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'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' fans the flames brighter

Photo: Courtesy Photo, License: N/A

Courtesy Photo

The Dating Games: Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) try to keep up appearances


Luke Skywalker never suffered from PTSD.

Well, we can presume he did. We can easily imagine that he woke up from nightmares drenched in sweat. We just never saw it onscreen. Depicting that sort of thing used to be the domain of angsty fan fiction. Nowadays, Tony Stark, in 3D IMAX, can’t sleep after New York. Similarly, we get our reintroduction to Katniss Everdeen, co-winner of the 74th Hunger Games, via a tremendously horrific flashback she experiences in what was once her safe place—her secret hunting grounds in the woodsy fringes of District 12.

Her life as she knew it is over. Catching Fire covers Katniss’ “victory tour” and new life as a tool in an endless propaganda parade shoring up the spoiled, despotic Capitol that bleeds its impoverished districts dry of all resources, demanding even the lives of their children in the annual bloodsport battle-to-the-death called the Hunger Games.

Katniss (the glorious Jennifer Lawrence) isn’t anything like a classic hero—and I don’t mean because of her gender. She is not a rebel. She is not an idealist. She’s not Luke Skywalker. She has never dreamed of overthrowing the Capitol, and she isn’t starting now. She is pure pragmatism in a tough world with few options at her disposal, and she is doing what she must to save her own skin and protect those she loves. She is blatant about this: “I did what I had to do to survive.”

This is not a thing that heroes say. Sometimes it’s clear that’s what they’re about, just regular guys—almost always guys—thrown into a bad situation they wouldn’t have chosen for themselves. But I can’t recall one of them ever actively pushing away the role thrust upon them... nor a story itself seeming to work toward the apparent diminution of its protagonist. I might even find myself fighting suspicions that this was a function of the, er, non-Hollywood-traditional gender of said protagonist, except that Katniss is probably the most plausible hero—yes, she’s definitely still a hero—that could come out of her oppressive world.

She’s also a marvelous cutdown of the preposterousness that too often passes for heroism in Hollywood, and a stinging jab at the limited autonomy Hollywood most often grants female characters.

See, Fire takes place over the year after Katniss and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) won the Games for District 12. The unprecedented dual winners are the result of Katniss’ canny ploy of pretending to be madly in love with Peeta, which endeared them to the Capitol audience watching on television, and then, when they were the last two standing, convincing Peeta that they should both eat poison berries and die together rather than one having to kill the other and be separated forever. So romantic! The Capitol audience ate it up, and the Gamesmakers figured they’d better let both live and win, lest they have a riot on their hands. Not a real riot, of course—the people of the Capitol are too well-fed and docile for that—but a PR disaster, at least.

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