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Catching Fire Review–This is What Movie Making Should Be!

Catching Fire, the movie, was very good–everyone agrees. The first half is the best as Panem descends into a police state (or moreso) with endless Peacekeepers, public whippings, and the ominous lines of trucks driving in. Gale and Katniss’s transgressions are made more sudden and dramatic, but worked well in the film. All around them are bits of graffiti alerting the public to the Mockingjay.

Scenes from President Snow’s point of view seemed briefer than in the previous movie (though this might be an illusion) and could have been more nuanced as he and Plutarch summarize their plans in what feels like mildly colorless exposition. His granddaughter, only mentioned in the books, is shown here, with a braid like Katniss’s as she mimics the world’s heroine. She’s one of several excellent bits of foreshadowing not present in the second book as Katniss and Johanna allude to Annie Cresta as “the one that…” or there’s an early threat of bombing District 12 into ashes like 13. In fact, as a little girl tells Katniss she wants to volunteer for the Games and Prim tells Katniss she can handle herself now, a theme of this next generation and their place in Panem is cautiously cropping up.

Some fans were wondering if the plot of poor Seneca Crane, martyred gamemaker, would continue through the sequel, perhaps with soppy memorials to the poor “filmmaker” who was sacrificed for his art. (See John Granger’s “Gamesmakers Hijack Story: Capitol Wins Hunger Games Again” at http://www.hogwartsprofessor.com for more on this).

To my relief, it didn’t. Nonetheless, as Snow watches Peeta and Katniss’s love story and discusses it with his little granddaughter, they’ve turned into the audience…passive helpless audience by the end. Katniss and Peeta are performers on multiple levels, though they seem sincere within the games–their pretense for the camera dies when they’re flung inside. (And in fact, the spile is all the sponsors give them…perhaps Haymitch and company have bigger things on their minds). Katniss’s Seneca Crane dummy, compete with her perfect curtsy from the previous film was a perfect giant middle finger to the gamemakers, only surpasses by Johanna’s dirty mouth. Ever Caesar had trouble putting a lid on her.

She shines as one of the beloved book characters brought to life. Mags and Wiress, the show’s sad victims were well done, but I adored Johanna’s snark and Finnick’s terribly sincere range. Whether preening in his outfit or offering Katniss her sugar cube, he’s the right mix of defensive, pragmatic and charming. “What about you, girl on fire? Any secrets?” he smirks. In the Games, he’s panicked, desperate, but also self-willed enough to charm Katniss with only the force of his personality…and us along with him. He, like Haymitch in the first movie, is the Katniss character, defensive and traumatized. Both characters struggle to protect a loved one under their flippancy, both are tortured by the jabberjays. Seeing them side by side emphasizes that Prim is Katniss’s truest love as Annie is Finnick’s, that both characters are emotionally wounded. When Finnick loses Mags, it foreshadows Katniss’s loss to come.

The film compensated well for losing the first person point of view–Katniss and her friends have three kinds of mortified expression when Johanna strips in front of them (with perfect comic timing, just after Haymitch claims the Victors aren’t so strange). In her first scene of the movie, Katniss’s PTSD comes out clearly as she freezes before a crowd of turkeys. Even frivolous Effie comes out devastated when she must choose Katniss in the reaping and bid her goodbye in her wedding gown. Scenes like the Tributes’ fighting to end the games during their interviews, or Katniss finally, sweetly making friends, are brought to life beautifully, with stunning emotion.

In many ways, this one’s closer to its original than movie one was (movies 3 and 4 have me wondering if we’ll suffer from Harry Potter 7 syndrome with all the good stuff ending up in one of the two films). We see the terrible prison camp of District Eleven and the brighter, prettier Career Districts. Katniss’s Appalachian home is stark and cold with winter, like her feelings at the start. And for those disappointed about minutiae the last time (as I was, admittedly), Buttercup the cat was recast with an animal the right color (obviously, this still works in the story, as Prim could have gotten a new pet). Director Francis Lawrence notes:

