(Photo by Murray Close - 2013 - Lionsgate)
"Catching Fire," the new sequel to "The Hunger Games," opened this past weekend. It broke the November box office record with a staggering $161.1 million, and Christian reviewers say the sacrifices in the film prove remarkably similar to the deaths of early Christians in the Roman coliseum.
"I was struck by the level of sacrifice and strangely selfless heroism that we find in the film," Paul Asay, senior associate editor for Focus on the Family's review blog, Plugged In, told The Christian Post in an interview on Monday. In his own review, Asay wrote "The premise and plot of The Hunger Games can recall for some the Church's earliest martyrs – those who took part in another bloody spectacle on the floor of the Roman Colosseum."
"Catching Fire," the sequel to "The Hunger Games" (2012), follows the story of Katniss Everdeen, a heroine who voluntarily sacrifices herself to save her sister from a bloody struggle where children must fight to the death. The gladiator-like battle, known as the "Hunger Games," was instituted to keep the colonies in the empire of "Pan Am" subservient. In the first film, Everdeen wins the games, along with Peeta Malark, a boy from her district.
Their victory sparks a revolution, which builds in "Catching Fire." Everdeen becomes a symbol for that revolution, and the president organizes a new round of games, intending to kill her.
Asay did not claim that Suzanne Collins wrote the books with the connection to the Roman coliseum in mind, but he noticed many similarities between her fictional world of "Pan Am" and Ancient Rome. Both worlds center around a capital city – Rome or "The Capital" – both celebrate bloody games for the entertainment of the wealthy, and both exercise autocratic rule over those in remote parts of the empire.
One of the reasons the books and the films prove so successful, Asay argued, is that they "hearken back to some time-honored themes in Christianity." The reviewer mentioned "people giving up their lives for others, giving up their lives for a greater good," amidst a backdrop of injustice and oppression. It makes a modern audience question "what do we want to do with our lives?"
Craig Detweiler, an author, filmmaker, cultural commentator, and associate professor of Communication at Pepperdine University, agreed with this assessment. "The film's success is rooted in our hunger for genuine heroes who resist the scripts they've been given and try to take a smarter, higher, and tougher road," Detweiler told CP on Monday.
When asked if the main characters are similar to Early Church martyrs, Detweiler said "absolutely." He explained that the revolution brewing in the film "will be fueled by the blood of the martyrs gone before not unlike the Christians who resisted the Roman Empire two thousand years ago."
"The most inspiring aspect of 'Catching Fire' is the larger resistance and a conspiracy to undermine the empire that echoes the best of revolutions," Detweiler added, noting that this struggle reflects the historic revolutions against England, France and Rome.
In uplifting Katniss, the film uses the "conscious Christ-like imagery of a sacrificial leader being lifted up," Detweiler claimed.
Asay outspokenly declared that "Catching Fire" proved "better than the first." Detweiler also heaped praise upon the film, despite his criticism of the weak male contenders for Everdeen's affection, in his review on Patheos.
Both writers also referred to "a meta-commentary, a self-parody" in the film – a movie intentionally critiquing violent, distracting, mass entertainment is itself a bloody, engrossing, popular phenomenon. "It's hard to steer away from that," Asay noted.
Asay argued that this contrast portrays the complexity of human nature. "There's a part of us – the part closer to God – that really understands the messages, while the baser part of us really wants to have fun, latch on to something cool and hot and popular," the reviewer explained.