The recent release of the first movie based on the Hunger Games trilogy has renewed attention to the wildly popular franchise from author Suzanne Collins. From a Christian perspective, one of the striking things about the film and the book series is the absence of explicit religion or references to God. As Jeffrey Weiss has observed, “The word ‘god’ does not so much as appear in any of the books. Nobody even says ‘oh my gosh.’ There’s no ritual that isn’t totally grounded in some materialistic purpose. Not a hint of serious superstition. Unless I missed it, there’s not a remotely idiomatic reference to the supernatural.”
Weiss’ analysis about the lack of religiosity is borne out by examining the Hunger Games through the lens of hope. Hope is a rich theological concept that has been the basis for deep reflection and significant experience throughout the history of the church. Thomas Aquinas identified hope as one of the three “theological” virtues, inspired by the apostle Paul’s declaration that “these three remain: faith, hope and love.” If there’s little faith in a religious sense in the Hunger Games, we might also ask if there’s any hope.
Even in a land without any conception of a deity, there is an undercurrent of hope throughout the story. The dynamic of hope and hopelessness makes its first and perhaps most significant appearance in Katniss’ recollection of her interaction with Peeta, the “boy with the bread.” Katniss, who has become responsible for providing for her family after her father’s death and her mother’s withdrawal from the world, has reached the end of her resources. Katniss wanders around scavenging for food. “I couldn’t go home,” she recalls. “Because at home was my mother with her dead eyes and my little sister, with her hollow cheeks and cracked lips. I couldn’t walk into that room with the smoky fire from the damp branches I had scavenged at the edge of the woods after the coal had run out, my hands empty of any hope.” In the world of Panem’s District 12, bread means hope. Food represents hope for freedom from hunger, if only for a little while. When Peeta sees Katniss and her suffering, he takes mercy on her. He intentionally burns some bread from his parents’ bakery and throws the bread to Katniss, who is huddled outside in the rain. As Katniss reflects, “just throwing me the bread was an enormous kindness that would have surely resulted in a beating if discovered.”