Catching Fire Review and Discussion

Fifth Friday Film Forum: Catching Fire

Spoiler alerts: If you haven’t read Catching Fire or seen the film, you may not want to read this.

I have to admit that when I first read Catching Fire and realized that Suzanne Collins was going to send Katniss and Peeta back into the arena to compete in another Hunger Games, I was disappointed. What seemed such a brilliant plot element in the last book suddenly seemed tired, as if Collins was a one-trick pony. But that feeling soon disappeared. Although there is indeed a second round of the Hunger Games competition in Catching Fire, the plot both inside and outside of the arena was different enough that it seemed a natural extension rather than repeat of the previous book.

Moreover, the characters you’ve come to care about deepen so that you are drawn not only to watch what they do, but also who they become. Their choices – as with our own — reveal their character and we are regularly curious about how they develop. Finally, the larger story of the oppression of Panem – the futurist totalitarian nation from what is left of the United States at some unspecified point in the future – grows thicker and more complex, and the issues of injustice, oppression, and rebellion come forcefully to the surface.

Indeed, the film version of Catching Fire  makes that element all the more apparent. Perhaps because we no longer hear the story from the point of view of Katniss – which is a great narrative device in the book – we notice the larger system of oppression and injustice more deeply. In The Hunger Games, we saw the injustices of the system played out in the lives of individual characters, the young tributes set to fight and kill each other. In Catching Fire, we see the larger cost of injustice and our point of view is shifted from the individuals we’ve come to care about to larger questions about systemic injustice and violence.

When Katniss wants to flee, for instance, we sympathize with her. But when Gale wants to resist, we admire him. For we’ve realized as the film progresses that the “we” of the story is more powerful than the “I.” Individual liberty is balance by individual responsibility for the larger whole, and the characters we admire most are the ones willing to sacrifice themselves – their safety and even their lives – for the sake of others and, indeed, the larger cause of freedom and justice.

This is just one of the reasons Catching Fire – even better, I think, that the first film (which I loved) – is a great movie to watch with your kids, grandkids, or with a youth group. Great questions for discussion abound. Four themes in particular stood out to me and I’ll both outline those briefly and offers some questions for discussion. These themes aren’t limited only to this book and film, of course, as they are part of our national story and at the center of our faith story as well. But reading the book or watching the film can bring these questions to the fore and invite us to think more deeply about our lives and faith as well as Collins’ wonderful narrative.

1) Sacrifice
The relationships in Catching Fire become more complex. One of the recurring themes of the book and film is that relationships involve some measure of sacrifice, of looking out for the needs of others while caring for yourself. What role does sacrifice play in the relationship between the central characters? What role does sacrifice play in your own relationships? Do you expect others to sacrifice for you? Are you prepared to sacrifice for the ones you love? Are there limits to the sacrifices we make for those we love? And what kinds of obligations does sacrifice entail? What happens to the relationships between Gale and Katniss, on the one hand, and Peeta and Katniss, on the other, as they make conscious sacrifices for each other? Jesus says in John’s Gospel that there is no greater love than when one person lays down his or her life for another (Jn. 15:13). Where do we see that happening in Catching Fire, in the Bible, and in our own lives?

2) Hope
In the first film, President Snow (in a scene not in the book but that fits perfectly with the plot and characters) asks Seneca Crane why the Hunger Games must have a winner. Snow then answers that the reason is hope: to give the oppressed people of Panem some small hope that they might prevail. A little hope, Snow says, is a good thing; a lot of hope is dangerous. In Catching Fire, hope is beginning to spread, and we soon discover that hope is powerful but also dangerous in that it threatens the oppressors. What characters in Catching Fire are most transformed by hope? Why does Katniss become a symbol of hope? What role does hope play in our lives? What are some of the motivating hopes that we harbor? What is our source of hope? And how do we encourage each other in the face of setbacks? St. Paul writes that, “We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom. 5:3-5). What do you think Paul means? Have you experienced challenges or suffering that have lead to endurance, character, and hope? How does this connect with God’s love?

3) Memory and Story
Katniss would like to forget the games ever happened, but the Capitol won’t allow that because they want to perpetuate a particular message – fear – by telling the story of the Hunger Games over and over. How do we deal with damaging memories? At one point, Haymitch tells Katniss that the train they are on will roll on forever to serve the story and purposes of the Capitol, but is that the only story available to her? How do we not allow our past to dominate our present and future? How, that is, do we tell ourselves a new story and live into it? The victors who are reaped for the Quarter Quell Hunger Games in the film begin to tell a new story in their stage appearances and in how they act in the arena. Why? Paul writes that everyone in Christ becomes a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). How does our life as Christians free us from the past and open up the possibility of telling and living a new story?

4) The Individual In Community
Katniss soon realizes that the issues at hand are much larger than only the safety of her and her loved ones. When she sees the oppression in the other districts and realizes the hope she has ignited, she discovers that she is part of a larger community and that her struggle is caught up in a much larger struggle for justice. But she hasn’t asked for that role or sought it out, so does she have a choice? What would we think of her if she fled? Are there limits to what we can ask one person for the sake of the larger community? It’s been said that when one person is oppressed, we all suffer. How do you understand that to be true? The Apostle Paul wrote that every member of the body of Christ is equally important, when one suffers the whole body is hurt, and when one is honored the entire body rejoices (1 Cor. 12:26). If we believed this is true, what would our relationships look like and how would we want to contribute to our families, schools, communities, and world?

For more questions about the book and film, you can go to the website of Scholastic, the publisher of The Hunger Games trilogy. For discussion questions geared for youth groups for the first book, you can catch my earlier post on The Hunger Games. And for a great exploration of the relationship between The Hunger Games trilogy and the Christian Faith, see the penetrating ebook The Hunger Games and the Gospel, by Julie Clawson.