Catching Fire – A Unique Point Of View

catching_fire_coverLast Friday I went to see Catching Fire, the second movie based on Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy. I have a unique perspective on the movie because, unlike the majority of people who have seen, or are planning to see, it, I have neither read the books nor seen the first movie.

Consequently, my opinion of Catching Fire is largely formed by the movie itself. I say “largely” because I have been a party to more than one discussion of the Hunger Games books, and therefore have some familiarity with the direction the story is taking.

Nevertheless, my view is probably as untainted as is possible to get in this communication age in which we live.

First, I liked the movie a great deal and found myself thinking about the story long afterward. True, I was thinking about writing a review, so in some ways, my dwelling on it isn’t a sign of affirmation. However, I think the more I’ve taken a closer look, the better the movie gets.

When I walked out of the theater, I was captivated by the fast action and very aware that I didn’t really know the main character, Katniss, at all. She was a pretty girl, sensitive to others, even tenderhearted. But she had some steel inside her, which is why she was able to win in the games.

That steel inside, or backbone, was also the thing that the people saw and admired, together with her caring. She felt the way they felt, grieved with them, and cared about those they held in esteem. She was someone they could rally around.

But that’s it. I don’t know Katniss beyond those points. She loved her sister and apparently her childhood friend and sweetheart, but also her companion and fellow champion. She didn’t seem conflicted by loving two guys at the same time because her life was reduced to survival.

Yet oddly, it was Peeta who pointed out to her that she needed to live for her family and for the guy who loved her rather than sacrificing herself for him. She, it seemed, was all too willing to die for him, though he had no family and no one apart from Katniss to love.

I guess that made me think she was a bit shortsighted. And in the end, when it’s apparent that others have realized she is a symbol of hope to the nation when she herself is unaware of it, my thoughts of her limited vision are born out.

In many respects, Katniss mostly wanted to escape, not fight, the system that oppressed her and the nation. She tried to get Gale to leave with her before she was called back into the games. She entered intent to take no allies apart from Peeta. At one point she said she didn’t have friends, and that wasn’t true, but it showcased her desire to keep people at arm’s distance as a way to protect herself from the pain of seeing them die, or of having to take the blow for them.

In many ways, Catching Fire is an issues movie. Yes, the action is filled with tension, but the real question isn’t will Katniss survive. It’s what will Katniss decide to do? Will she step up and seize the role that her nemesis, President Snow, fears she will take?

In the end, she doesn’t. She actually becomes a symbol without meaning to and with others manipulating events around her to bring it about.

I’m left, then, with disappointment. The people want hope and they have it, but not because the heroine has chosen to side with them or to lead them. She’s thrust into the circumstance of being a leader of a cause, just as surely as she was thrust into the games. She thinks about one person at a time–her sister, Peeta, the other competitors–but in fact, her actions have far-reaching impact on many, many others.

In the long run, I’m glad I saw the movie, and if the third in the trilogy came out tomorrow, I’m pretty sure I’d make every effort to see it. But at this point, I don’t see Katniss as a character I care for deeply. I don’t know her well and don’t believe she is trying to accomplish anything of great significance. If she could, I’m sure she’d escape with Gale and be done with the whole thing. But she can’t.

So the new question is like the old one: what will Katniss do now?

A worthwhile movie which is generating some thoughtful conversation.

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9 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I find Katniss a fascinating character as well, for the same reasons. Her character seems to defy easy categorization, and yeah, she seems pretty unlovable at times, but given the absence of faith in her life and her difficult situations, that makes a little more sense (although doesn’t explain Peeta, who in the book had a family that ironically rooted for Katniss more than him). The books were written from first person, and her internal monologue really showed a lot more of her personality–which, often, wasn’t any more likable. In the end, I think it’s her relentless hopelessness that makes her an unattractive figure. Perhaps it’s a seed of common grace in our hearts that we desire some sort of hopeful figure, someone to look up to. She lacks that and in fact runs away from that responsibility so much that she has to be shoved into a leadership role by those around her. For me, that makes it hard to identify with her.

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    • Janeen, I like the way you said that–defy easy categorization.” I agree, and yet, despite the things that seemed a bit antithetical, she was believable. In her caring, in her fear, in her desire to escape, in her efforts to overcome the trial at hand . . . all of it. Believable.

      I think it’s interesting that you say the first person didn’t help you to know her any better . That’s startling. I think you’ve made an important point about Katniss not having that seed of hope which makes her feel foreign.

