The Hunger Games: An Excellent Good Friday Picture
Young adult fiction has met the depth of religious literature. If you want a 21st Century Bible, pick up The Hunger Games.
Or rather, watch the movie. That’s what I did. Now I have to read the book.
The film portrays the story of Katniss Everdeen (I know – Katniss?), a young lady whose love for her sister leads her to volunteer for a gladiator match.
Katniss is the first to volunteer in 74 years. The Hunger Games is a competition between 24 people – 12 girls and 12 boys, each between 12 and 18 – of which only one can survive. The children fight to the death each year to commemorate an unsuccessful rebellion in a very stratified society.
Each of the rebellious districts must send one boy and one girl, chosen at random, to the games. In this way, the central government (centered in the Capitol city and referred to as “The Capitol”) reminds the once-rebellious lands of the price of revolution.
The film opens with Katniss’ sister, Primrose, who dreams that she has been chosen for the games. Katniss comforts her, and assures her that she is safe. But when the time comes for the children to be chosen (a time called “the reaping”), the provincial governess picks Primrose’s name. As guards lead Primrose to the front, Katniss pushes herself up, volunteering to take her sister’s place.
While saying her goodbyes, Katniss urges her mother and her good friend, (boyfriend?) Gale, to care for her sister. Gale thinks she can win – after all, she’s an excellent hunter. With a bow and arrow, she’s unstoppable.
Katniss and Peeta, the boy also chosen to represent their district, travel by metro rail (200 miles per hour) to the Capitol, where they receive training for the games. While they come from the most marginalized district (district 12), they make quite an impression with flaming coats. Katniss impresses the judges early on, scoring an 11 out of 12. But she doesn’t want to kill anyone, and a few of her competitors (fellow “tributes”) have much more combat training.
A little girl, Rue, looks up to Katniss during the training.
Peeta is convinced that Katniss will win, and he has resigned himself to martyrdom on her behalf. Her love for her sister gives her purpose, and Peeta is willing to sacrifice himself for her.
The games begin, and the first few hours see the death of many. The wise tributes head into the woods, disregarding the stockpile of weapons at the center of the map. Katniss finds a way to keep herself alive- hiding in the trees and stocking up on water from the river. Early on, we learn that most tributes die from exposure.
The little girl, Rue, saves Katniss’ life. Many tributes, including Peeta, follow the boy from district 1, who seems certain to win. They trap Katniss under a tree, and Rue shows her how to disperse them – using genetically engineered, lethal wasps. Katniss is stung, but she lives because Peeta saves her life.
When Rue is in trouble, Katniss runs to help, but it’s too late. Rue dies in her arms, and the music and imagery capture the pangs of death. Katniss sings for her as she dies, and then builds her a bed of flowers for her body. The sacredness of human life could hardly be better demonstrated than by this Christ figure. With her last breath, Rue tells Katniss, “you have to win.”
Win she does, but not in the traditional manner. In order to placate district 11, which revolts in anger at the horror of the games, the game-maker decides to alter the rules. Bringing in a romance angle, he allows two tributes to win, so long as they are both from the same district.
Cue the romance between Katniss and Peeta. When interviewed for the public, Peeta admitted his love for Katniss, and the crowd went wild. Now, they get to work together to win the games.
At first, Peeta wants Katniss to leave him, because he has been wounded badly. She carries him to a safe place, and the fans (who can watch the games through tiny cameras all over the field) send medicine which heals Peeta’s wound.
But the medicine comes at a price. A girl captures Katniss and puts her under her knife. When all hope seems lost, Rue’s partner from District 11 Intervenes, killing the girl. “Just this once,” he says, “for Rue.”
When Katniss and Peeta, the last two tributes, are ordered to kill each other, they attempt a mutual suicide instead. As they raise poisonous berries to their lips, the game-master tells them to stop, and congratulates the two winners.
In short, The Hunger Games is a tale drenched in sacrifice. Katniss’ volunteering to save her sister, Peeta’s willingness to die for Katniss, Rue’s help, and the conclusion of the games all illustrate the point: “greater love has no man than this, that he give up his life for his friends.”
The last moments of Rue’s life, and Katniss’ grief over her, illustrate the value of human life, and melt the most hard-hearted among the audience.
It may not be The Passion of the Christ, but this film conveys its message well. It has yet to stand the test of time, but the story speaks to the greatest truth- and The Hunger Games may yet become a “Great Book.”