The Hunger Games

Guess who’s back? It’s Gena! Guess who went to see “The Hunger Games”? It’s… Gena?!

Yeah. I’d been saying and saying and saying I wasn’t going to see this movie. (At first I was thinking I should start a “Movies I’m Not Watching” post like Maria, but the only thing that this has proved is that I’m a low-down, dirty liar.) Not because of Jennifer Lawrence’s casting, which I do take issue with, but by far was not the deciding factor, and not to support Amandla Stenberg and Lenny Kravitz, either, even though a lot of the THG fandom has been showing their collective ass re: outright racism and lack of reading comprehension. I just really disliked the books. (Part of that was an anticipation thing, because when they were recommended to me, I got the impression that the Hunger Games novels were historical fiction about an actual girl gladiator, but mostly I just read the books and didn’t want to read them again– they were conceptually fantastic, and a fun read, but the execution hung me up in specific and irritating enough ways that my happiness allergy was triggered, kind of like how I can’t watch X-Men: First Class without my teeth starting to itch. Sorry, Jennifer Lawrence! Conflicted feelings over media makes me not want to help you rake in the millions.)

I’ll get into that throughout this movie review– though, of course, farla‘s LiveJournal reviews, continued at her BlogSpot, of the Hunger Games trilogy go into a lot more detail on some of Collins’s writing weaknesses, and how that makes The Hunger Games very much an American middle-class-specific book, plus a general lack of research into the realities of archery, field hunting, etc. Definitely check her out! Likewise, there are a lot of movie and book reviews out there taking wholehearted, and detailed, joy in this first movie installment and series of YA novels, such as here, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but this isn’t one of them (though I did enjoy myself very much at the theater, and most of these complaints predate the movie). There is criticism. There are spoilers. You have been warned.

I will start out with praise, though– the direction on this is spectacular, particularly taking into account what I would consider the fairly weak source material. The movie opens up on Caesar Flickerman, the blue-haired, ponytailed, official announcer for the titular Games, doing an interview with the intricately bearded Seneca Crane, Game Master for the past three years. (It took me a ridiculously long time to put together Crane and Seneca the Younger, despite how full-to-the-gills The Hunger Games is with corrupted Latin and romanticized Holy Roman Empire references; but then again, y’all know me. Conflict-of-interests is practically my middle name, and this will not be the last time I project maybe too much Indianness up on this series? COULD BE.) They talk about how the Games started out, as a punishment for the rebellion of the thirteen, now twelve, Districts of Panem against its Capitol, where each District would have to offer, as “tribute,” two teenagers to fight the other 22 children pulled to the death. Later in the movie, President Snow, who was over Katniss Everdeen’s drama before the movie even started, for real, explains how the concept gives each District some hope that their child (and thereby, themselves and their children at home) will survive; he doesn’t touch on the other bonus for the Capitol, which is that the Districts can also, therefore, not trust each other, and each District’s survival means another District’s demise. But now, everything’s all daisies and sunshine! Because the Games really just bring us together as a nation, yeah? The Capitol crowd overwhelmingly agrees, as Caesar asks Seneca what, in his line of work, would be his personal signature– while in response, Katniss Everdeen’s younger sister, Prim, wakes up screaming in District 12, having prophetically dreamt of being chosen in the Reaping for selection to “play” in the 74th Games. Very nicely done.

Katniss soothes Prim, singing a lullaby and reminding her that it’s only her first year being entered, and then heads out early, to start her workday at the same time as the District’s coal miners (Panem somehow sustains itself with each District providing a single export good, but I don’t know enough about economies to poke holes in that beyond “YOU NEED BACKUPS OH MY GOODNESS IMMINENT ECONOMIC COLLAPSE,” which isn’t as catchy as I’d like). Katniss is a poacher, and in one of the changes I liked from the book, large game is few and far between, which would make sense in what is supposed to be a post-apocalyptic world where survivors believe ecological disaster is fairly widespread. Still, when her not-boyfriend/best bro Gale rolls up on her after she’s been tracking a doe for a good amount of time (also, WHAT ARE YOU DOING SHOOTING AT A DOE, GEEZ, YOU WANT MORE DEER BABIES, DON’T YOU??), reminding her the District is crawling with cops Peacekeepers setting up for the televised Lottery, so what was she possibly going to do with all that venison, I just thought, “Dude, field dress that sucka and stash it someplace– nothing’s gonna happen to it, if there were bears around, starving people would have developed a taste for bear already.” Anyway, they shoot a bird, hide from a government hovercraft, and share a dinner roll sized bread, which, presumably since it depends on a lot of import products that are also not totally shelf-stable (D12 has sporadic electricity at best, and the bread is leavened, which suggests some use of fresh ingredients), was expensive enough that Gale traded it for a squirrel– which was a lousy trade, even without the pelt, but whatever.

