D.M. Haight

It is becoming a theme with Hollywood where we visit an idea for a film, test the waters, see if it’ll work, and if it does, we’ll see a far superior product on the next go around. The first Hunger Games film enjoyed a great success under the gaze of director Gary Ross. What is important about this is that the first film in the franchise was a test, just like many other films in budding franchises are tests for Hollywood. They want to know if they can make money. Hunger Games fell in the cracks, right between Harry Potter and Twilight. Of course the franchise is nowhere near the caliber of both (in terms of fan base), it still managed to make a splash when it was released. Catching Fire, helmed by Francis Lawrence, has gone much further than the original had been able to. Unlike other films out right now, such as Ender’s GameCatching Fire does not fear tackling the subject material with an earnestness and sincerity that does the Suzanne Collins’s young adult series justice. Watching Catching Fire is like witnessing atrocities of suppression in person, up close. Every blow thrown from the Capitol to the Districts is a blow felt by us, the audience. When in the theater, we are watching, from our “comfortable” chairs–stuffing popcorn down our gullet, sipping on our soft drinks, and popping our raisinets–the plight of the oppressed. It makes us wonder how we can be so relaxed while people starve, get beaten, flogged, and murdered before the Quarter Quell even begins.

Jennifer Lawrence does an outstanding job reprising her role as the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, the Girl on Fire. She steals the show right out from under other fantastic performances from Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Josh Hutcherson, and Sam Claflin. Somehow Jennifer Lawrence manages to outshine all of those performances, the magnificent cinematography, and the breathtaking sets and costumes, breathing fresh life into a character we haven’t seen in two years. Her story picks up just one year after the events in the Hunger Games. She lives in luxury now, but she doesn’t like living on the Capitol’s paycheck. Her and Peeta (Hutcherson) have a strained partnership. They survive by the lie told in the Games, and Katniss’s existence relies on that lie remaining openly true. Traveling through the Districts, Katniss begins to see how the strife of the country is finally coming to a boiling point. The citizens are angry, rebellious, and ready for a symbol to arise to give fire to their unstoked bellies. But the rebellious spirit comes at a cost. People are being murdered in the streets to squelch the uprising, and those who act as a living reminder of the Capitol’s hideous actions, the Victors, are targeted as the next victims in the Games.

It’s hard not to admire the emotional pull we feel from this film. When Katniss and Peeta are in the 11th District, the family of Rue is there standing under a moving graphic of their lost Tribute. Obviously it’s a ploy of the Capitol to suppress the people, reminding them that they can take away their children with a random draw of a name from a bowl, and that those children, if they are lucky enough to return, will never be the same again. Tears are hard to fight back when Lawrence delivers a perfectly emotional speech, reminding us of how innocent her friend in the first film was, and how her death has affected the family now on display for the district, and the country, to see. We feel the tug in our guts as if we had lost our own loved one. And when we see an old man pay tribute to Rue and Katniss, we are subjected to a public beating and murder of an innocent. All this, while the Capitol throws lavish parties, eating so much food that they have to get sick to eat more. Literally getting sick off of their own outlandish luxury.

What Catching Fire represents to the audience is the reality of what can happen when an oppressive regime takes over the lives of the people they watch over. Nothing is private, nothing is sacred, and everything can be ripped from, you one way or another, no matter how much you beg. Sutherland and Hoffman have a great exchange about the ways to demoralize and deconstruct the uprising. Their plotting is exactly what we’d expect from two politicians who have everything to lose, their lives included, if they happen to let their power slip through their fingers. 

This is a story about the dire effects of suppression, the annihilation of rights and privileges; a recounting of how far the powerful will go to hoard their positions, and how those positions are more fragile than they appeal. So fragile, in fact, that they can be brought down with a handful of berries. It’s an allegory of our own society, both of our pasts, some of our presents, and unfortunately some of our futures. Catching Fire tells us to fight, and to be ready to protect our lives at a moment’s notice. Because all we have are moments, and it’s best not to waste them.

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