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Apocalypse and The Hunger Games

The final installment of The Hunger Games films (Mockingjay: Part Two) has been released. Amidst the acres of coverage about Jennifer Lawrence, the on-screen violence (is it appropriate for twelve year-olds?) and an apparently patchy and unconvincing ending, it is worth pausing to consider the apocalyptic nature of the franchise. Where does it stand within the current burgeoning landscape of popular cinematic apocalypticism, which ranges from mainstream classics such as The Seventh Seal (1957), Apocalypse Now (1979), and The Road (2009), blockbusters such as Independence Day (1996), 2012 (2009), and supposedly ‘kid-friendly’ apocalyptic films such as Disney’s WALL·E (2008), right through to Christian franchises such as The Left Behind films (2000-2005, 2014) and The Omega Code (1999 and 2000)?

The well-worn trope in the vast majority of these apocalyptic films is a vision of a dystopian landscape following some catastrophe—natural, man-made, or both—populated by a small band of plucky or not-so plucky survivors fighting against all odds. The most notable exception to this general rule is the explicitly Christian Left Behind series, though even that dwells far more on the tribulations undergone by its characters than on the promise of redemption. In this respect, The Hunger Games books and films are no exception. They are set in Panem, a fictionalised country that bears striking resemblance in many ways to North America, a century or more into the future. Panem is governed by President Snow and his evil acolytes from the safety of the technologically advanced, flashy Capitol while the rest of the population endures a primitive existence in semi-rural conditions. Heroine Katniss Everdeen, after being coerced into participating in the eponymous “Hunger Games” as her District’s tribute to the shadowy powers in the Capitol (which itself has its origins in the ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur), becomes a powerful symbol of resistance. In the final installment of the film series, the evil powers appear to be defeated but a degree of uncertainty and sense of insecurity remain.

There are certainly strong apocalyptic themes here, including but not limited to a binary opposition between good and evil, the idea of evil masquerading as “good” and sophisticated, and a time of escalating tribulation, as well as a strong theme of martyrdom. All of these ideas have their origins in the ultimate apocalyptic text, the biblical Book of Revelation, as well its Jewish antecedents. However, just as important as the depictions of disasters and battles in the Book of Revelation is the coming of the New Jerusalem (for believers at least). Even more, the pivotal figure in Revelation is Christ represented as The Lamb of God, a willing victim whose self-sacrifice enables the old order to be definitively overturned.

Therefore, in narratives like The Hunger Games, what we are presented with is a bizarre fusion of some of the key features of the apocalyptic with post-modernist views—a world in which evil is defeated (but not necessarily definitively) and “good” characters are imbued with seemingly divine goodness (and a Teflon-like ability to avoid death) whilst remaining resolutely human in other respects.

This typically contemporary take on apocalypse may be more realistic in some sense, but it is not apocalyptic in the original biblical understanding of the term. Within the pantheon of contemporary apocalyptic cinema, The Hunger Games franchise therefore stands firmly within the mainstream trend of what should more properly be called “apocalyptic revisionism.”

Image Credit: “Hunger Games” by Mike Mozart. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

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