They talk about trying to run away. Katniss has resigned herself to her responsibilities in the District, her sister more than her mother, and says she’ll never have kids; Gale says he would, if he didn’t live in D12, but Katniss reminds him that he does, that he has siblings, too, and the police would catch him and cut out his tongue– or worse. Which gives me incredible chest pains (the having kids thing, not the tongue thing) re: how this is being reworked for the epilogue of Mockingjay to make the most depressing book series ending ever less so, because, okay, yeah, this works in-story as tying in to a theme of optimistic perserverance– which the movie really does hit very well, as a kinder, gentler, less problematic version of the books– but still, I’m talking Brave New World levels of depressing endings. Anyway, Gale wants everybody to up and move into the woods and stop watching the Games on TV and to generally fight the power with the limited means they have. Instead of calling him out on that being stupid, Katniss asks Gale how many times his name is in the pot for the Reaping; he’s exponentially multiplied his entries in exchange for extra rations for his family enough that, instead of the mandated one entry per year added up from the age of twelve, like the rich kids in the District can afford to do, Gale’s name is entered 42 times. Gale’s got a sense of duty to his family as well, but, like Katniss, what can he do about it?

They head back into the District’s business hub, to trade their illegally hunted meat, and here’s where I’m going to start being mean by being real with y’all, so buckle up. District 12, while not as inexplicably phenotypically split as in the Hunger Games novels, is still very White, in part, I suspect, because the depiction of rural poverty being presented, and Katniss’s struggle, is supposed to be reminiscent of Depression-era imagery and early- to mid-20th-century working-poor Americana. Not even touching on the Racebending/whitewashing angle of the original storytelling, and the demographics of Appalachia, it’s implausible that there would be no ethnic diversity whatsoever in a region meant to provide the entire nation’s coal, besides which, from the angle of nostalgic empathy, the cultural shorthand being referenced is a ridiculously narrow American experience as well. Contrary to popular-media-fueled popular belief, there were non-White folks in the country-ass parts of the US since before the US existed, and not just on plantations– but we’ll touch on District 11 later. Oooohh, snap! *coughs* I obviously can’t tell what the intention was with that, but I got the impression that Katniss’s relatability was tied very much into both Jennifer Lawrence’s appearance (and she’s beautiful, and did a really kickass job with the role, but her getting it is both indicative and part of systemically racist casting processes in Hollywood) and the relatability of District 12 as a whole, when, actually, the way those scenes were pieced together, say as much about what we-the-audience are supposed to find normal, if somewhat pitiable, as the residents of the Capitol are supposed to convey a grotesque of what a conceptual “we” could become, without “us” having to feel bad about ourselves.

Also, Katniss is given her Mockingjay pin out of a dish of random trinkets at the market by Greasy Sae, the woman who buys Katniss’s bird. This means that Katniss’s only female friend, the daughter of the rich mayor, who gives her the pin in the novel, is written out of the movieverse entirely– which is unfortunate, because Madge Unterzee Undersee was one of only two women not in Katniss’s family who she’s even barely amicable towards, making Katniss as a heroine the Exceptional Female by way of Maleness/Masculinity: male friendships/protector relationships, male skillsets, male behaviors, and a stated denial of feminine roles (healer, mother). It also bummed me out because Madge’s mother, who never actually makes an appearance in the series, through objects like the Mockingjay pin, helps shape the older generation (who Katniss and Gale are inclined to decry as complacent) as older versions of the teens going through this acute, new-to-them distress, and very much who they could become. Madge’s maternal aunt, Maysilee Donner, who was also Katniss’s mother’s best friend, had owned the pin first; she fought in the 50th Hunger Games, and lost, the same Games that the alcoholism-sustained Haymitch Abernathy won to become District 12’s official Tribute Mentor, as the only surviving Victor D12 has– which also means he’s spent the past 24 years coaching children to their deaths, every single year, in addition to the regular tortures of watching and rewatching the broadcast of children murdering children, seemingly growing younger and younger as he, like all the other adults of the District, grew older and older. This doesn’t change what the Mockingjay means culturally in-story, and it’s interesting that there was a pin of one for sale in the Hob to begin with, but that interconnectedness was lost, likely for time, even though that one scene is fairly important in establishing Katniss as a member of her community and is a pretty great intergenerational moment.