That was a request from Nina the producer and Suzanne the author. That they thought the cat from the first movie was not the way he was described in the book. And that had annoyed a bunch of fans, and things like that. But it also just kind of bothered them that Buttercup was not a black and white cat. So I was happy to get one that felt like the Buttercup of the book…That was, quite honestly, the only simple thing, the Buttercup situation. http://io9.com/the-hunger-games-author-insisted-the-cat-be-recast-in-c-1462912646

This show offers a believable love relationship with Peeta and also Gale…as Katniss remarks in both book three and this movie, she’s trying to survive, not obsess over boys. Nonetheless, she, Peeta, and Haymitch have become a family as seen in the previous movie…though complete with their sass and teasing (“Take a bath, Haymitch” after Katniss has pelted him with water “I just did”). By contrast, Katniss meets with Snow while the holo of her act with the berries is playing right on the table, both reminding/warning the audience what she did and compelling her to watch along with them as her guilt is played out in front of her.

Capitol fashions are more disturbing than ever, with Effie’s devotedly cheerful butterfly dress that might even be constructed from real ones. The Capitol citizens celebrate in front of the President’s horrid pink and blue mansion with multicolored fireworks, and as he toasts, in a sinister moment, his drink turns red. Of course, much of the costuming was an acknowledgement that it was a reestablishment of moments seen in the previous film–she’s the girl on fire again in the parade, Effie dresses horribly as do the Capitol citizens again as well. Finnick and Johanna’s parade outfits were impressive, but once again, not strikingly unique. There was little surprise there until the beauty of the Mockingjay gown.

This long-awaited moment was impressive–the original gown is designer but with a metal winglike structure suggesting her own strength and the Capitol’s artificial cage. As she twirls, the metal vanishes, and for a moment, she breaks free. “The metal pieces rising up from the bodice are meant to signify fire and flames, while laser-cut feathers at the waist and shoulder hint at Katniss eventual transition into a Mockingjay.” EW reports.

Katniss’s gown for the Capitol party is reminiscent of a mockingjay, dramatic in red and black as she prepares for battle. I thought the reaction to the food wasting should have been bigger–Katniss obsesses over it so in the book, and it’s part of the central message. The Avoxes once again are basically cut, as is the suffering of people in District 12.

I was surprised Plutarch had lost his watch but the movie did a delightful job of keeping new viewers guessing. He’s excellent as a self-serving gamester using other as Snow dies…until it’s time for the Game to end. Katniss’s final shot, now seen in the Gamemakers’ lair, is wonderful, though on the practical side I must be concerned over the rescuers nearly smashing her with fallen debris. She rises into the air with a messianic glow, the Mockingjay, flying at last.

Fans will miss a few other moments–Cinna’s famous line that he’ll risk his own neck through his art but not anyone else’s, the teens’ discovery of how Haymitch won his Game. The sponsor gifts to encourage the new team. However, Haymitch’s snarky notes are back, or at least one.

Many fans likely admire the movie’s incredible similarity to the book, but I would have preferred a different ending – with the new medium, graphics, and point of view, the camera could have stretched over the revolutions and war-torn Panem instead of focusing on Katniss’s immediate world. All in all, Haymitch’s line brings the point of all war stories home – “No one ever wins the games, period. There’s survivors…there’s no winners.” As Collins’ saga of the torments of war and its afterefffects, this seems the standout moral of the story.

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The Secret Hunger Games: Adults vs. Kids

The Hunger Games is coded as a battle of adults versus children. Katniss’s parents are useless, from her dead father to her withdrawn mother who forces Katniss to care for herself and her sister. Katniss is the one to hold them together and keep them from starving, and through the book she dwells on her mistrust for her mother. Only Gale, a fellow teen and protector of his own family, can be relied on.

In Katmiss’ world, the older children protect the younger, as she does her little sister, or Rue does for her younger siblings. Since Rue is the eldest in her family, there’s no one to protect her but Katniss. Katniss realizes that Thresh and Rue would be her friends if not for the true enemy, the ones who hold the games.

Her true allies, she ones she shares sympathy with are the tongueless girl in the capital, Thresh, who would have been a friend, her hunting partner Gale back home. Even Madge, the baker’s daughter, gives her the mockingjay pin she wears as a symbol of home, while Katmiss discards her mother’s dress and shoes. Half the children in the games are relucntant to fight, from Thresh, who lets Katniss escape, to Rue, showing her she’s in danger from hornets, to Foxface, darting in to steal and run.