      The part that sticks with me is that she doesn’t seem to get that her acts of rebellion will affect other people. For example, when her dress turned from white wedding dress to defiant Mockingjay, I thought immediately of the designer. Obviously, the statement was his, more than hers. Yet she didn’t seem to get how he was probably going to die because of what he’d done until he was actually being killed. I think, is she oblivious? But then at times she is so sensitive to others. Is like the political effects she doesn’t get. And that, to me, is a bit of a breakdown in the story. I don’t think it’s believable that she would miss something so obvious.

      Anyway, I’m happy it’s made me think about characters and story and belief and hope and rebellion and all those things. It’s nice when a movie is entertaining and thought-provoking!

      Becky

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  2. I loved reading this, Becky. I am a HUGE fan of the books–especially this second one–but I haven’t gotten to the theater yet to see it on film. That said, your review actually gives me hope that the movie stays true to the book because Katniss, on the page, gives a very similar feel. She doesn’t choose. Ever. She is, in essence, blackmailed and that makes her compelling on an entirely different level than so many of the heroes who boldly go.

    I am going to keep thinking though–and I’ll report back when I have an answer–because to me, Katniss was likable on the page. That might be the brilliance of Suzanne Collins’ writing though. I’m thinking it was more her voice than her actions that made her so. Her observations of others, her deep rooted fear, her hatred of Snow. There was a lot to identify with as I read. Hmmm. I’ll keep thinking.

    I’m interested to read your thoughts on the third story. Mockingjay is, by far, the hardest one to swallow. The jump from book to film will be an interesting one.

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    • I thought about this some more after reading your comment, Shannon. I think Katniss shows that tender side enough to win a good many people to her. She was so heartbroken over the people that died in the first games. And she cared for those in her alliance and tried to save them all. She was so obviously wounded by having been put into a situation where she had to kill people, especially people she knew. It made her stand-offishness understandable.

      And yet, on the other side, the fact that she didn’t think ahead to something greater–an opportunity to bring an end to all the suffering–makes her less likable. And her not feeling some sense of conflict regarding Peeta and Gale seems too much like “When I’m not with the [boy] I love, I love the [boy] I’m with.” I don’t find it to be an admirable quality.

      So in the end I had this ambivalence about Katniss and a sense that I didn’t know her really, and probably wasn’t meant to know her.

      I really think Collins was writing an issue series. (This comes from something Orson Scott Card says–all stories have four elements, but one dominates).

      I’ll be interested in where your thinking takes you on this.

      Becky

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  3. Great review, Becky! I’ve read (and enjoyed) the books, so it was very interesting to hear your perspective on the second film…which I haven’t seen yet. Hoping to soon. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Lindsay. I hope you enjoy the movie as much as I did. Sometimes (almost always? 😉 ) movies don’t meet expectations after a person has read the book. I’ve heard, though, that this one did a good job following the book, but since I haven’t read it, I can’t verify that as fact.

      You’ll have to let me know what you think.

      Becky

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  4. I have not read the books, nor seen the film, nor been involved in any discussions about them. But I did watch a high quality book program where the participants promoted the book as the key one for understanding younger generations. Those generations born into a world of reality TV, intensely competitive “talent” quests and so on. A world of being dominated and hopeless.

    Strangely, this has not inspired me to want to read the books.

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    • Strangely? I’m more inclined to say, understandably! I see how the movie, at least, can be seen as a window into the way the younger generation thinks. Add in a disdain for providing hope in a world hungry for it, and I think you have Catching Fire correctly analyzed. It’s not a story I intended to view (and I still don’t care to read the books), but I’m not sorry I did. I’m intrigued by the worldview and the issues Suzanne Collins brings to the forefront.

      Becky

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  5. Good morning, Becky! I finally saw Catching Fire last night and I have some thoughts!

    It was a great adaptation in so many ways. The casting of Johanna and Finnick was dead on and I initially had my reservations about Jenna Malone. But really, she nailed it. The last act was done so well, so very close to the book.

    THAT SAID! Here are my thoughts on Katniss. For me, and this is only me, the biggest problem (if you can call it a problem) is that there is no way to successfully adapt a book that has been narrated in first person, present tense. Following Katniss around is not the same as living inside her head. The reason I think so many people “like” Katniss is because they’ve walked through her thought process with her and even when she makes decisions we disagree with or despise, we have the benefit of understanding how she got there. And that comes down to impressive writing.

    While I sincerely loved this film, the missing element was Katniss. And not because Jennifer Lawrence did a bad job at all, but because Katniss’ actions were always of second importance to me. I wanted to understand why she felt the way she did and that is something that didn’t translate entirely from the page to the screen.

    ANYWAY! I realize these books aren’t for everyone. My mom, who loves YA, has a hard time with them because they’re heavy and they’re issue books, as you said. But I think to fully appreciate Katniss–even if you still don’t “like” her–reading her story is the way to go.

    Talk soon, friend. Thanks for making me think. 😉

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