Anyway, Katniss takes the pin home, and after scrubbing down and dressing up, and generally being incredibly uncomfortable and distant with her mother, gives Prim the Mockingjay for good luck, promising everything is going to be fine and nothing bad will happen. Which is obviously not true (but also mostly totally true, because, duh, blockbuster movie), but Katniss says that a lot when she loses control of a situation and thinks things have gone south. All the District’s residents head to the town square, which has been pressure-washed, lit, and decorated for the occasion, and Prim starts to panic getting in line for a finger-prick DNA registration. Lawrence does a great job setting the scene’s tension level, alternately reassuring Prim and watching her like a hawk in the crowd, nervous in spite of the statistical improbability of her sister being chosen to duel for their District.

But, of course, there’s nothing YA literature likes more than statistical improbabilities, so Effie Trinket, who gets a raw deal in the books, and is portrayed as even more of an all-around jerk and oblivious, condescending Richie Rich in the movie, presents a PSA about how the Games prevent another “treasonous” separatist uprising and ensure the safety of Panem as a whole (particularly jarring after the pre-movie trailer for “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” which promises to be a whole new kind of horrible bane on historical fiction everywhere, where the already-demonized Confederate separatists are also, literally, the bloodsucking damned– I’m probably reading too much into this as Civil War fantasy, but then again, Firefly was all about Confederates in Space, and people can’t stop kissing Whedon’s ass on a general level), and prepares to draw the names of District 12’s Tributes. Surprise! It’s Primrose Everdeen, but you guys saw the trailers and knew that already. All the girls move slowly to face Prim, while Prim slowly looks around in shock, realizing that means her. She adjusts her shirt, like Katniss had done for her earlier, and still in a daze, begins to walk to the platform. Katniss freaks out, and runs forward, screaming that she volunteers to take Prim’s place, grabbing her sister and reassuring her everything’s going to be alright, you’re fine, you’re fine, as Prim collapses and sobs, and Mrs. Everdeen stares straight ahead, stone-faced. The rest of District 12’s children refuse to applaud at Effie’s request, instead silently saluting Katniss in their customary farewell to a loved one, acknowledging and thanking her for her sacrifice. Katniss goes as stunned as Prim was initially, and stands on the stage next to Effie, barely responding to her prompts for continuing the Reaping ceremony, and emotionally vacant until she is asked to shake hands with her male counterpart, Peeta Mellark (portrayed with a palpable sense of terror by Josh Hutcherson), who she is reliving a painful memory of every time she sees him.

The Tributes are shuffled into rooms where they are given three minutes to say their goodbyes to their families, and Katniss (barely) keeps a brave face for Prim, who is heartbroken, but childishly optimistic as she gives her big sister back the Mockingjay pin, and tells her she’s smart enough to win if she tries. Katniss hugs and kisses her, and after telling her mother that she cannot, under any circumstances, tune out the way she did after Mr. Everdeen died (…that’s not tuning out, that’s situational depression, which would have been hard for the whole Everdeen family, and Katniss is being insensitive by taking it that personally; but I know that, of my unpopular opinions, interpreting Katniss’s character as a jerk, if a typical teenage and realistically flawed jerk, living among jerks, ranks fairly high), embraces her as well. They’re escorted out, and Katniss stands by the door, gathering herself psychologically, when Gale bursts in to bid her his (technically not allowed) farewell. He tells her to show off that she can shoot, even though it’s illegal, because the Game Makers want a good show, and will then provide a bow and arrow in the Arena, and that can be the difference between her living and dying. Like Katniss’s sister, Gale believes in her; as the Peacekeepers rush in to drag Gale out, Katniss hugs him fiercely and yells for him to promise not to let her family starve.

Freeze again: before I start in on this, props to all the actors for a really good emotional scene. However, as farla did a really good job of pointing out, that starvation is something that can happen in District 12 when there are plants that have not been ripped wholesale from the soil and trees have not been stripped of their bark is a depiction of starvation from someone who’s never seen it. We aren’t talking about food insecurity, or a disjoint between the poor and the, at very least, slightly less-poor (though that’s where the movie seems to be going). The books are really explicit that when the weather gets bad enough, the base number of corpses lying in the roads just goes up proportionally.

