I must admit, I very much enjoyed The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The film improved over its predecessor in almost every way, and the addition of Philip Seymour-Hoffman to the cast seems to have improved the acting of everyone around him, though their progress might just be due to aging. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen is as much a treat now as in 2012, and though not a few of her colleagues still have a wooden disposition when it comes to their trade, it is easy enough to ignore. The direction of the film, overseen by Francis Lawrence (of I Am Legend fame), is a distinct leap forward compared to Gary Ross’ direction of the previous film, though Lawrence often falls into many of the same clichéd shots that plagued the original (he does so without making you feel as if you are being shaken to death, however).
There is so much that can be said about this film—commentary on violence involving children, the Marxist undertones, or how unbelievable Jennifer Lawrence is playing a 17-year-old girl—but the theme that has carried itself over most clearly from the first film to this one is the idea that hope has a power over the world around us. President Snow—played by the typically wonderful Donald Sutherland—admits that the tried and true methods of The Capitol to subdue the citizens of Panem will not work because “fear does not work as long as there is hope.” The idea of hope, then, becomes more than the catalyst of revolution; it is a metaphysical reality that enacts a positive change on the people of Panem. The districts, empowered by the dissident act of Katniss at the end of the first film, have begun to see their world in a new light. The power of their uprising is not in a person, but in something which that person has revealed to them. Savior metaphors notwithstanding, Katniss is more of a symbol than a prophet. She is their “Mockingjay,” a creature never meant to exist within The Capitol’s design for the perfect world.
The interesting thing about hope in Catching Fire is the idea that it informs and shapes the future, moving the people forward to a goal, but simultaneously takes on an existential reality. The hope of the people isn’t just about the future, about where they are going; hope is informing their reality in the present. President Snow’s assertion that fear has no power if there is hope speaks to this reality. The power of fear is never in the future, never in the reality-to-come; fear is only in the now informing the future. Hope exists in two different ways, distinct from the idea of fear. It exists like fear—in the now, informing the future—but also exists in the future, because the hope is always in something that does not yet exist. Hope proposes a new world and informs the present on how to get there; fear simply imposes itself to blind us to a future to come.
The Hunger Games speaks of hope, speaks of a world to come. Though this hope proposes violence as a “necessary evil,” thereby still embracing the violence that plagues the present Panem, it must be understood as a beautiful reminder that oppression has no power over us so long as we look toward our future. Catching Fire exposits this theme perfectly, and the whole world ought to be whistling the Mockingjay’s song.
1. Rick Margolis, “The Last Battle: With ‘Mockingjay’ on its way, Suzanne Collins weighs in on Katniss and the Capitol,” School Library Journal, August 1, 2010, available at http://www.slj.com/2010/08/authors-illustrators/the-last-battle-with-mockingjay-on-its-way-suzanne-collins-weighs-in-on-katniss-and-the-capitol/