Kate Everett, Staff Writer

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, sequel to last year’s The Hunger Games and an adaptation of the second book in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, broke holiday box office records last weekend, dissuading any fears that the film would succumb to middle movie syndrome.

The new movie begins in District 12, the coal-mining home territory of Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, winners of the previous year’s Hunger Games contest in which young representatives of each district participate in a televised hunt to amuse the wealthy and pacify the needy.

Katniss and Peeta, the celebrated but traumatized victors, and pretend lovers, embark on a propagandistic “Victory Tour” of the 12 districts of Panem. As feared by President Snow, the chillingly ruthless leader of Panem, the tour becomes less about propaganda and celebration and devolves into showcasing the citizens’ defiance of the Capitol instead. The citizens embrace Katniss as a symbol of this hope and rebellion, a symbol President Snow hopes to snuff out by devising a 75th anniversary edition of the Hunger Games that will pit previous winners against one another.

This sequel, while running at a lengthy two and a half hours, is a tighter and more focused adaptation than the original. It contains everything a fan of the books could want; it is more faithful to its source material than the first, while the improved special effects bring to life some of the more fantastic elements of the story, previously limited to readers’ imaginations. The visual experience of the movie highlights in a visceral way the difference between the poverty and violent oppression found in the districts, and the decadent, frivolous parties and attitudes found in the Capitol. Images of gray, hungry misery are juxtaposed with flashy fireworks raining down on Capitol partygoers, as they down medications to throw up their food in order to consume more.

As a whole, this installment spends more time reflecting upon the political and social undercurrent, as the budding revolution brings these themes to the foreground; as President Snow warns Katniss at the beginning, “You fought very hard in the Games, Miss Everdeen. But they were games. How would you like to be in a real war?” There is a heightened sense of consequence and responsibility in this movie. One almost forgets the Games themselves were so central to the first movie.

One of the most sophisticated questions these books and films asks the audience is: Where are we as viewers? What does it mean for us as an audience to be participating in this? Are we the same as the viewers in the capitol? Thomas Hibbs, Professor of Philosophy at Baylor University, asked these questions several weeks ago at a lecture he gave on The Hunger Games, sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Culture. In some ways, The Hunger Gamesis a satire on reality television such as Survivor, especially with its portrayal of mindless audiences.

The Hunger Gamestakes this concept to vicious extremes, turning death contests are forms of entertainment. According to Hibbs, Collins was inspired to write these novels because reality TV and media coverage of the Iraq War seemed blurred to her. Within all of the artificiality of the Capitol, the Hunger Games represent an interesting paradox: here, death is the only thing that is actually real because it cannot be faked.

Along with its political and social commentary, death truly is at the heart of reflections provoked by this movie, and the entire trilogy. Interestingly, there is no speculation about the possibility of anything after death. Rather, the focus is on rituals surrounding death. President Snow thinks that the ritual of the Hunger Games will constrain the people, yet Katniss displays a different ritual in the first movie by memorializing Rue’s death. As the main character, she, along with the audience, learns to expand her understanding of for whom, and for what, she is willing to die. Therefore, we the audience empathize and identify with those in the arena instead of the Capitol viewers.

Perhaps former 12th District victor Haymitch Abernathy articulates it best when he advises Katniss that in the death contest known as the Hunger Games, there are no winners, only survivors.

Kate Everett is a sophomore in McGlinn Hall studying PLS and theology. If the watermelon sour patch candies are replaced in The Huddle, let her know immediately at keverett@nd.edu.