I’m going to take it a step farther, beyond even the absurdly over-elaborate Games as a means of intimidating the Districts into “cooperation” with the Panem dictatorship, and say that Collins’s D12 starvation-lite isn’t only a lazy lack of research and/or a rejection of the researched realities of starvation because of it not fitting with a plot dynamic, it becomes downright offensive in combination with Katniss’s whitewashing. The kind of starvation implied in the books– abandoned children dead in the streets, people not helping near-dead children when they have food, because they have to look out for themselves, and this being an ingrained enough status quo that when/if said children survive, that’s considered normal and acceptable behavior– is the kind of thing that actually goes on in police states and cultural revolutions all the time. I know that for me at least, this particularly struck a chord with the timing of THG’s release, since US President Barack Obama just visited North Korea, regarding a pact where the States provides food aid in exchange for weapons restrictions; and if you’ve read, heard, or seen anything of conditions in North Korea, and North Korean refugees’ stories of their escape and survival, the so-called “Hunger Games” look like a walk in the park.

I’m not saying what was shown in the Hunger Games movie or books wasn’t bad— I’m just saying there are these self-contradicting statements decribing District 12, presenting these levels as un unbearable wickedness visited upon its residents by the oppressive government, with the only respite being still-corrupt but more-ethical local officials; something that the upper-class members of the community are not demonized for allowing, while bakeries with frosted cakes and families who can keep livestock ignore the Seam residents’ plight; and something that can be resolved, for enough members of the community that Katniss and Gale are feeding both of their families with excess meat to trade, by somewhat oblivious teenagers with a homemade bow and rope snares. With a dead electrical fence, edible greenery all around, and even poor families, like Katniss’s (her mom “married down,” and is later revealed to often do her work as the District’s main medic for free when people need it), can afford to keep goats, and keep them lactating. They are poor, yes. There are food shortages, rationing, and suffering because of it (though not to the extent that malnutrition and its effects would realistically be showing up), yes. This is also a wholly unrealistic depiction of people’s will to survive, ingenuity, and desperation in true starvation situations. No one is eating boots. No one is chewing on wood to try and suck the water out. No one has decided, like Gale suggested, that living in the woods with a knife and a makeshift lean-to would be better than starving to death while working coal mines under the same constant surveillance and scrutiny they would face as runaways anyway. Katniss is not the cream rising to the top of District 12 that she’s presented as.

Now, even if you excuse THG as being toned down because it’s YA literature, which I will allow a partial pass on for internal consistency with depictions of violence (though there’s better YA literature out there), and even if you say Katniss’s story in Panem is meant to be a particularly American story, just like my complaint about particular Americanness earlier, that negates a vast expanse of American experiences. This is why Katniss as a PoC works: as a children’s version of minority struggles against oppression, including enforced starvation as punishment or threat, and the class/race interplay of poverty, starvation, and food access (particularly when the “olive-skinned” District 12 citizens live in poverty, and the Merchant class, barring the blended-family Everdeens, lives in comparative luxury), you get a story with enough of a semblance to reality to at least not be a total slap in the face to history. This is why Katniss’s rebellion is so unexpected and revolutionary, and her central presence in revolution propaganda is so threatening. She is not only decidedly not Capitol, she is everything the Capitol has been both actively and passively trying to crush and been knowingly or inadvertently crushing, and she refuses to die. For The Hunger Games to then shift to be about a rebellious, working-class, White girl fighting the cartoonishly evil White government structure, and becoming a figurehead for the rest of the oppressed continent to stand behind because obviously the (White) government coming after one (White) girl with disproportionate force would be universally seen as an atrocity takes a lot away from the story. Not that Katniss was so great a person to begin with, or that you don’t still have something of an absurdist underdog story (complete with mustache-twirling, scenery-chewing, tie-you-to-the-railroad villains), on the surface of everything, but what’s left is not as subversive as the in-story character reactions would have you believe.

