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The Myth of Katniss, a Catching Fire movie review (Spoilers)

There was this other big pop culture moment thing that happened this past weekend (yes, something besides Doctor Who), the Catching Fire movie was released and it apparently had the biggest November opening of any movie.  I took the Tween to see it and am going to talk about it after the jump.  There will be spoilers a plenty so proceed at your own risk.

SPOILERS – SPOILERS – SPOILERS

I like The Hunger Games books, but I am not an uber fan.  I read each book when they were released and I read them only once.  Out of the three books, Catching Fire was the one I liked the least.  To me, it had to much of a retread feel.  Yes, I know that important things happen and there are big developments, and some subtle ones, but I just hated having to go in and read through another version of the arena events.  I very much felt, “Been there, Done that.”

BUT.  I loved this movie.  Loved it. It was so well done.  The acting was much improved.  The stakes were raised.  And I thought it really highlighted some important things, making them much clearer to the audience – especially on the myth of Katniss.  I know some of you are already having a knee jerk reaction, so stick with me for a moment.

I love Katnss.  I think she is a very complex character, but I also think she has been elevated among many as this feminist icon and hero, which she kind of really isn’t and the movie really reminded me of this.  To me, being a feminist is about equality and free agency.  I want to see women have the same respect, rights and opportunities as men.  Actually, I want this for all people regardless of gender, race, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, etc.  And I want to see women have free agency, the rights and ability to determine their own path.  It is particularly in this second part where I see the myth of Katniss.  Let’s discuss.

Katniss is in many ways fierce.  When we first meet her we know that she has been taking care of her family, hunting and supplying them with food.  She is determined, strong willed, and possesses many admirable goals.  We also see her, at times throughout the books, as being selfish, bullheaded and half-cocked.  See, she is complex.  She has depth and flaws and is very realistic.  BUT, and this is a big but, she is not the revolutionary hero that many make her out to be.

She stumbled into herodom.  And in much of the books she is being used as a pawn, by both sides.  In a lot of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire Katniss does not have free agency, a fact that was highlighted all too well by the final scene in Catching Fire.  As we see Katniss being lifted out of the games – being saved by men who have conspired to save her so that they can use her as a token to inspire their revolution – we are reminded once again of how little free agency Katniss had in books one and two.  These people – these men in fact – are using her.  And because they don’t inform her of their plan, her self-agency is being denied her.  In fact we learn in Mockingjay that there is a lot that no one has bothered to tell Katniss. 

We also see, in that final gaze into the camera, the moment where she makes a decision to fully participate in the revolution.  It is in this moment that she begins to become the revolutionary hero that much of the media makes her out to be.  Before this, she is a pawn, a token, a symbol.  She has stumbled into something that she doesn’t fully understand or realize; events are being orchestrated around her, using her as a symbol without her full knowledge or consent.

That’s not to say she doesn’t display amazing character traits and tendencies, because she does.  We see it when she volunteers as tribute; we see it in the way she handles Rue’s death; and we see it when she stands up to and holds her own with President Snow.  I mean, this is a teenage girl being called to stand before the powerful, sociopathic president of Panem, and she looks him straight in the eye.  That’s pretty admirable. I do believe I would wet my pants. Don’t laugh, you probably would too.

There was another great scene that showed the push and pull of Katniss while her and Peeta were on tour.  Peeta agrees to speak when they pull into the first district stop, Rue’s district.  Peeta is going to be the man and step up and save her, because it is clear that Katniss does not want to speak.  And you see Katniss standing there, brimming with emotion but once again being controlled by the threats of President Snow, and then she steps forward and speaks from the heart.  It was a beautiful scene that illustrated the push and pull of influence inside (and out) Katniss.  Here, President Snow still has tremendous power over her and she is trying to play into his hand to save everyone, but she also knows what is right, what is truth.

That is part of what I love, actually, about The Hunger Games series.  I think it is a much more authentic portrait of a journey.  Katniss doesn’t wake up one day and decide to be a hero and then come in with all this swagger and save the day.  No, she takes some hesitant steps forward, the Capitol reasserts its authority, she wavers (see her reading the speeches on the cards after a man is shot before her).  It’s a dance, and she is not always sure of what the right moves are.  She sometimes stumbles, she sometimes missteps, but then she gets her footing back.

But that last scene, man it galls me.  Especially Haymitch, she trusted him.  Put her life in his hands.  And he doesn’t even do her the courtesy of letting her know what is happening.

