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Can we learn anything about sacrifice from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire?

Josh Larsen

Sacrifice is a tenet of the Christian faith, so it was interesting to watch The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and note that characters seemed to be sacrificing themselves about every 10 minutes.

The second screen adaptation of the Suzanne Collins book series, Catching Fire finds teen heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) back home in District 12 after surviving a gladiator-style contest against other youth. Having won the game in a non-traditional way - she and fellow District 12 contestant Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) outwitted the game-makers so that both would survive - Katniss has become a thorn in the side of government officials. To get rid of her, they devise a second tournament and force her to play.

As this story unfolds, several sacrifices are made: Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Katniss’ friend since childhood, puts his own neck on the line when government soldiers occupy District 12; Peeta volunteers in place of another to participate in the new Hunger Games; once those games are underway, the contestants frequently sacrifice – or at least risk – themselves in order to save someone else. I began to wonder: does the movie’s insistence on sacrifice trivialize the Christian concept of surrender or affirm it? Is this simply a dramatic trope being called upon to generate suspense or is something instructive being said about the notion of sacrifice as Christians understand it?

It’s probably worth noting that I don’t see any of the sacrifices in Catching Fire as reflective of Jesus’ atoning work on the cross. The last thing I’m trying to do is point to Peeta as some sort of Christ figure. Instead, I think the acts in the film are more akin to the sort of daily sacrifice Christians are called to in response to Christ’s death - both as a way of honoring that act and acknowledging that because of it we are now dead to our former selves. What stronger way to affirm this than to relinquish that most base of human instincts, self-preservation?

Does the movie’s insistence on sacrifice trivialize the Christian concept of surrender or affirm it?

John Stott touches on this in The Cross of Christ, where he discusses how the Lord’s Supper relates to Jesus’ atoning act. The partaking of communion, he writes, enables us to “give thanks for his sacrifice, and in token of our thanksgiving offer ourselves, our souls and bodies as ‘living sacrifices’ to his service (Romans 12:1).”

What does this look like in our everyday lives? A lot less dramatic than it does in Catching Fire (at one point a character saves another by taking on a killer baboon). In our mundane Christian lives, sacrifice looks more like day-to-day love. From Stott:

We are to ‘love one another,’ John insists in his first letter, both because God is love in his being and because he has showed his love by sending his Son to die for us. And this love always expresses itself in unselfishness. We are to ‘do nothing of out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than’ ourselves. Positively, we are each of us to look not only to our own interests ‘but to the interests of others.’ Why? Why this renunciation of selfish ambition and this cultivation of an unselfish interest in others? Because this was the attitude of Christ, who both renounced his own rights and humbled himself to serve others.

What do you think? Can this deeper notion of sacrifice be sensed in Catching Fire? Is a self-denying love at the root of the dramatic, sacrificial actions in the film? Or is this simply a pop appropriation of a fundamental Christian notion, an easy way to bring gravitas to a science-fiction lark?

Topics: Movies, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure