The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) Directed by: Francis Lawrence - Movie Review
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Catching Fire picks up shortly after the events of the first Hunger Games movie. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), after their unconventional victory in the 74th Hunger Games, find themselves still entangled in the political life of the Capital. However, now they are being blackmailed by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) into co-operating in a victory tour that ultimately sparks a rebellion in the districts of Panem, much to President Snow’s displeasure.
The first film, The Hunger Games (2012), based on the book of the same name, drew its influences in part from the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur and from elements of Greco-Roman culture including the Olympic games, gladiator culture, and the Latin metaphor panem et circenses (bread and circuses)—a metaphor used to describe the way public consciences can be created based on supplying common needs of the people. Give them food and entertainment and they will be easier to control. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, builds on these ideas while adding an element of disparity between the rich populous of the Capital District with its totalitarian political structure, and the thirteen impoverished and oppressed dysfunctional districts.
Outside of the Capital District President Snow isn't giving the poor people food. Snow and the Capital District take resources from the poor and rule with an iron fist in a velvet glove. The iron fist is enforced poverty, public floggings, executions, and the annual culling male and female tributes to fight in the gladiator style Hunger Games which celebrate putting down a rebellion. In this sci-fi action thriller Snow's velvet glove is the entertainment provided—the circus element—that idolizes the game’s participants and victors. This manic entertainment culture is meant to distractand placate the masses with glossy media stories about hairdos, dresses and highly-manufactured romantic gossip. The self-absorbed people of the Capital District, along with most of the hardworking people in the other districts, eat up this vapid tabloid 'journalism' but in Catching Fire this is changing. It's changing because the people have a growing hope in the person of Katniss Everdeen whose hungry stomach is not so easily controlled by the Capital District's bread or its dazzling circus.
Suzanne Collins, the book’s author, is a Roman Catholic and in the character of Katniss Everdeen provides a study on hope and how it can motivate people in the face persecution and great trials. This same theme comes across in the film. In the Christian life Jesus Christ is the source of all true hope. He is the fountainhead of hopefulness in the face of trouble. Is Katniss Everdeen a Christ figure? Yes and no.
On one hand, Katniss Everdeen is not a Christ figure because she is not perfect like Christ Jesus, yet she is a Christ figure for different reasons. Unlike Jesus from Holy Scripture, who is perfect in every way, Katniss has her flaws. She is stubborn to a fault and makes poor choices in the heat of the moment. She also physically kills people. In this way she is more like a violent judge from the biblical book of Judges or a faithful yet flawed Christian martyr (although she makes it out of Catching Fire in one piece). Like the biblical judge or Christian martyr Katniss' righteousness is an external righteousness bestowed upon her by something outside of herself—in this story by the people who are desperate for salvation. In the case of the judges of the Bible and the Christian martyrs God bestows righteousness from outside.
On the other hand, Katniss is Christ-like in two ways: first, the character inspires people to be self-sacrificing, placing the needs of others before her own personal needs, and second, she is willing to die so that others can live. Specifically in Catching Fire this is seen in her attempts to keep alive the character Peeta Mellark, her own family, a competing love interest, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), and countless others.
Catching Fire as a Study of Hope
Early in Catching Fire Katniss' sister says “Since the last games, something is different. I can see it.” Katniss asks, “What can you see?” her sister responds, “Hope.” Saint Paul in his letter to the Roman Christians writes that, “hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” The strategy of the dictator President Snow who is scheming with Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) the crafty game designer is to show Katniss Everdeen as being shallow, vapid, self-centred, and untrustworthy. The plan hinges on the desire that the people would lose hope in her because they would see her as Snow wants her to be seen, not the way she truly is. Snow wants the people to be distracted by his lie and lose hope in Katniss and what she represents. However, what Saint Paul is getting at with these words to the Roman Christians is that hope is the act of looking past what’s right in front of you to what lays ahead. In the case of the Christian life that's the promised future glory of eternal life with Christ Jesus. In the case of Catching Fire, the desire of the growing revolution is for the oppressed people to look past Katniss' faults, if necessary, to find hope for the future, a life lived without the boot of President Snow and the Capital District upon their collective necks. This is a life they cannot see when they look at their poverty and troubles, but like the hope of the Bible and the Christian life it is a hope that is viewed when the focus is a promised future.
"Remember Who The Real Enemy Is."
Throughout the film we hear the phrase first uttered by Katniss and Peeta's mentor, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), "Remember who the real enemy is." It shows up in a rather memorable way at the film’s critical moment and it has a lot to do with hope. The enemy in Catching Fire is all about distraction just as in the Christian life the enemies are likewise about distraction. In the Small Catechism Martin Luther lists the enemies in the Christian life as sin, death, the devil, the world and our own sinful nature. All these evil things serve to distract the Christian and attempt to take our eyes off Jesus who is the "Author and Finisher of our faith." Saint Peter describes the devil as a "roaring lion," who "prowls around," "looking for someone to devour." Peter also counsels Christians to "be sober-minded; be watchful," basically to "remember who the real enemy is."
In Catching Fire President Snow embodies all these evils and regardless of the obstacles, distractions and small enemies in front of her, Katniss and everyone else must remember who their true enemy is. They are called to not lose hope in the face of present suffering, but rather resist and seek the future kingdom— a new life without President Snow and everything he represents. In this way Catching Fire points to Christian teachings on hope in the midst of suffering.
As a film The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is better crafted than the previous installment. The direction of Francis Lawrence garners better performances from the actors and, despite a rather long running time, the movie feels well-paced. The action is shot in a remarkably bloodless fashion which lends itself to the PG/PG13 rating. However don't be fooled by the seemingly kid-friendly rating, the film still contains mature themes and violence. While bloodless, it is not without its disturbing qualities and is not a movie for the very young. The books are found in the teen fiction area of book stores and this is the film’s primary audience. What at first looks like predictability in the story’s unfolding events may in fact be there to hammer home the sense of futility the characters face and to heighten the depths of their hope in the face of trouble. Having not read this series, when discussing it with a couple of people who have read the books, it's fair to say this is a successful adaptation of the novel. Catching Fire appears to be a better adaptation to film than the recent Ender's Game and while not as much fun as Thor: The Dark World, (although Catching Fire isn't meant to be 'fun') it is still agood quality film.
The Rev. Ted Giese is associate pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; a contributor to Reformation Rush Hour on KFUO AM Radio, The Canadian Lutheran and Reporter; and movie reviewer for the “Issues, Etc.” radio program. Follow Pastor Giese on Twitter @RevTedGiese.
1 Peter 5:8