So the other day I was thinking about the various YA dystopians that I have read and I was trying to remember: Are there any dystopian/post apocalyptic YA novels where the main female character is truly and fully aware of leading a group of people into revolution?  It seems, and trust me I haven’t read them all so I could be totally wrong, that the tendency is that the female meets a male who then brings her into the revolution (see also Tris and Four) and the female still has less agency than the male because she has less knowledge and experience about the truth of their society and the revolution, giving the male character a huge advantage and making them the de facto leader.  

Anyhow, loved the movie.  Thought it was very well done.  Took the Tween and she also loved it (she has not read the books). Entertainment Weekly has an article on 12 changes from the book to the movie if you are interested.

Previously on TLT:
Sunday Reflections: Be Your Own Katniss
May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor
Feed Their Hunger for The Hunger Games
Why We Hunger for The Hunger Games

Do Kick Butt Heroines Really Need to Kick Butt? A guest post by author Dawn Metcalf

Strong female protagonists: we love them, we admire them, and we want more of them! Give us more Buffys and Xenas, more Katsas and Katnisses, more Trises and Tallys, and more like our beloved Keladrys of Mindelan. We want our girls to be active, fighting for their lives and the lives of their friends, to be leaders, just and savvy, cool and smart, taking down governments and taking names! And while I am as much of a fan of these stories as the next rabid bookavore, I begin to worry—as a reader and a writer—whether “sharp, pointy stick” has become shorthand for “strong.”
            While there are many strengths in the world, the flashy ones like sword fighting, magic and kung fu action get all the press. Don’t get me wrong—most of my favorite stories (and favorite pastimes) feature that kind of strength, but when characters like Tally Youngblood and Beatrice “Tris” Prior begin to depend on their mental strengths alongside their physical ones, that’s when things get interesting! Subtly strong characters like Cammie Morgan and Frankie Landau-Banks use brains over brawn to subvert the Old Boy networks, and while Katniss Everdeen and Lena Duchannes both wield serious power, it is their love for others that makes them true heroines, showing us how strong they really are.
            Me, I love strong female protagonists! That’s why I wrote INDELIBLE.
Indelible, The Twixt book 1 by Dawn Metcalf
Coming in September 2013 from Harlequin Teen

Joy Malone is strong. An Olympic hopeful in Level 9 gymnastics, she left that world after her mother left the family and hasn’t been training in over a year. Friends, career, clear purpose and happy family: gone. Now Joy cares most about her best friend, Monica, her older brother, Stef, and her depressed father—votes are still out about how she feels about Mom—and is struggling to make this year better than the last while also trying to keep some things safely the same. So when Joy is accidentally pulled into a magical world of monsters and intrigue, immortal honor and revenge, she doesn’t let it take over her life, she meets it head-on, willing to risk anything to keep her family and friends safe. She may not have a pointy stick, but she has her wits, her resourcefulness, and her heart—along with a(n un)healthy dose of wariness and cynicism, deeply afraid of making mistakes.

And this is why Joy makes a lot of mistakes.
Yet making mistakes is where strength is truly tested.
Joy makes mistakes. Indelible Ink makes mistakes. Invisible Inq and Kurt and Graus Claude make mistakes. In fact, everyone in INDELIBLE makes some sort of mistake and Joy is the one I’m most proud of because she admits when she’s screwed up, she speaks up, and that’s one of the strongest things that anyone can do. There’s strength in that vulnerability when you admit that you were wrong, that you don’t know the right answer, and that you don’t know what to do. She’s scared sometimes and wrong sometimes and suspicious and angry and cruel sometimes—all those not-so-heroic things that real heroes feel—and she deals with it. And, sometimes, she even asks for help. That’s what makes Joy stronger when everyone else is throwing around magic and knucklebones and straight razor blades. She trusts herself enough to get over herself, learning to trust others because sometimes, being strong isn’t what’s best. Leaning on friends isn’t a weakness. Admitting fears isn’t a crime. And when she’s held answerable for her actions, she accepts it and does something about it. INDELIBLE is written for strong girls who might not know how strong they really are.
And that’s a strength I admire, no pointy sticks necessary.
INDELIBLE by Dawn Metcalf is due out by Harlequin Teen July 30, 2013.

Once Upon A Time…
…there was a headstrong fairy princess and a frog with an axe. But that’s another story.
My name is Dawn Metcalf and I write dark, quirky, and sometimes humorous speculative fiction. My debut novel, LUMINOUS, is a YA paranormal fantasy by Dutton Books and my next novel, INDELIBLE, is due out summer of 2013 by Harlequin Teen.

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