If you have ever seen a movie about someone being stranded at sea, you may know the popular phrase: “Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink.”
As I left the theater after watching the finale of the Hunger Games “trilogy” I felt like I was stranded at sea…adrift…seeing what looked like hope all around me but realizing I couldn’t drink any of it.
First of all, I must admit I did not read these books. Yes, I’m the lazy consumer who just watched the movies and honestly had no desire to read the books. I, like the residents of The Capitol, just want to be entertained.
There are reasons these films resonated with me – as one who grew up in Appalachia among poor coal mining towns (yes!), who objects to the oppressive use of power that is used to isolate and marginalize (yes!), who sees the theme of empire as crucial to understand the New Testament (yes!), and who longs to see women in film as the central character and heroine (yes!). In these ways, the film had it all.
The impact of Katniss Everdeen on film cannot be understated. I so enjoyed seeing a female lead carry these films who didn’t need some man to swoop in and save the day.
Why Do I Feel So Thirsty?
Trying to figure this out I ask myself two questions:
- Is this a modern day Greek Tragedy? While it may not be fully a tragedy, it certainly inches towards being one with its hero destined through a “flaw” of character that drives her to conflict with some overpowering force which then brings about the downfall or destruction of that overpowering force. Only in the end…
- Is this a metaphor for the Kingdom of God? Some sort of modern day Narnia with its Christ figure battling the evil that is destroying people’s lives? Truly attempting to embrace the Empire narrative themes of Rome seen throughout Jesus, Paul and John?
No. While it may approach these, it is stuck somewhere in-between. Like Katniss herself, who is caught in-between.
Between two worlds – the Capitol and District 12
Between two loves
Between the games and the victors
Between her need to protect and her will to survive
Between two leaders – Snow and Coin
Between being on fire and being burnt
Between a nightmare and a dream
Between violence and peace
Between life and death
While the character of Katniss Everdeen had an opportunity to be something we truly had not seen before, sadly she becomes what we expect. Here she was, a heroine who needed no man, who defended those she loved, who fought the powers, and who had the opportunity to truly chart a new course of peace, but finds herself at an end that is predictable and unoriginal.
I was hoping for more.
As a theme that runs through the series, I am reminded of one of the most stunning lines of the trilogy. As the second Hunger Games was descending into chaos, Katniss is reminded to “remember who the enemy is.” For the longest time Katniss believed that Snow was the true enemy and that when he was dead, her heart and the world would be at peace and those she loved would finally be safe. But towards the end she catches a glimpse of who the true enemy really is and it is not just Snow as she had presumed. Snow was a puppet to something much more powerful and diabolical – violence, oppression and death.
Moves and Countermoves
“Moves and countermoves,” he says. Yes, Snow nearly stole the show with his strategic brilliance and unwavering commitment to his oppressive ideals. As protagonist and antagonist hurl shots back and forth, we are tempted to believe that the battle is between these two characters. We are tempted to believe that Snow is making moves and all the while Katniss counters his ploys and will have ultimate victory.
But that is where we are wrong. Snow, while terrible, is not truly the enemy that Katniss if fighting. And Katniss is not truly free. They are both pawns in a game in which nobody wins.
They are both pawns in the bigger hunger games that are being played out all around them, all trying to survive by murdering the other in the name of self-preservation, justice and victory.
In These Games, Nobody Wins
Harking back to an 80’s classic “War Games” we remember the profound reflection that “the only way to win is not to play.”
The real enemy is violence and once we enter the arena of the games of violence we will never leave – we will be trapped there in an in-between state of not quite alive and not quite dead until violence ultimately wins by taking everything we hold dear. Once violence is unleashed, it will continue to perpetrate. Violence always gives birth to more violence.
As Dr. King so poignantly states:
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that.
The only way to win is not to play. Or at least, not play by the rules of the Hunger Games – the rules of kill or be killed, the rules of the strongest survive, the rules of “collateral damage” and everything is allowed in war. In Katniss we saw a rebel who understood this in the early films and refused to kill, but as time went on the pressure turned out to be too much. We are led to believe she is refusing violence, but all the while she’s being consumed by it as it crushes her from every side.
Violence makes us believe that there are only two options, but that is not true – that is a lie. Violence makes us believe that the only way to overthrow the oppressor is by force, but this too is a lie. There are always other ways, especially in the life of those who follow the crucified and resurrected Jesus.
In real life it is difficult to know who the real enemy is. We are told that “these people” are the enemy, that “those people” are the enemy. We are placed in an arena of war and forced to fight by those who wish to profit off our pain. We fight each other over so many things and always think we are fighting on the side of truth and justice. But when we fight we are just pawns in the diabolical agenda of violence and death.
I believe that in the way of Jesus – we have a call to rise above it all to reach towards a new hope of freedom and life for both ourselves and our enemy.
When we base our life on violence – either the participation in or enjoyment of – our lives will forever be dominated by its destiny. To live by the sword is to die by the sword – even if that death is slow.
Violence as a Nightmare
Violence is a nightmare which leaves no heart unbroken – and so the heroine finds herself in the same place as the males who have preceded her. Doomed to be a pawn in the games.
Can there ever be a third way? A non-violent solution? I thought there was a chance with Katniss – a character we had not seen before – one who sacrificed for those she loved and continued to protect and defend those closest to her – one who questioned the validity and methods of war – one who showed true weakness in the face of an emotional wrecking terror.
But her fate was the same as those who had gone before her, as she eventually succumbed to the weight pressing in on her.
Thus – the incredible promise of “I volunteer in tribute” ends in the same predictable outcome – nobody wins in the games – even Katniss Everdeen – the Mockingjay. Violence calls out and we answer.
I greatly enjoyed these films but was ultimately left disappointed. I guess this is the way of war; no one truly wins and so many are left to suffer. Yes, for a moment there may be peace, but as long as the games of war are reserved as an option we will continually mourn for those we loved and lost. As long as violence is “the only option” or “the only way” or “a necessary evil” we will all be left adrift in an ocean surrounded by water that we cannot drink.
Violence looks like hope, but it is just an illusion that always turns into a nightmare.