Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hunger Games and atonement theology: a short film reflection

This post has been further developed into a 500 word film review for Touchstone magazine here.

Hunger Games is a deeply disturbing movie. The movie is set in a future in which each year, 24 children are selected to fight in a televised death match. Roman Gladiatorial style human-tertainment is repulsive enough applied to adults, but to conceive of it for children takes a particular chilling imagination.

To live in a society in which children are sacrificed annually for the sake of peace beggars belief. That said, it should make worthwhile discussion for those who hold to a Christian faith, have just journeyed through Easter and believe in the sole primacy of substitutionary atonement – Jesus dying as a substitute for others.

The Hunger Games is built on substitution, the willingness for some to die for the peace of all. Is this really the best, the only way, that God could conceive to deal with human rebellion?

What is interesting is how the actions of the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, offer other ways to frame atonement, in particular the scene in which Katniss buries her friend, Rue Roo.

(Substitution is only one of four better known understandings of the cross held through church history; the other three being Christus Victor, satisfaction and Abelard’s moral theory of atonement).

The flowers laid so lovingly on the chest of Roo began a moment that sparked a riot among those watching. Grief stricken, they protest against the powers and forces that oppress them. In Katniss, we see a desire to live differently, a questioning of the values that shape her world, a willingness, even unto death, to seek another world of possibility. Her act, the laying of the flowers, spark a communal desire for freedom.

On Easter Sunday, I was part of a church service in which the cross was flowered. Flowers laid lovingly (yes on an empty cross, not an dead body). This is the possibility buried (pun intended) in Easter, a questioning of the values that shape our world, a willingness, even unto death, to live differently, to work toward another world of possibility.

All of which refuses to be futuristic sci-fi. On the way home one of Team Taylor wondered if the way our planet today treats the poor in Africa is much different from The Hunger Games. You could sense the ache – that in our generation, justice and equality will be made concrete. May the flowers she, and so many others, laid on the cross this Easter, spark a very different sort of atonement, a renewed willingness to make plain “God’s Kingdom come, God’s will be done on earth, as in heaven.”

Further posts on film and atonement:
– Never let me go: atonement theology at its best and worst here
– Inception: dreaming of atonement here
– Harry Potter as a Christ figure here.
– Holy week atonement theologies here.
– Atonement theologies: a short summary here.
– Edmund Hillary and atonement here.
– and a sermon I preached on atonement, referencing Whale Rider and Edmund Hillary, made it into this book (Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross: Contemporary Images of the Atonement), a really practical resource, filled with atonement sermons, none of which are substitutionary in tone. Me alongside CS Lewis, Richard Hays and Brian McLaren! ๐Ÿ™‚

Posted by steve at 09:40 AM


  1. I’ve got to go back and watch it again, there’s a line in it which I’m certain is from the books about the games reminding us of the forgiveness they’ve received…

    I’ve been trying to write something up about this all week, but have decided to go see it gain first, my leanings is that this movie shows us EXACTLY how most people see the violent redemption on the cross, a task taken out by the rich and powerful God in order to keep people in their place and to generate even more fear.

    Similarly the story of the HG (The sequels if there are two) grows and grows into a point where this “model” of “redemption” is proven to be false.

    I find it interesting that while the overarching story may be about “redemption” and power and order, to the main characters it’s survival that is primary to them, their acts, albeit small in the scene of things (burying a friend as an example) are things large enough to lift the veils and cause riots and hope.

    Comment by Darren — April 11, 2012 @ 9:56 am

  2. Thanks Darren. I’ve not read the books, so only have the movie to go by.

    I think we’re talking about the same thing re small acts that lift the veil eg the flowering of Roo, the honouring of the dead, the cherishing of loyalty and friendship above survival. It’s increasingly how I see mission and change being at work, that we give up on grand schemes to change the world, and instead act rightly in the small places, wondering if such acts might lift the veil, but even if they don’t, still wanting to act rightly.

    I’m not sure it’s only about survival, there’s this questioning of the values of “empire” that runs throughout the movie, this willingness to consider dying rightly rather than giving in,


    Comment by steve — April 11, 2012 @ 10:15 am

  3. cheers,
    the empire values however are overarching, and i’m pretty sure that the way the film is told the participants are largely unaware.
    they’re aware of the situation in their district and that others have it better but not really aware of the larger politics of the empire
    those that are aware are the older “helpers” Haymitch, Cinna etc. How aware Kat and Peeta are however is still up for grabs, but they’re certainly in amongst it and becoming aware, and their actions certainly challenge the system enough to piss them off and cause trouble (you’ll see more in the second story)…

    But one of the interesting things about this trilogy for me is that it is most definitely NOT Harry Potte, whereas Harry had to learn slowly that people died Katniss and Peeta learn that immediately, intact they knew it as children and, while Harry is pretty damaged when he gets through it all it’s going to be nothing compared with Katniss’ experience as she figures out her own values and evenmoreso finds out more about the values of the “empire”.

    May have to go watch it again tonight or tomorrow…

    Then I’ll go see Lorax later in the week to lighten my mood ๐Ÿ™‚

    Comment by Darren — April 11, 2012 @ 10:46 am

  4. I have just read the first two books in the last three days (haven’t felt this hooked in by novels in years) and will go and see the movie. Interesting reading people’s thoughts on themes of faith/religion/atonement in the books afterwards – especially that of Peeta being a Christ-figure (being buried in a cave for three days before ‘coming back to life’), ever-loving Katniss even when she is not worthy of love…

    Comment by Rachel Cunliffe — April 11, 2012 @ 9:14 pm

  5. Hey… Also watched and read the books. Just like to point out that its Rue, not Roo. Just saying. Interesting article though!

    Comment by Kayli — April 13, 2012 @ 11:01 am

  6. Thanks Kayli. Correction made. Thanks for spotting it,


    Comment by steve — April 13, 2012 @ 11:17 am

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