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Hunger Games: Catching Fire
American release 11/22/2013
For Americans, a movie suggesting small acts of timely rebellion against an iron grid political system would seem fruitless. Tea partiers and Obama holdouts would demand their payback. However, in Catching Fire, the sequel to the original Hunger Games film based off the book series by Suzanne Collins, forces the audience member to read deeper into the gripping dystopia for hand cues and solidarity between victors of a death match lottery and messages they infiltrate into the crowd in districts they are visiting. Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mallark, the mutual winners of the previous Hunger Games from District 12 are on a tour as the film opens, to draw up the masses into adoration on how survival of a human type lottery where typically only one survives can reflect success.
They first visit District 11, where the tribute, Rue, died. Katniss had a connection with Rue in the first film and helped her survive. When she died, she made a flower bed around her grave. A man in District 11 mimics the hand sign used between Katniss and Rue for survival. He is instantly put to death for all to see. The ultimate parody is no one really wins, no citizen, no tribute. Individual expression is looked down upon in Parem, a post-modern, anarchical city-state that seems to be solely in the hands of President Coriolanus Snow, played with a strong fist by Donald Sutherland. Although Sutherland is convincing, the overall forcefulness of his role is something that can’t seem to ignite the seams of fear and awe as his oppressive dialect becomes more overwrought with each advancing scene.
Only the sensitivity of Plutarch Heavensbee, the Quell Games coordinator, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, gives meaning to their exchanges as he confers with President Snow, addressing subtleties on how to control the ever-rebellious Katniss Everdeen, the feminine hero, who goes off script on speeches, publically stops the flogging of her true love, Gale, and is brutally honest even to the President’s face. The aura of the first Hunger Games movie, where the fatherless Everdeen family is submerged in poverty and confronts the reality of two sisters being sacrificed created more of a Charles Dickens type atmosphere where you can smell the doom but small waves of light shine through. Katniss clings to a mocking jay pin she buys to possess her sense of dignity in the upcoming games.
The first movie had uniformity and equal attention was paid to all tributes (fighters) from each 12 districts. The games had more succinctness and the battle lines were drawn. The audience was aware of the fallen as each scene took place. Katniss is more guarded in this film. She is breached in loyalty as to whether to love Gale or Peeta, trick the President or trust her allies. Woody Harrelson shines as Haymitch Abernathy, her mentor and guide. As Parem gets more dangerous and local executions become more common in public, Katniss has to rely more strategically on Abernathy and Effie Trinket played by Elizabeth Banks. The adult characters take a more central presence in this film which filters out the mind games of government thinking and positioning. Haymitch Abernathy, a talented drunk, will never sell Katniss short as the stakes are raised. Effie Trinket, dressed in tasty costumes from start to finish, comes across more real and heartfelt.
The true crux of the film is something that the mainstream audience can’t get without a backdrop history lesson. Parem, the Stalin like regime, is set up for sacrifice in a Mayan style atmosphere where one or two people get dined for a year and then metaphorically get their heart cut out. The baseline conclusion is one can’t win, but there is a foreshadowing that a greater revolution will occur.
This movie rode on the power of costuming and showmanship, as Katniss transformed from a wedding dress into a spinning mocking jay in dark violet with full bird wings. The resistance to President Snow and his domination is evident. Katniss will not be contoured by his desires nor put off by his disappointment. Three quarters through the movie, the Quell Games begins with winning tributes from previous years. Plagued by poisoned water, jungle orangutans and technological deceivers, the tributes have to outsmart a wedge sundial clock that emits tsunamis, fire and metronome style fatalities.
The powers that be change the timing in the middle of the games. Katniss aims a sharp arrow at the top of the dome, and the jungle crumbles. The arrow from the flint of her armor cascades the true symbolism of how even with all the hardware and steel, the regime could be taken down. Katniss is the villainous Robinhood femme fatale, the arrow of justice. In Parem, the rebellion is to “know the enemy.” The conscience resistance is underground. In America, we create the hero or the President only to consciously destroy him. The only lesson one can take from this movie, is it is a parody that the only true sacrifice is loyalty to self and those you love.