I can’t really say much more about Catching Fire other than: wow. I could watch it every day for a month and still find something new to write about each time.
It’s a very different film from its predecessor in many ways, from the overall look, to the camera angles to the feel and tone.
Obviously, with a new director at the wheel there was always going to be a change in style and substance – but there are many more factors at play.
The actors have grown in ability and presence, Jennifer Lawrence in particular. We’re no longer watching a young girl who is clearly very talented; we’re watching J-Law – Academy Award winning actress and everyone’s fantasy BFF.
There are a host of new players to inject a different chemistry and dynamic (Jenna Malone is captivating every second she’s on screen) while importantly, the actors feel more comfortable in their roles and can bring new elements to their characters (Elizabeth Banks – managing to somehow be both over the top and restrained – steals the show in Catching Fire, allowing us to see the cracks of heartbreak in Effie’s face while never over-doing it).
There was also the luxury of a much larger budget, not to mention the source material, which ramps up both the stakes and the emotion considerably.
But one of the things that struck me most is the shift in symbolism and in particular, the religious imagery.
While my knowledge of the Bible and religious theory in general is very limited, one of the things that stood out was that Catching Fire warms us up to the idea that it’s now Katniss who is the Christ-like figure of the series, as opposed to Peeta, who filled that role in the first film.
(For the sake of this post, I’ll only be talking about the films, rather than the books.)
We all recognise that each of the tributes sent into the arena are performing a “sacrifice” for the (past) sins of their people.
However, in The Hunger Games, Peeta is shown to be sacrificial and selfless before his name is even drawn at The Reaping, by giving bread (a sign of Christian symbolism) to Katniss, willing to incur punishment for helping her. The bread does not only feed her, it gives her hope and the drive to live. In the games themselves, in addition to putting her needs before his and devising a plan to ensure she survives, while close to death he rests in a cave (sealed by a stone) for three days before being “resurrected”.
But, then we move on to Catching Fire.
The obvious advantage any film has over a book is visual representation. In just a few seconds, a film can show something that takes pages, or even chapters, in written form.
This is most prevalent in two scenes where it’s hinted that Katniss is now the “Jesus” of the story. We all know that, after much deliberation, she will eventually agree to be The Mockingjay – the face of the revolution. Twice in Catching Fire we’re given hints of what she is to become later in the series.
First: the scene where Ceasar Flickerman interviews Katniss, who is wearing her “wedding dress” made by Cinna. Upon spinning, the white lace of her dress is burnt away to reveal a charcoal black one underneath, complete with wings, transforming her into a human representation of a mockingjay (already a symbol of the uprising).
As she lifts her arms by her sides and spreads the wings away from her body, the pose looks everything like she’s being held to a crucifix – which she is. The government is about to send her to her death.
Then we have the penultimate set piece of the film. After electrocuting herself in an attempt to destroy the arena, Katniss is left unconscious and on the verge of death when the revolutionaries come to rescue her.
For almost full minute we’re given a shot of Katniss rising up through a stream of light into a hole in the sky, her body still and arms stretched out like a T – again assuming the position of Jesus on the cross.
This image is an important one, as it highlights the transformation between Katniss during the games and Katniss after the games – both literally AND metaphorically.
During the Games, Katniss is willing to make sacrifices, but only on her terms and in when it’s in her interests – for example, when she volunteers for Prim or decides that it’s Peeta who will survive the Quarter Quell.
In the first two films (and books), everything she does is borne out of the desire to protect those she loves.
But a different Katniss emerges in the final instalment, Mockingjay. One who is acting on behalf of not just her family but an entire country. One that has the fate of millions of people, not just a handful, resting on her shoulders.
You can see it in her face in the final scene of the film. When told that District 12 has been destroyed, her first reaction is tears and grief, but it quickly hardens to anger and determination.
This is the point where the similarities between Katniss and Christ end, and it’s unknown much religious symbolism author Suzanne Collins intentionally wrote into the series.
But Catching Fire certainly treats us to some striking imagery that adds a different layer to the mythology of the story and definitely gives us something extra to think about.