G.K. Chesterton once wrote that “Christianity got over the difficulty of combining furious opposites by keeping them both, and keeping them both furious.” And indeed, it seems like the religion specializes in dichotomy. Christians are guided by rules but covered by grace. We hold monks who don’t talk to anyone and missionaries who talk with everyone in equally high regard. We’re simultaneously sin-twisted creatures and God’s greatest creation.
Yeah, Christianity is pretty strange.
Take the whole dichotomy between justice and grace. Lean too far one way, and you’re thwacking every bad deed and its doer with a sledgehammer. Lean too far the other, and you’re just a milquetoast pushover. And while we do our best to balance the two, it’s hard to keep them both and keep them furious. I doubt one person can even really do it.
But two people? Maybe.
No one would call The Hunger Games‘ Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) a model for spiritual grace. Or even social grace, for that matter. She’s too honest, too abrasive, too judgmental. In the first Hunger Games, we hear how furious she was with her mother for being practically comatose when Katniss’ father died. When she takes her sister’s place in the Games, she does it out of love—but there’s an element of justice, too. It’s not fair that someone so young should have to fight and die. It’s not right. And again, that sense of fairness comes out when she talks about her fallen ally, Rue, in Catching Fire.
“She wasn’t just my ally, she was my friend,” she says. “I see her in the flowers that grow in the meadow by my house. I hear her in the Mockingjay song. I see her in my sister Prim. She was too young, too gentle, and I couldn’t save her. I’m sorry.”
Too young. Too gentle. It’s not fair.
Katniss is not a perfect catalyst for justice early on. There are many times she expresses a desire to run away. But eventually she embraces the mantle of The Mockingjay—a symbol of greater justice for all of Panem—and in Mockingjay – Part 2, she becomes a near spiritual savior figure—a paladin anointed to rid the country of its horrible white dragon.
“I’m going to kill Snow,” she says. “He needs to see my eyes when I kill him.”
(Even then, when her justice is focused on that one person, though, she’s outraged by the morally questionable tactics of her own side. “I guess there are no rules anymore about what a person can do to another person,” she says coldly when she hears of a two-stage bomb meant to kill rescue personnel.)
“Fire is catching!” Katniss says in
Catching Fire the first Mockingjay movie. “If we burn, you burn with us!”
Peeta steps into this land of fiery retribution as, ironically, a baker’s son—someone who can make something good from the flame. The contrast between he and Katiss is fascinating, I think: Katniss the hunter who kills her food, Peeta the baker who grows it. Fittingly, in the midst of these Hunger Games, he’s often more a bringer of life, not a taker. And he brings that life especially to Katniss.
Just as Katniss has little patience for the sins of others, she hates herself for her own. “No one decent ever wins the Games,” she says in Catching Fire. Peeta, she knows, is a much better person than she is.
But here’s the thing: While Peeta can see those awful traits in Katniss just as clearly as Katniss does, he typically chooses to see the best in her. He loves her. Unconditionally. Sacrificially. While Katniss may be Panem’s Messiah-like figure, it’s Peeta who better resembles Christ. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, in the book Catching Fire, Katniss crafts a crown of flowers for Peeta.
Peeta goes off the rails a bit in the Mockingjay movies. But it’s interesting how Katniss brings him back: Through truth, that close sibling of justice. Throughout the book (and movie), they play a “game” of real/not real—an effort to help Peeta separate his real memories from the “shiny, glossed over” ones the Capitol stuffed in his head.
“That’s what you and I do.” Katniss says in the clip. “Keep each other alive.”
And so they do. Katniss keeps Peeta alive physically. Peeta, often, keeps Katniss alive emotionally and spiritually. Maybe that’s what justice and grace do in our own lives, too—one informing the other, bolstering the other. Complete opposites that somehow, when they’re at their best, work in paradoxical harmony.
A quick spoiler alert: Near the end of Mockingjay – Part 2, Katniss is, in all but body, dead. She lives on in a daze, mourning for the loved ones she lost, shuffling through life like a zombie. But she finds the energy to hunt—she’s a survivor, after all—and she takes down a bird. As she comes home, the carcass dangling from her hand, she sees Peeta—a man whom she hadn’t seen since the Capitol fell—in her front yard, planting flowers.
Katniss, holding death in her hand in a burned, charred, wasteland, sees Peeta planting new life.