Thursday, April 19, 2012

Catching Fire, the searing sequel: "They hadn’t anticipated its will to live..."

"“But Mockingjays were never a weapon," said Madge. "They’re just songbirds. Right?"
"Yeah, I guess so,” I said, but it’s not true. A mockingbird is just a songbird. A mockingjay is a creature the Capitol never intended to exist. They hadn’t counted on the highly controlled jabberjay having the brains to adapt to the wild, to thrive in a new form. They hadn’t anticipated its will to live.”

Katniss Everdeen inadvertently becomes the spark that sets the world ablaze in the follow up to Suzanne Collins' best-selling book:The Hunger Games. I personally feel these books have been mis-marketed as they are found only in the young adult sections of book shops and are perhaps as a consequence less appealing or obtainable to the adult readership. I write about these books because I consider them, along with many other people I'm sure, to have intrinsic literary value above and beyond the selling strategies and market categorisation. I feel convinced that they will become classics, ones that are ever relevant in a similar way to dystopian 'fictions' like Nineteen Eighty-Four, Animal Farm, Brave New World and more modern ones such as Cormac McCarthy's The Road, which I would argue overlaps with many aspects of The Hunger Games.

I made many of these points previously in my review of the first book/movie so I mainly want to focus on Catching Fire as a text in its own right. If anything the writing is superior in this novel as Collins truly masters extreme insight, suspense and harrowing descriptions. There is no denying the horror of it all but it is done in a way that is deeply affecting and thought provoking, from the attacks on Cinna and Gale to the goings on in the arena. It's like a million nightmares rolled into one and yet it is so real. It's not embellished or romanticised to any great extent. And then there is the extreme sensitivity in the consideration of different kinds of resistance - the reckless fire and violent passions embodied in Gale and, to some extent, Katniss, juxtaposed with what starts to show itself as equally, if not more, valuable - the good, earnest, pure Peeta and the power of words. Remarked as being the only 'decent' person to win The Hunger Games.

"Certainly he is brave, but we have all been brave enough to survive a Games. There is that quality of goodness that's hard to overlook, but stil... and then I think of it, what Peeta can do so much better than the rest of us. He can use words. He obliterated the rest of the field at both interviews. And maybe it's because of that underlying goodness that he can move a crowd--no, a country--to his side with the turn of a simple sentence. I remember thinking that was the gift the leader of our revolution should have. Has Haymitch convinced the others of this? That Peeta's tongue would have far greater power against the Capitol than any physical strength the rest of us could claim?"

For surely it is words which will unhinge the Capitol because they cannot crush the intangible. They cannot kill or subdue an idea, and this is the phase that Catching Fire marks, the blossoming of an idea, the spur to action - something that cannot be undone or unsaid.  

“I can hear President Snow's voice in my head. 'On the seventy-fifth anniversary, as a reminder to the rebels that even the strongest among them cannot overcome the power of the capital, the male and female tributes will be reaped from their existing pool of victors.” 

Katniss experiences the beginnings of the consequences of her act of defiance in the first games as she returns home and must deal with being watched as the Capitol seeks to quieten whisperings of rebellion. She essentially grows into the image of the Mockingjay, a persona which she did not consciously choose but which has fallen upon her shoulders:

“The bird, the pin, the song, the berries, the watch, the cracker, the dress that burst into flames. I am the mockingjay. The one that survived despite the Capitol's plans. The symbol of the rebellion.” 

She is not the born rebel, like Gale, but ordinary - torn between anger and fear - devoid of hope afraid to yearn for it, still desperate to protect the ones she loves. But the odds are not in her favour. 

“At some point, you have to stop running and turn around and face whoever wants you dead.The hard thing is finding the courage to do it.” 

