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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire—an allegory for revolution in our time

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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (film review)


The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the second film in the Hunger Games series, based on the trilogy of novels by Suzanne Collins that started with "The Hunger Games."

I read the Hunger Games trilogy of novels with page-turning delight, after seeing the first film in the series. While the books offer a well-written, brilliant story of a tyrannical, more-dystopian-than-today near-future, the films capture more. That is, the second of the two films bring the characters and their quest to life in a way that totally captures interest and attention. This is born out by the fact that worldwide sales during the first 10 days of its release exceeded $573 million.

Catching Fire the movie, mirrors the book of the same name, and continues to deal with painful problems we face today in America and across the world: poverty; inequality; the effects of war; governmental tyranny; and oppression—the oppression of the weak by the strong, of the poor by the rich, and of workers by the stylish class more concerned with luxuries than the day-to-day struggles of most people. And it deals with offensive, deliberately cruel violence against defenseless innocents. In short, the revolutionaries in Panem, led by Katniss Everdeen, are dealing with the problems of our world, in our time. More on those later.

As such, Catching Fire continues the film series as an allegory for today. An allegory for confronting injustice with revolution. An allegory that may inspire revolutionaries among us, young and old, men and women, in America and abroad.

Rather than create spoilers for those who haven't seen this fabulous film, I'll refrain from revealing very many movie details, but rather, I'll focus on broader features of the film and general themes of the allegory. I found it inspiring, moving and entertaining.

The Visual Presentation

With modern computer generated imagery (CGI) lots of films are stretching the possible into the realm of the unbelievable and, consequently, that-which-bores. Not so Catching Fire. In this film, CGI effects add to the story in subtle and always realistic ways. And the movie is spectacular without being unbelievable. You'll see.

The Heroic Characters

Katniss Everdeen retains her bow-and-arrow prowess as a manifestation of woman-power, focusing on her reluctant mission to pursue justice for Panem's oppressed districts, and to protect her loved ones, in selfless and dramatic fashion. While she must act the role of star-crossed, head-over-heels in love with Peeta, she hasn't time or desire for romantic love, thus breaking the stereotype of leading women who focus entirely on the man of their desires.

Katniss's public partner-in-love, Peeta Mellark, her sister Primrose, her friend Gale Hawthorne, her trainer-strategist Haymitch Abernathy, her ally Finnick Odair, her stylist Cinna, and the others in the cast grow in depth and spirit as allies in her quest to survive and lead a revolution to end the oppression of the districts by the Capitol. The acting all the way around is believable and superb.

The Messages in the Movie

Tyrannical oppressors make and change the rules however they like. Young people can change the world. Killing, coercion and cruelty are the methods of the powerful. Women can change the world. The propaganda and self-deceit of the plutocrats have few limits. Children can change the world. The parasitic plutocrats in power seek to eliminate hope itself among those they dominate. The many can dare to take over a world controlled by a powerful few and succeed. Skills matter for making change. The powerful are vulnerable and dependent on those they seek to control. Leadership matters for strategy, for rallying allies to the cause, and for defeating even the most powerful adversaries. These are some of the messages the story conveys, with great acting, style and grace.

The Real World is Ripe for Revolution

To people all over the world outside of the United States, Europe, Japan, New Zealand and Australia, the Capitol is America and its blend of attractive culture, high-technology, military dominance and vicious, violent and lawless acts. To regular people within the United States—workers, students, many professionals—the 99 percent, the Capitol is Washington DC. This is the Capitol with the Congress that logged the lowest approval rating—nine percent—in the history of Gallup polling. It's the Capitol with the Congress that in a real poll, came out behind cockroaches, colonoscopies, Genghis Khan, and traffic jams.

In fact, the system "the Capitol" is responsible for maintaining is pushing the entire Earth towards ecocide. The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) publishes a study every five years called the Global Environmental Outlook report. The most recent one called GEO-5 said that:

  • "As human pressures on the Earth System accelerate, several critical global, regional and local thresholds are close or have been exceeded. Once these have been passed, abrupt and possibly irreversible changes to the life-support functions of the planet are likely to occur, with significant adverse implications for human well-being."
  • ". . . urgent, ambitious and cooperative action is imperative to meet internationally agreed goals and targets and to avoid irreversible changes to the life-support functions of the planet and further escalating economic, environmental and human well-being costs."

Even the Pope has made a statement that fans the flames of revolution. Here are a few choice quotations from his latest apostolic exhortation:

  • "The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings . . ."
  • "While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. . . . The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule."
  • "The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode. When a society – whether local, national or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programmes or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility. This is not the case simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root."

In this context of governmental failure, the revolutionary spirit creates drier and drier tinder for the fires of revolutionary fervor. There have been been three major periods in American history where the revolutionary fervor caught fire:

  • The revolutionary period from 1760 to 1790 leading to the current constitutional government.
  • The era that ended slavery from 1850 with the division and collapse of the Whig party to 1870 with the adoption of the Reconstruction Amendments that created the changes for which the North fought the Civil War.
  • The New Deal era of 1932 to 1980, which gave us Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Now, several factors are converging which may be pushing us towards a new revolutionary era:

  • Opposition to the inequality of the corporate era of the plutocrats, led by Occupy Wall Street and its derivatives; continued resistance to military dominance by successful militias and movements in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • An increasingly skeptical citizenry opposed to plutocratic inequality and lawless military action.
  • Defecting institutions such as the Catholic Church with the Pope's recent apostolic exhortation called Evangelii Gaudium, which blames violence by the poor on inequality due to a socioeconomic system which is "unjust at its root."
  • Courageous journalists such as Glenn Greenwald, Alan Rusbridger, Julian Assange, and Laura Poitras, and whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning have exposed the crimes of violence and surveillance of the US and UK governments.

Together, these add up to the context, the dry tinder, and the fertile ground for another revolutionary era—an era to further the character of our American nation, and to achieve the quest for global sustainable prosperity.

Allegories Point to the Path Forward

There are many movie allegories for revolution in our time: The Day the Earth Stood Still (both versions), Braveheart, Children of Men, Avatar, The Hunger Games, and now The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. May they continue to inspire us towards bringing about our own revolutionary narrative and subsequent actual real revolution. Engaging in that quest—the quest of Jefferson, Franklin and Madison; the quest of Lincoln; the quest of Franklin Roosevelt, and the quest of Mandela—is a way to maintain sanity and happiness amid the seemingly unsolvable problems of our time.

When the tipping point emerges, we will need viable, non-violent, political paths to revolutionary change.

My own preferences for revolutionary change is the peaceful, political kinds, which I've written about elsewhere here, here, here and here.

May the revolutionaries among us seize the moment now towards revolutionary political change!




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