The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

What impressed me about the first film was its ambiguous ending. In order to triumph over the brute survivalist-capitalist gladiatorial contest, Katniss and Peeta have to utilise an alienating narrative of love forced onto them by the media hurricane around the Games. You are never free from the symbols you enact. Victory over one narrative involves enlisting another, which can be just as exploitative.

I'm happy to report that Catching Fire continues to play with these ideas, but here the dilemmas and compromises are foisted onto the "good guys" trying to fight the autocratic regime. The film, while long, wraps up unexpectedly quickly, and the details of the plot (in both senses of the word) are not fully explained. Nonetheless, it's clear enough that Katniss has been betrayed by her own side. The film begins with her at home and hunting, beyond the reach of the law and as free as she is ever likely to be. She tells Gale that she doesn't want to represent anything, she just wants to run away. That option is blocked first by the dictator himself, and then by the resistance, who both conspire to return Katniss to the Hunger Games and vie in their efforts to make her a symbol again.

The manipulation of Katniss's "image" is now beyond her control. She is the plaything of unknown conspiratorial factions embodied in Donald Sutherland's President Snow and Philip Seymour Hoffman's duplicitous Gamemaster, and they are interested only in power, not in her. The people they co-opt or coerce (Hamish, Cinna, the other Victors, Katniss herself) are pawns in a political game made literal. Johanna and Peeta are the victims in this film, and Katniss reaction to their treatment as means rather than ends in themselves is one of horror. I (still!) haven't read the books, but fully expect the sequels to continue to explore Sutherland and Hoffman's rivalry, and not shy away from the moral ambiguities that have defined the first two films in the series.

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