Adults are using her, from Cinna, who selects her dazzling outfits to show off his own talent long before he sees her as a person to Haymitch, who pushes her to shine for the sponsors. The Games themselves are the most fundamental example of this, run by adults to kill children for entertainment. In this world, the president is the ultimate adult and ultimate user, murdering families to control the victors of the games.

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Katniss and the Heroine’s Journey

The classic heroine’s journey appears in many beloved books, like Coraline, Alice in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz. It features in works by Tamora Pierce, Jane Yolen, and Juliet Marillier. And it permeates The Hunger Games, casting Katniss as a classic heroine beside classic heroes Percy Jackson and Harry Potter.

The true goal of the heroine’s journey is to become the all-powerful mother. Thus, many heroines set out on rescue missions in order to restore their shattered families: Meg Murray of A Wrinkle in Time quests to save her father then her little brother. Coraline tries to save her parents, Meggie of Inkheart, her mother. Alice and Dorothy struggle to return to their families. Katniss is protector of the family from her earliest years, as she feeds and cares for not only her little sister but her mother. She extends this protection to Gale’s family, her own district, and finally all the people of Panem, as she provides food and support for her loved ones and protects the innocent.

Katniss, like Artemis or Percy Jackson’s friend Annabeth, shoots a silver bow. Silver is the color of moon magic, perception, and feminine strength, while a bow is the elegant distance weapon of the classic warrior woman. Even Susan in the Narnia series is called “the great archer.”

In many fairytales from Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” to “The Six Swans,” the heroine’s most dire struggle takes place high in the prince’s castle, far from the magical protection of her forest or ocean home. This, like the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle, is the masculine world of law and tyranny, where the young heroine is truly helpless. The Hunger Games themselves are a similar fortress of the tyrant’s power, where the Gamemakers can torture Katniss with firestorms and viciously changing rules. In the final book, Katniss enters the Capitol itself to assassinate Snow on his home ground. She sneaks through the city-sized trap he has created, filled with mutts and deadly “pods” to find him awaiting her in his palatial mansion in the center.

By realizing that the tyrant’s power over her has ended, the heroine finds independence and strength. Just as Dorothy discovers the Wizard is a humbug, or Lucy and Susan see Aslan dead and helpless, Katniss perseveres through Snow’s threats and traps to see him die in the Capitol square.

However, the patriarch is not the real power in the heroine’s tale – he’s little more than a pompous blusterer who melts away when confronted. For the heroine, the true threat is the evil witch, murderess of the innocent. She is Mrs. Coulter of The Golden Compass, the Wicked Witch of the West, the White Witch of Narnia who tortures Edmund and keeps the land bound in sterile winter. Though Katniss realizes it too late, this adversary is rebel president Alma Coin. Coin, like Snow White’s stepmother, resolves to destroy the young heroine through jealousy and to maintain her own rulership. Katniss is a beloved symbol of revolution, Katniss could name another to be president, therefore Katniss must die.

Discovering the dark matriarch’s power, understanding her, confronting her, but not becoming her is the key to adulthood. Katniss destroys Coin’s influence over herself and over Panem, her world, and then retreats into the simplicity of the countryside. There she becomes, not a warrior woman, but a mature adult, protector of her family and figure of morality. This is the key to the heroine’s journey—traveling toward acceptance, balance, and nurturing love.

More information on the heroine’s journey, from charts to a booklist can be found at http://vefrankel.com

 

Katniss the Cattail: An Unauthorized Guide to Names and Symbols in The Hunger Games http://www.amazon.com/Katniss-Cattail-Unauthorized-Symbols-Suzanne/dp/146996824X

 From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey in Myth and Legend http://www.amazon.com/From-Girl-Goddess-Heroines-Journey/dp/0786448318/

 

Comparison of Models

The Steps of the Journey

 

Campbell‘s Hero’s Journey The Heroine’s Journey Stages
The World of Common Day The World of Common Day Innocence and Discovery
The Call To Adventure The Call To Adventure Innocence and Discovery
Refusal of the Call Refusal of the Call Innocence and Discovery
Supernatural Aid The RuthlessMentorand the Bladeless Talisman Innocence and Discovery
The Crossing of the First Threshold

