Finding Jesus in the Hunger Games
The sequel 'Catching Fire' seems to be inspiring a lot of people to see a lot of things the franchise's makers never intended.
The sequel blockbuster "Catching Fire" exploded at box offices world-wide: Its studio parent happily reported $160 million in U.S. revenues for the first weekend alone. Meanwhile, while audiences went crazy elsewhere, here in the Holy Land we notice that some viewers' minds were transported - to the life of Jesus. Or fasting for the Jewish holidays. Or the eternal, biblical battle between good versus evil.
An article on ChristianityToday.com entitled "The Theology of the Hunger Games" sums it all up pretty well.
"There are only a handful of books besides the Bible that have really made me love Jesus more, but I've added the Hunger Games to that list," wrote Laura Snider. "When I read about Peeta" – referring to the teen boy star – "I feel Christ."
Why does she feel Christ? "Not because Peeta is divine or has any special power to save the world, but because he exemplifies sacrificial love."
Much of the Christian commentary on the film seems to focus around the character of Peeta. In both the original and the sequel, the teenage boy offers his female protagonist Katniss bread, just as Jesus might, while he boasts superhuman strength to throw large objects. He also seems to have a sacrificial heart willing to suffer unknown pain and torture, even to die, to save the woman he loves. Additionally, the fictional capital city in which the action takes place smacks of a biblical Sodom and Gomorrah.
Others looking for more Christian allegory might note how the arena in 'Catching Fire' loosely invoked the ten plagues of Egypt, complete with blood raining from the heavens, while the whole concept of a battle to the death and self-sacrifice invokes atonement.
A video parody that blew-up the internet back in September from Zenn Films entitled, "The Jewish Hunger Games: Kvetching Fire" told the story of one Katniss Everstein and her battle against all odds to survive the Jewish Hunger Games that are Yom Kippur.
But some take the supposed subtext of the movie with the utmost seriousness.
In March 2012 the Christian author and activist Julie Clawson published a study guide, "Hunger Games and the Gospel," designed to help its readers "better live in the ways of the Kingdom of God" through the Hunger Games.
Given the spiritual fervor suddenly arising around the Hunger Games, it may surprise to realize that neither the original book nor either of the two films (so far) so much as mention religion, let alone purport to enlighten.
Jeffery Weiss, author of "The Hunger Games Snubs Religion" in the Star Tribune, snorts that not only do the books and films make no mention of God, religion or any ritual resembling religious activity – they skip religion entirely, even though people facing social and political calamity find religion.
In short - the Hunger Games, which focus largely on social justice and individualism as a cure for totalitarianism, more closely line up to anti-religious, anti-institutional ideologies than they do a religious allegory.
So, while the 'Hunger Games: Catching Fire' remains 89% fresh on Rottentomatoes.com and Jennifer 'Katniss' Lawrence continues to shriek at paparazzi on the red carpet or berate Jon Stewart for not being prepared when he interviews her (all the while only further cementing herself as the ultimate 'America's sweetheart'), religious fans and fanatics will continue to stretch their imaginations and find a deeper meaning in this year's number one adventure film for kids.
The second installment of the Hunger Games franchise, 'Catching Fire,' battled its way to the top of the U.S. and global box office last weekend, taking in over $160 million at home and $300 million from the 65 countries it opened in.
The film's debut snagged the fourth all-time highest U.S. box office opening, the #1 US November debut of all time and the 12th all-time highest world-wide opening. All figures outpaced expectations, leading observers and studio insiders to predict a $140 million weekend total. Lionsgate Studio executives no doubt took a sigh of relief as "Catching Fire's" budget had ballooned to an estimated $130 million. That compares with the $78 million that bankrolled the original "Hunger Games", which made $146 million in its opening weekend back in March of 2011.