Film review: Catching Fire

Mary Finch reviews Catching Fire, part two of the popular Hunger Games trilogy.

This film’s story now resonates more than ever. Ruled by a dictatorial state, Panem, which uses the brutal annual Hunger Games to force submission to it – this is a dystopian future. Catching Fire brings in the politics and ideology from Suzanne Collins’ books that the first film largely neglected.

The indulgence of the wealthy Capitol seems to have no end. Parties, decadence, and glamour; everything is colourful and exciting, and luxuries and money are treated as disposable commodities. This stands in sharp contrast to the abject poverty of the surrounding districts, and the grey industrial areas that are home to ordinary citizens.

Class politics

At the heart of the trilogy is class politics. The relationship between the class elites and those at the very end of the scale in Panem reflect the reality of modern capitalism. The state, headed by President Snow, has a social base in the elite classes living in the Capitol.

But this elite needs the working class – the Capitol and Panem keep going only because the districts do. This makes the state and class society fragile. For capitalism, in creating the working class, is forging its own destruction. President Snow says that no force can be stronger than the state, but the rebellions that sparked the creation of The Hunger Games very nearly overthrew the Capitol, and the districts are rebelling again.

The film’s closing images see the main protagonist Katniss, distraught at learning that her home was bombed and effectively destroyed. But her sadness quickly turns to anger and determination. She is ready to fight back.

The revolutionary consciousness builds throughout the film and explodes into a revolution against the Capitol. In the first film, Katniss attempts suicide in the Games to prevent the Capitol having a victor to display.

This shows the first sparks of rebellion: her victory tour sees riots in almost every district; violence breaks out against ‘Peacekeepers’, the agents of the state.

Her final symbolic rebellion is uncovered at the ceremony before the 75th Hunger Games. Katniss is forced to wear what would have been her wedding dress – which burns away and becomes a black dress with wings. She embodies the revolution, and in the final book becomes its figurehead.

But the revolution is wider than her alone. The Capitol tries to make Katniss distant from the ordinary citizens, hoping that the revolutionary mood will pass; but movements based on the strength of the working class cannot be so breakable.

The consciousness of the citizens in the districts broadens beyond individual struggles and becomes a struggle to liberate everyone, by encouraging them to liberate themselves through participation in the revolution.

Not just fiction

Working in solidarity with each other, the working class can overthrow capitalist states.

But revolution is not just a work of fiction. The recent Arab Spring saw mass uprisings turn into revolutions that overthrew dictatorial regimes that once seemed unstoppable; a million people walked the streets of Brazil this summer, over a small rise in bus fares, and Turkey saw mass demonstrations and occupations, met with a brutal backlash from the police, in defence of a park.

In the worst crisis since the Great Depression, capitalism’s contradictions are being exposed, as are its inequalities.

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer: and eventually, something has to give. This film will encourage all those of us in the real world who are fighting for socialism.

  • Veteran actor Donald Sutherland, who plays President Snow in the film, told the press that he wants the film to stir revolt, a youth uprising. He cited corporate tax dodging, racism, denying food stamps to starving Americans and drone strikes as reasons to take action.