Setting Fire

Another film that I should have known from the beginning would end up in this series is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. One of the main themes throughout the series – both the books and the films – is disempowerment, and subsequent empowerment through rebellion. Both Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) experience this. A clear example occurs in the first theatrical trailer for the first film, when Peeta outright states:

I just keep wishing I could think of a way to show them, that they don’t own me. If I’m going to die, I want to still be me.

He already realizes that the Capitol is taking away the most basic requirement for personal freedom: agency. He does not want to let the government use him as a pawn, he does not want to be a toy, but at the same time there is nothing he can do. Until Katniss realizes that she feels the exact same way and pulls out those berries in the Arena.

That action is her reclaiming agency, telling the world that she is standing her ground and will not be used as a chess piece to be moved across a board. And then that’s exactly what happens in the second film. She has to perform for the Victory Tour, what’s more: her and Peeta are to be married. This is painful for both of them, for very different reasons. Obviously, Peeta wished that when he married, he would be marrying for love and his wife would love him back. This is not the case. When it comes to Katniss: she sees marriage as just another form of imprisonment. THis idea is stressed in the books, but it is also briefly mentioned in the film when Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) tells her she is never getting off the train. The Capitol owns her and will not let her go. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) places her in the position of Capitol ambassador to try and counter the brewing rebellion, and Katniss goes along with it to protect her loved ones.

Of course, this is bound to blow up in the President’s face, because Katniss simply cares too deeply about her loved ones. When the Capitol arrives in District 12 and Commander Thread (Patrick St. Esprit) starts whipping Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Katniss knows which side she is on. She is ready to fight. She feels empowered. And immediately that feeling is taken away again when the Quarter Quell is announced: she is to go back into the Arena. While she was a powerful tribute in the previous Games, she was powerless in them as well. Being sent back means that once more she does not control her actions anymore. This theme continues throughout the rest of the film and is strongly echoed in the final scenes: Katniss being carried up and out of the Arena, hearing that Peeta is captured by the Capitol, and realizing that District 12 is no more. All these events add to her feeling of powerlessness. Which she then manages to transform into anger.

Now why is any of that important, you might wonder? First of all there is the persisting message that media is a circus and that we are all the clowns. The scene where Plutarch Heavensbee (late Philip Seymour Hoffman) lays out his plan to disgrace the Mockingjay in the eyes of the rebellion does not seem farfetched. Similar tactics may be used on us as well, we just aren’t aware of it. We need to be more aware. This film helps in raising that awareness, as is mentioned by Jeffrey Wright, who portrays Beetee, as well:

Issues around war and the consequences of war and the consequences of war on warriors and people – the human elements of that – I don’t think we can address enough. And if we can do it in a way that’s as thrilling as these movies are, more power to us.

And he so explains why movies like The Hunger Games are so important nowadays. They show us a certain direction we might be heading in, but they also show us what we are already doing at the moment. How do we see war? How do we experience it? How do we deal with it? Most people – myself included – might just ignore it. Pretend it’s not there. But I am beginning to see how unhealthy that attitude is, and how vital it is that we do pay attention to what is happening. We should know when freedom is taken away. We should know what to do about it. That can be our empowerment.

The Four Freedoms series focuses on films covering a form of freedom (or lack thereof). It tries to link the discussion to historical context and current relevance. On the 24th of May, the Four Freedoms will be awarded to the determined laureates.  Find all posts in this series. What film should be covered next?

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