' ' Cinema Romantico: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Monday, April 07, 2014

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Throughout “Hunger Games: Catching Fire” there are glimpses of societal unrest and consequent government retaliation. These glimpses, however, are limited, often viewed through the prism of a computer screen, as if evoking a nightly newscast chronicling the day’s events. It exists but is not necessarily felt. "Remind you of anyone?" the reviewer asked rhetorically.

The single time it hits close to home involves the first film’s heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), as troops storm her district and threaten the man she loves. That he is spared can be traced directly to her identity as victor of the 74th Annual Hunger Games, and that is the film’s foremost paradox. The Hunger Games exist to keep the nation’s twelve districts in line and, as the face of those Games, Katniss is a Government emblem. Ultimately, however, she also becomes a symbol of rebellion.

“Catching Fire”, with Francis Lawrence taking the director's chair from Gary Ross, more so than its predecessor even, aims to illustrate how hollow spectacle can divert attention from real world problems (travesties). “Conjure magic for them and they’ll be distracted.” Of course, that’s what these films are – magical distractions. Turkey can’t watch a pirated copy of “Catching Fire” on Youtube and we bemoan this because it's so much easier to bemoan a lack of Youtube than to mentally square with election fraud and riot police.

The first film in the planned trilogy did this too, demonstrating how Reality TV could be manipulated, except it was simultaneously manipulating the audience for entertainment’s sake, almost canceling out its own message. Jennifer Lawrence, however, front and center, never felt phony amidst all the machinations, making it seem as if she was playing the game for real. In “Catching Fire”, as the stakes obligatorily rise and compromises and counteractions only grow more complex, Lawrence continues to bind these films together without flinching in the face of their twists and turns.

As the first film ended, Katniss and her fellow Hunger Games contestant from District 12, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), had feigned a romantic relationship, ensuring they would both survive rather than only one, contrary to the Games’ rules. This endeared them to their compatriots, inciting pockets of rebellion, and made them enemies in the eyes of their government and its unctuous President (Donald Sutherland). As “Catching Fire” opens, Katniss is made to deal with her false boyfriend and her real boyfriend (Liam Hemsworth), because what’s a female protagonist in Hollywood if she doesn’t have a little boy trouble? To make her faux-affair with Peeta more convincing, she suggests they wed, which is played perfectly by Lawrence as a sort of “See, I have a ring on my finger now – y’all happy?” moment. It’s not enough. She’s still too dangerous. 

Continually “Catching Fire” employs Reality TV-esque twists specifically because the film is built around the Reality TV nature of The Hunger Games, never so supremely as when The Gamemaker (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, purposely as impressed with himself as Jeff Probst) devises a “wrinkle”. The 75th Hunger Games will employ past champions, sort of “All Star Survivor”, and this way the Government can ensure Katniss is killed off and the brewing rebellion with her.

At first, Katniss is living in the lap of luxury within the walled-off compounds of the Capital, apart from the society that adores her, but she never comes across comfortable in her surroundings. The costuming here, as in the first one, can be rather outlandish. Yet even when Lawrence is placed in a futuristic Amazonian queen get-up as she enters a scene aboard a chariot (like a Pixie Ben Hur), she makes clear her awareness of and distaste with the absurdity of it all. Not to get meta (which is to say, to totally get meta), it begs the question of how much Lawrence's personal life and grapple with stardom informed her decisions in the role. After all, Katniss is a celebrity who has already looked behind the curtain and seen the Wizard's a phony baloney.

It's what make her second tour de Hunger Games so much more electrifying - the fact that victory becomes not as much about mere survival as a reclamation of honesty. You sense that every move she makes is in direct reaction to the President's desired script, and when, late in the film, she launches one of her patented arrows into the night sky, she gloriously shatters the entire illusion.

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