Catching Fire

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The government breaks promises in fiction, too.

There’s nothing quite so terrible as living a lie.  Katniss and Peeta are forced to live one for the cameras.  It would be pretty hard to complain, however, seeing as creating the lie in the first place was the only thing that allowed them to live through the games.  However, all of that starts crashing down when the President informs them that he wasn’t fooled; not in the slightest.

The interactions between President Snow and Katniss mark what is the most important shift between the first and second installments of this trilogy.  The first was about the culture embracing violence and the suffering of the children under the dark hand of the state.  The second goes a step further, instead contemplating the state itself and how inescapable its reach is once it’s given control.

Or is it?

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That’s the great question.  It’s a question that Katniss is forced to contemplate when President Snow gives her an ultimatum: convince the country that your actions were from love, not rebellion, or everyone you care about will die.  And we all get the impression that President Snow doesn’t make empty threats.  This is the make-or-break moment for the movie.  Will Jennifer Lawrence pull off the complicated Katniss desperate to save her family and friends?  Will Josh Hutcherson pull off the desperate Peeta, longing for true closeness to Katniss, his only true friend (and he hopes more)?  Will Liam Hemsworth pull off Gale, the jealous and angry lover, bent on rebellion, beaten and bloody by the peacekeepers?  My opinion: they strike gold.  Lawrence has never been more convincing or Hutcherson more compelling.  After all, Peeta is the true reason to love this series.

Confused?  Allow me to explain.

The key element in most dystopian works is the acceptance that the people have of the culture.  That was probably most apparent in The Hunger Games when we saw children playing as though they were in the games.  Even if you reject the games, it’s nearly impossible not to get drawn into the depraved mindset of kill-or-be-killed; of violence, murder, and bloodshed.  In that violent culture, Peeta stands out with a blinding degree of brightness.  He is moral in an immoral culture, despite having pathetic excuses for parents, and being treated like dirt by Katniss upon their arrival back home.  He doesn’t falter.  If, God forbid, our culture should turn this bad, I would want my kids to look like Peeta.  Indeed, I myself would want to look like Peeta.

These threats become all the more real when Snow sends her (along with Peeta, albeit somewhat unintentional on Snow’s part) back to the arena.

At this point, the worldview is put on hold a bit while we go back to the same old formula of the first movie.  Food.  TV spots.  Fashion.  Training.  Allies.  Then the bloodbath starts.

This film exhibits a lot more creativity on the part of the makers than the first (which is impressive, seeing as they did a great job transferring the first to film).  They do a fantastic job with the arena, which you know is quite a feat if you’ve read the book.  We’re also introduced to a few more colorful characters.  We meet ladies’ man Finnick, the ingenious Beetee, and the insane Wiress, as well as the angry Johanna.  Once in the arena they interact together extremely well, but it’s the moments before the arena that perturb me the most, and they all come from Johanna.

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One reason I like the fact that The Hunger Games is the new teen fad is that it has depth.  It is also shockingly lacking in sexuality and vulgarity.  The exception comes with Johanna, who strips down in an elevator just to make Katniss uncomfortable.  I’m sure Suzanne Collins thought that was mighty creative of her, but it’s just another lousy excuse to throw a naked woman up on the screen, adding to the desensitization of sexuality in our culture, as well as the objectification of women.  The film also gets away with a particularly disturbing addition—two f-words.  She drops it during the TV spot with Caesar Flickerman, and it’s “bleeped” out on-screen, but let’s face it, everyone in the theater knows what she said.  It also functions as a desensitizer.  Swearing is all around us to such an extent that even a PG-13 movie aimed at many movie-going families is permitting to sneak in the most vulgar word in the English language.  This is beyond concerning; it’s horrifying.

The true worldview of this film, however, is a political one.  It flirts dangerously with the idea of justified rebellion, but if you stick through to the end, you’ll see that isn’t truly the case.  In fact, I like this story the most among “rebellion” stories, because it’s the most honest look at political rebellion that you’ll ever see.  The unfortunate nature of the story, however, is that most movie-goers will focus more on the love triangle than the warnings about culture on government.  Don’t do that.  If you do, you’ll miss the deepest messages that this story has to offer us.

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Logan Judy
Logan Judy is a Christian blogger and science fiction author with a Batman complex. At Cross Culture, Logan writes about film, comics, cultural analysis, and whatever else strikes his fancy. In addition to his work at Cross Culture, Logan also blogs and podcasts at A Clear Lens. You can find him tweeting about Batman, apologetics, and why llamas will one day rule the world, @loganrjudy.
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