourishment but solely for pleasure, vomiting up their food so as to continuously satiate their palettes.
The glow of Katniss’s and Peeta’s victory diminished abruptly when they learn that the next games will feature previous victors from all the Districts. After surviving the games again, as a result of figuring out a way to destroy the invisible virtual arena in which they take place, Katniss and Peeta are separated, with Katniss being kidnapped by a band of rebels led by other former victors, including her mentor Haynich. She learns that many of the victors in this newest round of the games had secretly pledged to protect her with a view toward using her as a catalyst to spark a nationwide revolt against the capital.
These victors, along with Katniss, made an uncommon choice: the choice to forego the pleasures and privileges provided them by the state to risk their lives in order to liberate the powerless and restore justice for the poor. While most would commend this choice as moral, few would probably make it. What would motivate anyone to do this?
This moral theme in The Hunger Games plainly echoes aspects of the Bible’s teaching on the Incarnation, which we celebrate each Christmas. I thought about this connection while reflecting on the words of the Advent carol “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus”
Come to earth to taste our sadness, he whose glories knew no end;
By his life he brings us gladness, our Redeemer, Shepherd, Friend.
Leaving riches without number, born within a cattle stall;
This the everlasting wonder, Christ was born the Lord of all.
The divine Son of God forswear fame (‘he whose glories knew no end’) and ease (‘leaving riches without number’) to condescend into an impoverished state (‘born within a cattle stall’) for the sake of an oppressed and enslaved people (‘by his life he brings us gladness, our Redeemer’). Thus, the Apostle Paul proclaims Jesus as one who, “Did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Liberating captives often requires becoming one of them. Enormous moral force is exerted when someone who could stay comfortable and free chooses to give it up so that others can gain the same. I am not saying that Katniss is meant to be a Christ-figure, and she by no means is a complete one, but all good stories whisper the penultimate story of history, which we celebrate this Christmas.