By Muhammad Muzammal Columnist
In director Francis Lawrence’s “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” there is a scene where the heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) looks out from a lake, peering into the woods across from her. The power of the shot lies in its exposition of momentary peace and natural beauty. In a film filled with memorable images of uprising, technologically savvy characters and artificial personalities this first shot plays as an antithesis of everything that is to come.
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” picks up where its highly popular predecessor, the entertaining “The Hunger Games” left off. It is that rare sequel which builds on the best qualities of the original.
In the case of this franchise, these qualities include the multi-dimensional character of Katniss, the use of force by governments to control its citizenry and the intense inhumane climactic event - the actual Hunger Games.
The film begins with Everdeen, shaken up after she won the previous Games with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). For those who haven’t seen or read the prequel, the Hunger Games is a bloodthirsty competition with only one survivor. Two children/teenagers, one of each gender, are randomly selected from each of the 12 districts, state-like regions of the nation of Panem.
The nation’s government is the Capitol, run by the tyrannical President Snow (Donald Sutherland).
Everdeen and Mellark’s unprecedented double victory inspire rebellions in many of the poorer districts. Snow uses their “victory tour,” a trip travelling through all 12 districts, as an attempt to restore order and discipline.
After that fails, he relies upon head gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), to create an elaborate plan. Heavensbee brings up the “Quarter Quell,” which selects past Hunger Game victors to compete in a deadly trap, an enormous danger-ridden forest.
The Quarter Quell’s action scenes are spectacular. With the use of the IMAX camera, Lawrence films Katniss’s struggles in the forest as she faces tumultuous weather, poisonous gas and killer animals. The movie benefits well from the IMAX format because it allows the audience to feel the large scope of the story.
Consider a sequence where Katniss ascends from the ground below into the lake at the center of the forest arena. As her point of view changes, analyzing the expanse of land she will be fighting to survive in, so does ours. The screen expands, exposing the vast forest to us.
The film’s greatest achievement was to expand on and rationalize relationships first developed in the previous movie. The romance between Katniss and Peeta is not irrational; (as it was in “The Hunger Games”) rather it is an understandable relationship.
Katniss and Peeta have been with one another through the same deadly competition twice. Their reliance on each other for survival breeds a shared affection and attachment, not just a simple teenage romance.
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” focuses heavily on the crumbling society. The Panem government is corrupt and emotionless towards poorer districts such as Districts 11 and 12.
In order to instill fear in the public, the military rushes into the lower districts, invading citizens’ homes and brutally attacking the people. Graphic scenes of flogging and whipping are depicted. One man is graphically gunned down in the street as a horrified Katniss is pulled away by government peacekeepers.
The contrast between the poor and the rich is found in each district’s expenditure of money. The higher-up districts like District 1 are the elite class, seen needlessly wasting food. While Katniss is at a gala with Peeta in the Capitol, food is given to them, with the addition of a drug that will induce vomiting so they can keep eating, gluttonously.
Meanwhile, the poor districts starve. Only something as unlikely as winning the Hunger Games could bring wealth to the impoverished. So they rebel.
The Hunger Games franchise smartly establishes a strong main character in Katniss. She is well defined in the first film and fleshed out more so in the sequel. Katniss embodies a mockingjay. Everdeen as the mockingjay symbol represents hope for the poor districts affected by famine and extreme violence. She is the catalyst for their rebellion. As she has, Katniss shows the citizens that they can take control of their lives. That’s symbolic, and like “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” astounding.