Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Film - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
When I watched the first Hunger Games movie, although I enjoyed it, my enjoyment was marred by having just reread the book, and knowing exactly what was going to happen and in what order. This time, I resisted temptation and went into Catching Fire with a knowledge of the book, but with enough distance between me and the book that I was able to watch the film as its own thing. Coming back into the world of Panem without having prepared myself, I was expecting to feel a certain level of detachment from the story, but I was surprised to find myself crying very early on, when Katniss and Peeta visited District 11 on their Victory Tour.
I wasn't quite convinced by Donald Sutherland as President Snow during the first film, possibly because he was so different from how I had pictured the character. By Catching Fire, however, he took the part and made it his own; once he has seen Katniss as a threat, he is no longer that outwardly charming, grandfatherly figure, but subtly menacing. "Their love will inspire us and will continue to do so every day for the rest of their lives..." brrr! You can hear the threat behind these words, and they are chilling indeed.
I still felt that the love triangle was incongruous, but this time I thought it was a deliberate choice, highlighting to the viewer that the emphasis on romance is supposed to be a distraction from what's really going on. In conversation, it became very clear that though Peeta is infatuated with Katniss, he really doesn't know her at all. As a result, I'm afraid I found his argument that without Katniss he'd have nothing to live for somewhat pathetic and unbelievable. Johanna's defiance, ("What can they do to me? There's no one left that I love!") was entirely convincing. I don't know if that's a comment on the actors or the characters - probably a mixture of both. Johanna was my favourite newcomer in the book of Catching Fire, and Jena Malone brought her to life perfectly; a tough, angry young woman who is yet pitiable and entertaining despite having been hardened by her experiences.
Catching Fire was notable for the hope amidst the horror. No matter how brutal the Capitol becomes in trying to stamp out every last spark of rebellion, the small acts of heroism and sacrifice shine out the brighter when all is bleak. Cinna, Beetee, Mags show a quiet strength that is extremely powerful when the world seems to be conspiring to dehumanise them all. Cinna's uncertain fate is devastating. Because I knew it was coming, I felt the dread in every scene he appeared in, and even being prepared did not protect me from the horror as he is dragged away just as Katniss is sent straight into a battle for her life while overwhelmed and disorientated by shock and grief.
Effie Trinket also grows as a character since her first appearance, having finally got to know her tributes - her victors - as people after years of seeing them as mere walking dead. Her false jollity in the farcical reaping ceremony is heartbreaking and grotesque. Beneath her daft ways there is a genuine affection, and perhaps even a small complicity in the rebellion. My friends and I discussed afterwards whether Effie and her Capitol cronies were just as much prisoners of the system as the residents of the twelve districts, how much of their superficiality was an act born of fear.
After the demise of suave Seneca Crane and his marvellous beard, there is a new head gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee. In stark contrast to Crane, Plutarch comes across as rather sleazy. Having read the book, it's difficult to say whether or not it was obvious that he was secretly conspiring against the government. It seemed obvious to me, but that is probably because I knew how to read his dialogue and motivations. However, he is not what one might picture as a revolutionary, being rather stodgy and unglamorous.
The Hunger Games themselves were the least interesting part of the film for me, probably because I was just waiting for the characters to figure out what I already knew, the nature of the arena, but there was a lot to think about nonetheless. This time, there was more than just action and violence; there was teamwork and characters actually trying to keep each other alive. I was struck by the weirdness of the characters working as allies when the time would come when they must turn on each other. (Of course, the plot has other ideas.) In these Hunger Games, however, personal survival comes secondary to protest, each act of teamwork, sacrifice and life-saving an act of defiance before the final, dramatic confrontation.