The Myth of Katniss, a Catching Fire movie review (Spoilers)
There was this other big pop culture moment thing that happened this past weekend (yes, something besides Doctor Who), the Catching Fire movie was released and it apparently had the biggest November opening of any movie. I took the Tween to see it and am going to talk about it after the jump. There will be spoilers a plenty so proceed at your own risk.
SPOILERS – SPOILERS – SPOILERS
I like The Hunger Games books, but I am not an uber fan. I read each book when they were released and I read them only once. Out of the three books, Catching Fire was the one I liked the least. To me, it had to much of a retread feel. Yes, I know that important things happen and there are big developments, and some subtle ones, but I just hated having to go in and read through another version of the arena events. I very much felt, “Been there, Done that.”
BUT. I loved this movie. Loved it. It was so well done. The acting was much improved. The stakes were raised. And I thought it really highlighted some important things, making them much clearer to the audience – especially on the myth of Katniss. I know some of you are already having a knee jerk reaction, so stick with me for a moment.
I love Katnss. I think she is a very complex character, but I also think she has been elevated among many as this feminist icon and hero, which she kind of really isn’t and the movie really reminded me of this. To me, being a feminist is about equality and free agency. I want to see women have the same respect, rights and opportunities as men. Actually, I want this for all people regardless of gender, race, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, etc. And I want to see women have free agency, the rights and ability to determine their own path. It is particularly in this second part where I see the myth of Katniss. Let’s discuss.
Katniss is in many ways fierce. When we first meet her we know that she has been taking care of her family, hunting and supplying them with food. She is determined, strong willed, and possesses many admirable goals. We also see her, at times throughout the books, as being selfish, bullheaded and half-cocked. See, she is complex. She has depth and flaws and is very realistic. BUT, and this is a big but, she is not the revolutionary hero that many make her out to be.
She stumbled into herodom. And in much of the books she is being used as a pawn, by both sides. In a lot of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire Katniss does not have free agency, a fact that was highlighted all too well by the final scene in Catching Fire. As we see Katniss being lifted out of the games – being saved by men who have conspired to save her so that they can use her as a token to inspire their revolution – we are reminded once again of how little free agency Katniss had in books one and two. These people – these men in fact – are using her. And because they don’t inform her of their plan, her self-agency is being denied her. In fact we learn in Mockingjay that there is a lot that no one has bothered to tell Katniss.
We also see, in that final gaze into the camera, the moment where she makes a decision to fully participate in the revolution. It is in this moment that she begins to become the revolutionary hero that much of the media makes her out to be. Before this, she is a pawn, a token, a symbol. She has stumbled into something that she doesn’t fully understand or realize; events are being orchestrated around her, using her as a symbol without her full knowledge or consent.
That’s not to say she doesn’t display amazing character traits and tendencies, because she does. We see it when she volunteers as tribute; we see it in the way she handles Rue’s death; and we see it when she stands up to and holds her own with President Snow. I mean, this is a teenage girl being called to stand before the powerful, sociopathic president of Panem, and she looks him straight in the eye. That’s pretty admirable. I do believe I would wet my pants. Don’t laugh, you probably would too.
There was another great scene that showed the push and pull of Katniss while her and Peeta were on tour. Peeta agrees to speak when they pull into the first district stop, Rue’s district. Peeta is going to be the man and step up and save her, because it is clear that Katniss does not want to speak. And you see Katniss standing there, brimming with emotion but once again being controlled by the threats of President Snow, and then she steps forward and speaks from the heart. It was a beautiful scene that illustrated the push and pull of influence inside (and out) Katniss. Here, President Snow still has tremendous power over her and she is trying to play into his hand to save everyone, but she also knows what is right, what is truth.
That is part of what I love, actually, about The Hunger Games series. I think it is a much more authentic portrait of a journey. Katniss doesn’t wake up one day and decide to be a hero and then come in with all this swagger and save the day. No, she takes some hesitant steps forward, the Capitol reasserts its authority, she wavers (see her reading the speeches on the cards after a man is shot before her). It’s a dance, and she is not always sure of what the right moves are. She sometimes stumbles, she sometimes missteps, but then she gets her footing back.
But that last scene, man it galls me. Especially Haymitch, she trusted him. Put her life in his hands. And he doesn’t even do her the courtesy of letting her know what is happening.
So the other day I was thinking about the various YA dystopians that I have read and I was trying to remember: Are there any dystopian/post apocalyptic YA novels where the main female character is truly and fully aware of leading a group of people into revolution? It seems, and trust me I haven’t read them all so I could be totally wrong, that the tendency is that the female meets a male who then brings her into the revolution (see also Tris and Four) and the female still has less agency than the male because she has less knowledge and experience about the truth of their society and the revolution, giving the male character a huge advantage and making them the de facto leader.
Anyhow, loved the movie. Thought it was very well done. Took the Tween and she also loved it (she has not read the books). Entertainment Weekly has an article on 12 changes from the book to the movie if you are interested.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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