Catching Fire burns with rebellion


The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth & Donald Sutherland
Directed by Francis Lawrence
In cinemas now

The Hunger Games brings revolution to the big screen in an action-packed film adaption of author Suzanne Collins’ trilogy.

The second film, Catching Fire, takes off nicely where the first left off. It lifts the bar in every aspect, from the intensity of the storyline, to the performances and production quality.

The film’s release in North America scored the top November opening of all time at the box office, smashing the record previously set by fellow “young adult” film adaptation The Twilight Saga: New Moon. The reception was similar around the world.

This is an exciting outcome for a film that, in contrast to its vampire romance counterpart, features themes of solidarity, collective action and revolution ― led by a strong, non-sexualised female heroine, Katniss Everdeen (brilliantly played by Jennifer Lawrence).

“Catching Fire” is a metaphor for the ability of hope and resistance to spread, like a spark that leads to a blazing fire. In this film the spark has well and truly ignited as the flame of resistance through the population of the fictional nation of Panem.

The themes of solidarity and collective struggle, only touched on in the first film, are more prominent in Catching Fire. The seeds of subversion planted in the first film start to take root.

Fans of the novels will delight in the film's strict adherence to the storyline and emphasis of the book.

It starts with the traditional “Victor’s Tour”, in which winners of the Hunger Games tour Panem’s districts ― divided areas whose population works for the mega-wealthy Capitol. The Hunger Games are annual filmed contests in which two youths from each of the 12 districts are chosen by lottery to fight to the death for the entertainment of the Capitol.

The tour of the winners of the last Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), reveals brewing discontent. We see the Capitol’s veil of manufactured consent starting to lift. The exploited people of the districts have begun to question the system, reflected in the graffiti on a wall: “the odds are never in our favour.”

These early scenes contain some of the most heart-lifting displays of solidarity ― symbolised by the Mockingjay emblem and the three-finger salute ― followed by heartwrenching scenes of repression as the Capitol’s armed forces crack down.

The actions of the RoboCop-like soldiers in the film are reminiscent of the police crackdowns on Occupy protesters, as well as military repression in response to uprisings against dictatorships in the Arab Spring.

But despite amping up the propaganda and repression, the Capitol is unable to contain the wave of resistance that spreads through the districts. Unknown to them at the time, the act of defiance by Katniss and Peeta during the Hunger Games, depicted in the first film, provided the spark.

Panem's President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland) announces a cruel twist in a bid to quash discontent. To mark the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games, the competitors will be chosen from the existing pool of victors, a male and female from each district. This means Katniss is back in the Arena, alongside Peeta.

Although brave and compassionate, Katniss is often an unwilling revolutionary. In the film, we see her drawn to individualistic solutions, with her primary goal protecting her loved ones.

At one point, she proposes to her childhood friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) that they run away to the woods to live in safety. Gale, however, instinctively recognises the need for collective struggle.

He identifies the shared interests of people from all districts ― a clear analogy to common interests of all working people in our society.

As a character notes, it is crucial to “remember who the real enemy is”. We are more powerful if we are not divided by such things as racism, sexism and homophobia.

As the film unfolds, while Katniss’ actions are often heroic, it is when all participants in the Hunger Games unite that they can defeat the game and challenge the system.

The dystopian fictional future depicted in the Hunger Games series has disturbing parallels to reality, and provides an excellent source of analysis for our own society.

Sutherland explicitly notes this in a November 19 interview with The Guardian: “It just puts things out in the light and lets you have a look at it. And if you take from it what I hope you will take from it, it will make you think a little more pungently about the political environment you live in and not be complacent.”

Sutherland said he hoped the film would inspire youth to rebel, saying: “I hope that they will take action because it's getting drastic in this country.”

The Capitol can be seen as an allegory of the wealthy layers in the Western world; dominated by consumerism, over-indulgence and distractions in the form of celebrity, fashion and excessive parties. This wealth is made possible by the exploitation of the labour and resources of the districts; read the working class and the countries of the global South.

Panem is a world of extreme inequality. In the districts, people go hungry no matter how hard they work, while those in the Capitol live in effortless opulence. A small percentage of the population controls a most of the wealth.

Sound familiar? In the US, 1% of the population controls 40% of the wealth. Here in Australia, the richest 20% own more than the rest of the population combined.

Many viewers may just see a well-made action-blockbuster with attractive actors, but the revolutionary themes are striking a chord with many young viewers.

A fan group calling themselves the Harry Potter Alliance have created a video titled “The Hunger Games are Real”, highlighting the similarities between the fictional world and the US today.

The video calls on young people to “Join the Resistance”, in the form of a mostly online campaign called “Odds in Our Favour”, paraphrasing the Capitol’s ironic slogan of the Games, “May the odds be ever in your favour”.

People are encouraged to upload a photo of themselves giving the “three finger salute” ― a symbol of solidarity and resistance in the film. They are then added to an “action network” and sent regular actions to take part in.

The video ends with the declaration: “The fire has started and we will not stop, not until the odds are in everyone’s favour.”

It is interesting that a film pushing potentially radical politics is such a huge hit with young viewers globally. It seems to contradict the constantly reinforced message that young people are apathetic and apolitical.

Perhaps it is not politics that young people are disengaged with, but the sham “democracy” of capitalism, in which the odds are never in our favour.

Sutherland told The Guardian: “Hopefully they will see this film … and then maybe organise. Stand up.”

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