It’s holy week. It is the time of the year when Christians enter into the story of Jesus’ last days. It is the time of year when Christians think about sacrifice.
It’s funny then that in the space of 24 hours, I watched two films at the cinema that both deal with the theme of sacrifice: ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ and ‘The Hunger Games‘.
I have already written a post detailing my initial thoughts of “cabin’ here but Ill summarise the plot here: (spoilers)
The film follows five college students who spend the weekend at a cabin and are killed off one by one. What soon becomes clear to the survivors is that they are part of a worldwide sacrificial system to appease the Gods who live underneath the ground.
For many the story of ‘Hunger Games’ is more familiar but here is a quick summary courtesy of IMDB:
Set in a future where the Capitol selects a boy and girl from the twelve districts to fight to the death on live television, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister’s place for the latest match.
The Hunger Games, the annual event where the young people kill each other, was established after some of the inhabitants staged an uprising. The Games are a reminder of what the people did and why they should never try it again. In some way the fighters are living sacrifices, killed to appease the President.
Both films deal with a worldwide sacrificial system, involving young people, that is set up to appease and entertain. In “cabin’ the young people do not know that they are part of it, whereas in ‘Games’ they do. Both films also end with the survivors choosing to turn against the system.
But there are key differences that mark out the films.
In ‘Cabin’ the Gods are angry. They want death and destruction and so the sacrificial system is set up to entertain them and take their minds off of killing everyone. It is a barter system. If they do not get their sacrifices, their will be bloodshed on a colossal level. Millions will die. What the film seems to suggest is that this is a continuation of the sacrificial system that has taken place since before the Old Testament was written and their are glimpses of Old Testament scenes in the opening credits. To sum it up, this systems primary function is to appease the God’s wrath.
In ‘Games’ the primary function of the sacrificial system is to remind the people of their guilt and through that, subdue them. It is not about appeasing a God or Gods but instead, it is a symbol of oppressive power and authority.
As I reflect on these movies and there sacrificial structures I see some similarities between them and the atonement (the crucifixion of Jesus) as well as some key differences.
In the next post I’ll explore this a little further.
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
The film follows Nina (Natalie Portman) as she takes the lead role in Swan Lake and battles physically and psychologically with the false self. The director (Vincent Cassel) urges her to give in to the false self (although not in those words). To give in to her urges, desires and cravings.
I think about the words of Paul written above. We no longer need to be animals. To be slaves to our desires. Not that desires are wrong. But when they control us, we become less than human.
In Paul’s theology, the old self has been crucified with Christ. Christ’s death on the cross has brought victory over our struggle. A sacrifice has been made for us.
In the Black Swan, in order to rid herself of the old self, blood must also be shed. But it’s her own blood. She sacrifices herself in order to claim victory over her old self.
It seems to be a truth that is found in movies, culture and theology.
The need for sacrifice.
For things to be reconciled, blood needs to be shed.
What’s different about the film is that it is the character who offers the sacrifice. Not God.
I have struggled with the idea of penal substitution being the main focus of atonement in recent years. Or at least the idea of redemptive violence. The idea that blood must be shed for reconciliation to occur.
I don’t think it needs to be like that at all.
What I choose to celebrate is that sacrifices are no longer needed. That victory has been found. That we can be the people we were called to be without the need for blood. Nina was born to be a dancer but in order to find that perfection, blood had to be spilled.
No more. We can have perfection. We can be “like God”. Because of Jesus. Because of his work.
In youth work, it is my role to share this victory. The cross dealt with the old self. That which abuses us, mocks us, tells us we’re not worth dying for.
And with this knowledge, we must live life to the full and be all that we were created to be.