Although The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 brings an otherwise excellent sci-fi franchise to an underwhelming conclusion, one provocative scene particularly resonates this week in the aftermath of recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the subsequent, polarizing conversation surrounding refugees.
At this point in the Hunger Games narrative, ambivalent heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has snuck into the oppressive Capitol, just ahead of the rebel forces she has reluctantly joined. Her goal is to assassinate dictatorial President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who is safely ensconced in his lavish mansion. In order to get close, she disguises herself as one of the many Capitol residents fleeing the fighting and seeking safety on Snow’s estate.
The parallels are clear — at least at first. ISIS’ path of destruction across the Middle East has sent droves of refugees fleeing to Europe. With the Paris attacks, the terror group has expanded its geographical reach and in the process inflamed fear — even as far as the United States — that more fanatics might be hiding among innocent, terrorized Syrian refugees. Mockingjay – Part 2, though a work of fantasy, evokes these real-world horrors in the aforementioned scene, as Katniss embeds herself among the movie’s refugees.
But once we pursue the parallels further and try to make one-to-one comparisons, things get tricky. Is Katniss a stand-in for an ISIS fighter posing as a Syrian refugee? That hardly makes her a heroine. Are the terrified Capitol residents, who have been jostled out of their pampered comfort by warfare, victims or enemies? And what about the rebels who suddenly launch an attack on the crowd, spreading bullets among the civilians, including women and children?
The Hunger Games has always been open to ambiguity. Are we?
This blurring of the lines between victim and oppressor, survivor and aggressor, is one of the series’ better qualities. Throughout the films, war has been depicted as an equal-opportunity offender, capable of flattening homes and inducing trauma no matter what side you’re on. Unlike most big-time franchises, The Hunger Games has always been open to ambiguity. But are we?
Recent public dialogue would suggest not. As Kent Van Til wrote earlier this week, Scripture is clear that we should respond graciously to the foreigner seeking refuge. Yet many — including two American presidential candidates who identify as Christian — have responded with fear and prejudice, even going so far as to say that only Christian Syrians should be granted admittance into the U.S. Such responses reflect a black and white logic, a heroes versus villains mentality, a willful blindness to the complexities and realities of serving Christ in a broken world. Even a popcorn flick like The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 recognizes that the situation isn’t as simple as some would like to make it seem.
Uncertainty is troubling. And in times of real threat, caution is wise. This is why, as Kevin DeYoung writes at The Gospel Coalition, something as complex as immigration cannot be solved simply by “good intentions and broad appeals to Christian compassion.” Yet notice that this is itself an acknowledgment of ambiguity and complexity. And so, as we weigh the call to offer refuge to the many against the potential cost of exposing ourselves to the fanatical few, what characteristics should guide our thinking? Fear? Self-protection? I find the Biblical model, from the Old Testament picture of a God who loves the foreigner to Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan, to overwhelmingly be one of service and humility. Those qualities are Christ-like and, indeed, risky.