Catching Fire and Catching its Message About Poverty

catching fire


She refused to lose weight for her role in the Hunger Games trilogy. She’s aware of her ethical responsibility as a role model for teenaged girls. Her character is strong, beautiful, and fiercely maternal.

Catching Fire rises and falls on Jennifer Lawrence’s magnetic performance. The  Hunger Games series hinges on Katniss Everdeen’s guts, passion and finesse with a bow. And honestly, though I’m no great fan of futuristic dystopian fantasy, Jennifer Lawrence is why I went to see Catching Fire.

As I came out of the theatre, Lawrence’s image wasn’t the only picture reverberating in my skull. The oppressed masses are a character in themselves. I still see them in my mind’s eye, raising their left arm in silent rebellion against the power and excesses of the Capitol, and I find myself identifying with their plight and their courage. This is, after all, what Christ came to do, to “to proclaim good news to the poor…to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” (Isaiah 61:1)

But Panem, Hunger Games’ fictional society, tempts us to oversimplify exactly what poverty is and who God is talking about when he refers to the poor. In Catching Fire, it’s easy to say that rich = bad and poor = good. We cheer for the revolution—we stick it to the man. We are disgusted at the first world excesses of those who hold power and money, those who gorge themselves and then drink medicinal pink cocktails to make themselves sick so they can gorge themselves some more and try every piece of food at the party while poor miners and slaves suffer from perpetual hunger in the districts. But stop. We cannot oversimplify.

This is oversimplification: an oversimplified liberal view believes that poor people are victims of their context and of systemic injustice. So the key to eradicating poverty is the redistribution of wealth. An oversimplified conservative view believes that poor people deserve to be poor because they’ve made poor choices. So the key to eradicating poverty is moral reformation. Neither view captures the full complexities of real life. (Though I admit I’m personally more attracted to the compassion espoused by one view over the other!)

Oversimplification is easy. But oversimplification demonizes and categorizes. Christ never does that. Look at the company he kept, the healings he did and didn’t do, the situations he did and did not touch. He turned water into wine in a context of privilege and celebration, a wedding. He rubbed spit into a blind man’s eye. He washed the feet and broke the bread of  a man who he knew would betray him for 30 pieces of silver. He allowed for the sheer waste of a whole herd of swine to fall off a cliff. He engineered sheer provision by materializing bread and fish for thousands.

In a recent exclusive interview with TIME magazine, Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins muses on the irony that her movie trailers now blast the same train of manipulative multimedia images that her books are so critical of. “I hope it’s an irony that the audience is aware of as well,” she says. As Katniss Everdeen wows us with her grit and Jennifer Lawrence entices us with her fantastic screen presence, are we as engaged and aware as Suzanne Collins hopes?

Let Scripture be your point of engagement and awareness with media. Be sensitive to the messages that movies communicate and wrestle with what they are teaching you against the measuring stick of God’s eternal wisdom, not just against the measuring stick of what political party you vote for.

On earth, Christ walked a delicate balance between abundance and poverty, silence and thunder. May we do the same.

This piece is cross-posted on The Revangelical Blog