I think the motif of the Mockingjay is such a powerful image in two ways - firstly, the crucial fact that a mockingjay imitates - it is given words/songs by other people, and secondly, more positiviely: it is the unprecedented creature which surprised the world - which we first encountered as a small good luck charm, and which grew into a symbol - that there are some things the government can't control - but most of all it embodies hope - because for me the Mockingjay is not just Katniss alone, it is her and Peeta - resistance and words - fire and light - reason and hope combined against the odds yet co-dependant - a fire that cannot exist without the hope, a resistance that cannot sustain itself without the words - a girl who needs the light she first saw in the boy with the bread. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Hunger Games: Survival of the Smartest

It’s so easy to be cynical. I should know, I revert into cynicism on a daily a basis and call it reason. But The Hunger Games does not deserve the cynicism it gets JUST because it is supposedly of the ‘young adult’ market. I think it’s written in a style that makes it accessible to that market, but its subject matter is fundamentally human. Aimed at humankind. Marketing it as the ‘new Twilight’ wasn’t a great move, because it is a million times more complex, thought provoking and socially and politically relevant. I’m not just taking aim at Twilight for the sake of it, we all know it’s something of a guilty pleasure – a story that has obviously captured the hearts of many but it is in no league like The Hunger Games.

I think the movie actually makes The Hunger Games even better. It has a rational, fierce, independent heroine who cannot afford to depend on anyone and clear political undertone – an elite subduing the masses and punishing them through reality television. Yes, there’s a love story – a potential love triangle but it’s not sentimental in a soppy sense and it does take a backseat to the main drive which I prefer. It’s not so much feminism as here is a rational, intelligent human being who can be self-reliant. Essentially, survival comes first. I like Katniss in the book but actually Jennifer Lawrence made me really respect her because she plays her with such subtlety, you don’t have the inner dialogue that you have in the book which is actually kind of a positive in many respects. She is tough yet simultaneously vulnerable, fierce but loyal, and she’s not so self-righteous like many other heroines. In the film when Peeta talks about retaining his integrity and ‘dying as me’, she simply responds: ‘I can’t afford to think like that’. She doesn’t pretend that she isn’t going to kill anybody when it comes down to it, because she’s realistic.

The movie and book are both uncompromising, children hacking each other to death for sport, made more poignant through characters like Rue, the youngest, who Katniss allies herself with. But this is not meaningless violence, the Capitol manipulates all the action. Starting fires, releasing savage beasts, to control and sustain the show for the viewer’s pleasure. The element of having sponsors highlights how in modern society, it’s all about crowd-pleasing. Katniss must play the game, pretend to have feelings for Peeta – and it’s done so cleverly that you’re never really sure if she does. To give them the best chance they have to be groomed and pimped and play their roles. Survival is so much more than just staying alive. The Games is a perfect means of social control through the media –a commemoration of the Capitol’s victory over the masses – and a form of penance – where each District must offer up a boy and a girl as a Tribute and apology for the previous rebellions. To treat it as an honour – a celebration – the Capitol tries to control reason. But it will rue the day when reason fights back .
Films for this market rarely get considered for Oscars, but the camera-work and editing was sensational – really captured the grittiness, the panic – sheer realism and sensory enhancement. The acting, as I mentioned before was also brilliant and the colours and costumes captured the essence of the book very well.

The book and movie work on so many levels – it ultimately depends on the reader/viewer. Is this society of Panem really so far-fetched? Image – war – social antagonism – poverty – reality television – media manipulation – how monstrous mankind can be to each other- humiliation, suffering – all for show and cheap entertainment. To me, that sounds familiar.

“Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor!”
-Effie Trinket
"You don't forget the face of the person who was your last hope." - Katniss Everdeen
“Only I keep wishing I could think of a way to…to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games”
-Peeta Mellark
"And while I was talking, the idea of actually losing Peeta hit me again and I realized how much I don't want him to die. And it's not about the sponsors. And it's not about what will happen when we get home. And it's not just that I don't want to be alone. It's him. I do not want to lose the boy with the bread." 
- Katniss Everdeen
"You know what my mother said to me when she came to say goodbye... she says maybe District Twelve will finally have a winner. Then I realised she didn't mean me - she meant you!" - Peeta Mellark