Catching Fire has already shattered November box office records. The sequel to 2011’s The Hunger Games is not only a better book adaptation, it improves in every way over its predecessor. The actors seem more settled in their roles (or perhaps their roles are better written, or both). Despite a richer, more complex source material, the plot moves swiftly and clearly. The new characters are introduced and integrated seamlessly and threaten to steal the show (particularly Finnick and Joanna – will Jenna Malone finally start getting some love?).
Catching Fire presses the themes developed in The Hunger Games further. Now that Katniss has survived the Games by putting on a better show, she must maintain that illusion – that she and Peeta are lovers – indefinitely. But Katniss’ defiance of the Capitol has fomented rebellion. Her life – and the lives of Peeta, her mother, sister and Gale – depend on her ability to live a lie.
Catching Fire illustrates how the Empire uses fear to maintain our allegiance.
At the outset of Catching Fire, President Snow – the embodiment of the Capitol – instills fear in Katniss immediately by threatening her family if she doesn’t maintain the lie she used to escape the Games. From the beginning, Katniss functions as a microcosm of Panem: she wants to rebel, but she doesn’t for fear for her life and the lives of those she loves.
But as Katniss plays her part, she finds no peace, no relief from her fear. Instead, Katniss is torn between the identities she symbolizes. Is she the love-struck girl who survived, a distraction from the suffering and injustice imposed by the Capitol? Or is she the Mockingjay, the symbol of the Capitol’s final inability to control and manipulate?
Torn between these symbols, Katniss nearly lets fear choose for her.
In order to destroy the symbol of resistance Katniss – and by extension, all the other tributes have become, Snow mandates that the 75th Hunger Games be played by the tributes themselves. In order to destroy the unity they’re fostering against the Capitol, Snow pits them against each other.
The Hunger Games are the Panem Empire’s version of the Roman Empire’s Crucifixion. Rome designed crucifixion as a particularly brutal and public form of execution and reserved it for rebels. Rome took the strongest, bravest of the culture and killed them in a murder-turned-spectacle. They were paraded through the town, tortured and killed in full view of the people as a reminder that no one could triumph against Rome.
So too, Snow intones that the Hunger Games remind Panem that no one is strong enough to defeat the Capitol. Not even the former champions.
As Katniss – the sole female tribute in District 12 – enters the arena again, Haymitch warns her:
Don’t forget who the real enemy is in there. — Haymitch
He means of course that the real enemy is the Capitol itself. These people fighting against her, trying to kill her, are either tools of the Capitol or driven to kill by the same fear that drives Katniss: fear for their own lives and the lives of their families.
Fearing for her life, Katniss sees betrayal and danger everywhere. She doesn’t know the other tributes are part of the rebellion, that they’ve conspired together to rescue her. As they save her again and again, Katniss can’t understand why these alleged enemies should save her. Her fear keeps whispering in her ear, warning that sooner rather than later she will have to kill them.
The climactic moment comes at the base of the lightning tree. Caught in the web of the rebellion’s plans, Katniss has been separated from Peeta, possibly betrayed by Finnick and Joanna (though in truth they’re attempting to rescue her). Katniss draws a bead on Finnick.
Her choice becomes: will she remember the tributes’ unity, or will she do what Snow wants and kill them all?
Katniss chooses not to succumb to her fears, instead attacking the Capitol – by firing her arrow at the forcefield and destroying the arena. Thus the rebellion steps into the open, rescuing Katniss and retreating to the apparently-not-destroyed District 13.
As fear is the main weapon of the Empire, so too is courage the main weapon of Resistance. And this is what separates Jesus from many other revolutionary leaders – as well as why many rebellions have looked to his example (particularly the non-violent sorts).
Jesus did not escape death. His life ended hanging on a Roman cross – it would have been like Katniss dying in the arena, betrayed to the Careers by one of her own allies. But Jesus lived wholly in the Way of God, a way God promises repeatedly brings life, not death.
And so, three days later, when it seemed as though Rome had one, as though no one was in fact strong enough to defeat the Capitol, the Father raised Jesus from the dead through the power of the Spirit.
It’s the promise of resurrection that has inspired Jesus’ followers throughout history to resist the various Empires we live under.
Confident that God will always bring life, even out of Death, we can choose not to succumb to fear, but instead to choose hope, unity, love and peace.
We can’t help but wonder about the world of The Hunger Games: in a world without resurrection, what happens if the Empire kills Peeta? Or Prim or Gayle?
What power does Katniss have in the face of Death? Can the Mockingjay be enough then?