The Belly of the Whale

The Crossing of the First Threshold

Opening One’s Senses

Journey through the Unconscious
The Road of Trials Sidekicks, Trials, Adversaries Journey through the Unconscious
The Meeting With the Goddess
Woman as the Temptress
Wedding the Animus

Facing Bluebeard

Finding the Sensitive Man

Confronting the Powerless Father

Meeting the Other
Atonement with the Father
Apotheosis
Descent into Darkness

Atonement with the Mother

Integration and Apotheosis

Meeting the Self

 

The Ultimate Boon Reward: Winning the Family Meeting the Self
Refusal of the Return
The Magic Flight
Rescue From Without
The Crossing of the Return Threshold
Torn Desires

The Magic Flight

Reinstating the Family

Return

Meeting the Self

 

Master of the Two Worlds Power over Life and Death

 

Goddesshood and Wholeness
Freedom To Live Ascension of the New Mother

 

Goddesshood and Wholeness

 

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Katniss, Queen of Children

The classic heroine’s journey sees girls questing to rescue their lovers and families from danger, questing into fairyland to retrive a stolen child, or stealing a husband from the troll queen. The most quintessential quest is protecting a daughter or little sister—the other half of the self.

Prim is both these to Katniss, the tiny sister she has mothered when their own mother withdrew from them, the girl she spends each day providing with food. As Prim bids her goodbye in Katniss’s own baggy dress, she’s Katniss’s younger most innocent self, the self most needing protection.

The Hunger Games is coded as a battle of adults versus children. Katniss’s parents are useless, from her dead father to her withdrawn mother who forces Katniss to care for herself and her sister (before abandoning her in the final book). Katniss is the one to hold the family together and keep them from starving, and through the book she dwells on her mistrust for her mother. Only Gale, a fellow teen and protector of his own family, can be relied on.

In Katmiss’ world, the older children protect the younger, as she does her little sister, or Rue does for her younger siblings. Since Rue is the eldest in her family, there’s no one to protect her but Katniss. Katniss realizes that Thresh and Rue would be her friends if not for the true enemy, the ones who hold the games.

Her true allies, she ones she shares sympathy with are the tongueless girl in the capital, Thresh, who would have been a friend, her hunting partner Gale back home. Even Madge, the baker’s daughter, gives her the mockingjay pin she wears as a symbol of home, while Katmiss discards her mother’s dress and shoes. Half the children in the games are reluctant to fight, from Thresh, who lets Katniss escape, to Rue, showing her she’s in danger from hornets, to Foxface, darting in to steal and run.

Adults are using her, from Cinna, who selects her dazzling outfits to show off his own talent long before he sees her as a person to Haymitch, who pushes her to shine for the sponsors. The Games themselves are the most fundamental example of this, run by adults to kill children for entertainment. In this world, the president is the ultimate adult and ultimate user, murdering families to control the victors of the games.

However, Katniss fails to become a leader. Book one sees her outsmarting the game to save Peeta as well as herself, but she has no message of rebellion for her audience. She charms the president into publically sparing her by using, of course, childish charm. In Catching Fire, she disturbingly never rises above a pawn, as Haymitch arranges with most of the other winners to protect Katniss and Peeta and smuggle them to safety.

At the end of book three, Katniss finally embarks on hrer own mission, leading the adults to go assassinate President Snow. However, a group of children including Prim are deliberately murdered as the final casualties of war. When Katniss realizes that rebel president Coin is the culprit, and that Coin plans to restart the Hunger Games and kill even more enemy children, Katniss decides who her enemy is and breaks every adult law and expectation to shoot the real target. She turns from the protector of living children to the champion of the dead, even as she leaves her own childhood behind forever.

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The Price of Beauty in Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies

Far in the future, teens can design their own looks, from pulsing heartbeat tattoos to eye shape. The only guarantee is that they’ll leave the world of being Ugly—unmodified—far behind. Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series explores this dystopian future, showing what teens will become in a world in which appearance is the only status. Even the terrible Specials live by appearance, with needle-sharp teeth and frightening aspects.

