Redemption in the Hunger Games?

I’m reading James Scott Bell’s The Art of War for Writers again (excellent book) and flipped open
to page 104 today: “The writer who understands redemption is on the border of
enduring fiction.”
I read this three days after seeing The Hunger Games, a movie that disturbed me greatly—and, truth be
told, still does.
I think I’m beginning to understand why the movie so bothers
me: No redemption—or is there?

Literary redemption

Redemption Scene from The Shawshank Redemption

I have not read the books. I saw the movie with my wife, a
children’s librarian, because I thought it would be an interesting experiment—a
movie buff who hasn’t read the book watching the movie with a reader who
generally doesn’t appreciate movies. Plus, it was at the bargain theatre.

From Bell’s book: “Flannery O’Connor talked about the need
for a story to show ‘grace being offered.’ … 
Redemption is bound up in choice.
The right choice brings about redemption because the wrong choice will leave
the character in a worse moral condition.”
First of all, what do I mean by redemption?
Redemption: The
action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil.
This includes, but is not limited to, the traditional
Christian understanding of redemption: Where Jesus Christ laid down his life to
save humans from their sins, and the price of those sins, eternal separation
from God.

Lies and more lies

If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book—and you want
to—you may want to stop reading.
Katniss and Peeta considering suicide

At the climactic moment, after being lied to by the games’
organizers that both could survive, Katniss (the book’s main character) and
Peeta, a young man from her District and also a participant in the game, are
faced with a horrific choice: one of them must kill the other to survive and
win the game or they both must kill themselves, choosing to go out on their own

There is no redemption—no way to save or be saved from sin,
error, or evil. In fact, what Katniss’ gambit (pretending to be star-crossed
lovers willing to commit suicide) does is force the game’s organizers (who are
clearly evil) to offer a faux redemption
and reinstate the rule change that two participants from the same District
could win together. There will be repercussions for all involved.

But wait

Earlier in the movie, after finding Peeta injured and dying,
and after hearing the lie that there could be two winners if they were from the same
District, Katniss risks coming out into the open to retrieve the medicine Peeta
needs to survive.
And even earlier, Peeta, seeing Katniss nearly starving to
death and being in love with her, contrives a way to get a loaf of bread to her
that saves her life. Self-sacrifice! There is redemption, then.
But Katniss doesn’t really love Peeta the way he loves her.
She has another young man back in District 12 she’s in love with. But she knows
the “star-crossed lovers battling against insurmountable odds to survive” is a
powerful myth that will resonate with the television audience watching the game.
So her love is “ends justifies means” love—she will love
Peeta if it means they have a better chance at survival.

What does it all

phrase the end justifies the means refers to the morality of an action and is based solely on the outcome of that action and not on
the action itself. Example: Telling a lie that has no negative effect on
anyone, and saves someone grief, is good.
But there
can be no redemption in a lie. “O how terrible for those who confuse good with
evil, right with wrong, light with
dark, sweet with bitter.” Isaiah 5:20 (The Voice)

Think about that quote from Bell again: “Redemption is bound up in choice.
The right choice brings about redemption because the wrong choice will leave
the character in a worse moral condition.”

the end of the story, all of the characters are in a worse situation than they
were before—alive, but morally compromised. I walked out of the theatre,
dejected and oppressed rather than encouraged and freed.
the end of the Harry Potter movies, even the darker ones, good triumphed—often at
cost, but it triumphed. That does not happen here.
do you think? Have I missed something essential by having not read the books?

Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as former editor of the ACFW Journal, he is enjoying his playground. He also plays with words as a freelance editor/writer at, where each Tuesday he takes a writer Into The Edit, pulling back the veil on the editing process. He has edited several nonfiction books, played with words as a corporate communicator, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.