As the heroine, sixteen-year-old Tally, discovers, becoming Pretty changes more than a face. The operations that make the teens fascinatingly appealing to behold also make them easy to control – frivolous perpetual teens interested only in parties and fun. Beauty becomes identity, as teens no longer resemble their families or bear the marks of experience on their features, but instead recreate themselves according to their childish whims. With the surface becoming such a priority, less and less remains beneath.

Other books like The Hunger Games or Brave New World address one society genetically altered to be unnaturally beautiful and youthful, who are conditioned to care only for luxury and entertainment. The cities of the Uglies and Pretties alike have disposable clothes, gadgets free for the asking, and a society filled with unnecessary inventions designed only for pleasure, from hoverboards to bungee jackets. There’s unlimited food and medicine. The other side, the have-nots, are condemned to live without genetic modification as they struggle for resources. This literary trend seems to contrast our own society of beautiful people with the have-nots of our own culture. This isn’t just a dystopic future—it’s the dystopic future of America

When Tally leaves the city, she’s struck by how differently the outsiders of the Smoke live. They hand-knit their sweaters and grow their own food. Unlike in her throwaway culture, items have value and must last. There are different manners in the outside world, different priorities and values. Love is forever, and the only unmodified young man she’s ever met, David, loves her for her unmodified face.

From this moment, discovering she’s lovable without artificial beauty and the vapidity that comes with it, Tally becomes a freedom fighter. She fights through four books for the right for each person to choose his or her destiny—Pretty or Ugly, they have the right to think for themselves. She provides a bridge between different societies, even counseling the primitive forest dwellers to venture beyond “the edge of the world” and find freedom from exploitation. She’s escaped her own conditioning, so she insists on a world that carries the same strength.

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Max Guevarra the Mockingjay

In the twenty-first century television show Dark Angel, nineteen-year-old Max Guevara dispenses street justice, all while protecting her friends and seeking her divided family. In Katniss’ world, she would be called a mutt, a human creature re-engineered to be a supersoldier serving the government’s will. However, like the mockingjays, she escaped and found a way to thrive outside the government’s control. Becoming another Katniss, she rescues children and young women in danger.

In both stories, the females are active and males more passive—intriguing as the action and science-fiction genres are traditionally marketed to boys. In fact, with their constant action, clever comments, and bravery, both heroines have strong male followings. Romance is difficult and treated as secondary to hunting down the villainous patriarch—the traditional goal for the male hero.  The post-apocalyptic setting lets the heroines escape traditional gender roles, Katniss as a poacher and Max as a thief before both become freedom fighters.

Though lawbreakers, the protagonists owe allegiance to a higher morality: Max lets a woman walk away after murdering her own father, but destroys the payoff she was given. She covers for her cheating friend but assures him he’ll be dangling from a window if he does it again. Katniss fights to save the prep team who, though Capitol citizens, were kind to her, and insists on saving the brutal career tribute Enobaria because it feels wrong to let her die. In today’s shifting world, with often no clear right choice, teens are guided to seek a deeper wisdom. Both young women contend with an uncertain life on the cusp of poverty, which is nonetheless preferable to the institutionalized violence and near-certain death of the Capitol’s Hunger Games or Seattle’s Project Manticore. This fight to survive, while entertaining, also reminds the audience of the many types of cruelty in existence – some crimes of neglect and others more purposeful. Both are means of subjugating a population, which the true heroine must battle.

Both women prefer to dress androgynously, but are often forced into alluring dresses by society. Max and her friend Original Cindy act like sultry feminine airheads in a gambling club, complete with an offer to wager lapdances. Katniss spins in a glittery red dress, thanking her audience for giving her such an opportunity. Thus, they conform to expectations while revealing the artificiality of traditional femininity. In fact, the girls lack female role models and define themselves outside of conventional society, focusing on earning money to support their chosen families rather than looking beautiful or staying at home. Without traditional family structure, they bond with friends, venturing into the forest or onto the streets to keep them safe. Back home, their domesticized boyfriends are the ones who cook.

The message for teens is clear: Katniss and Max are strong, clever, creative young women who always save the day. As they struggle against the patriarchy and at last discover the stronger female who has been the true enemy, their stories emphasize that women can be just as powerful as men, if not more.

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