Moving along, Katniss is loaded up onto a mag-lev train with Peeta, and Effie condescends at them until she decides to wrangle the teens’ Mentor and potentially rouse him from a drunken stupor. (Tbqh, I can’t remember if Haymitch was Seam or Merchant-class, but now it’s bothering me re: racialized stereotypes of alcoholism in various communities of color and drug abuse as a reaction to cultural systemic abuses– though obviously, in either case, if I was Haymitch, I would drink, too, so yeah. :/) Katniss won’t talk to Peeta when they’re left alone, and he starts to chatter nervously about Haymitch, and have you met him, and there’s no shame in accepting help. Katniss glares at him. We see her memory of Peeta, a Merchant kid working in his parents’ bakery, arms full of burnt bread to toss to the pigs his family keeps, while Katniss sits slumped against a tree in the rain, near-catatonic from lack of food. Peeta sees her before he tosses the last loaf, and hesitates. This scene is going to repeat in pieces, every time Katniss meets up with Peeta, so I’ll tell you the twist here, which is that he tosses the last loaf of bread to Katniss instead. (In the book, Peeta actually saw Katniss, then burnt the bread on purpose, and when his mom pops him in the face and sends him to give it to the pigs he tosses it to Katniss, and she knows she’s an object of pity. Here, not only is she incidentally pitied, she is even more put into a hierarchy where she is below a Merchant’s pigs. I mean, the book version makes Peeta seem more decent, but book!Peeta’s also a creeper to the max, and you still get the reinforced social stratification.)

Peeta backs down, as he rightly ought to, because while, yeah, listening to Haymitch, if he’s lucid, is a plenty good idea, that was a poor choice of words and as insensitive as anything Effie ever said or did. But Haymitch wanders in and breaks the tension, seeming far too sober for a character drinking to keep so many demons at bay (seriously, he has a few really bad detoxes later, he’s still practically a fish at this point). Peeta keeps talking too much, and tries to take Haymitch’s liquor from him after he advises the teens that the only thing they can do is “face the probability of [their] imminent death[s],” and know that he just cannot help them. At which point Haymitch is very over this year’s set of kids, and Katniss, who has been watching silently and judgmentally, files Haymitch away as yet another adult she can’t depend on.

Peeta leaves to chase Haymitch down, and Katniss is left awkwardly alone; the next morning, she stays in her car in the train, watching the news, which, unfortunately, is footage of a previous Game’s winner braining another boy with a brick. It’s nicely done, which is to say, no split skulls or grey matter, just a close-up on the bloody rock in the first boy’s hand, while Caesar Flickerman coos over “the moment a Tribute becomes a Victor.” Too weirded out to stay in there, Katniss heads to breakfast, where she sees Haymitch talking strategy with Peeta through the door and wants in on the conversation. Haymitch wants to dick around and withold information because he doesn’t like Katniss’s attitude, and Katniss responds by sinking a knife into the table between his fingers, which irritates Effie on a borderline-memetic level. Haymitch explains to Katniss that the best survival advice is to network, network, network, because if people with money like Tributes enough to send them gifts and gear, the rest can be sorted out. Hearing this, Peeta defaults to his chipper, apparently-naïve self, running to stare out of the train windows delightedly and wave at people as they approach the Capitol, and Haymitch hands Katniss the knife back, telling her she’s going to need it. Peeta is apparently a natural at being what the Capitol wants to love, an attractive Country Mouse cowed and wowed by the obviously superior trappings of the big city.

There’s a lot to be cowed and wowed by, the architecture and the technology and the oddly conservative “extreme” looks of the Capitol citizens– I mean, they’re extreme looks for everyday wear (feather eyelashes, heavy pancake makeup, rainbow hair colors, etc.) and not generally associated with the high-ranking politicians shown also rocking the technicolor future-fashion, but body hair is also, apparently, out. Katniss is plucked and waxed and snarked at by aestheticians, who say she’ll need to be hosed down again before they hand her over to her stylist, Cinna. Jerks!

But Cinna shows up as Lenny Kravitz, and the first thing he says to Katniss is how brave she is to have volunteered for her sister, and how his job is not to make Katniss pretty, but to make her memorable, without making her a laughingstock in a costume. This is some show business realness right here, and Cinna’s trying to use his powers for good while performing his job duties with sensitivity and class. There’s a reason dude’s a fan favorite, and, at least with Cinna, fandom reasoning proves to make some sense later in the series; but as it is, Cinna’s function, to assist and promote District 12, is very much the same as Effie’s, except instead of fashion (luckily), her job is to be handler to and scheduler for two teenagers facing their own mortality and a justifiable drunkard, but she takes a lot more crap for it. I mean, that’s generally a much-reviled job in regular-world, too, and as good as I am at bossiness and administrative work, I would have to party pretty hard off-hours to make up for having to do that for teenagers who I didn’t have to motivate to play nice with their kidnappers and potential murderers. And by “party pretty hard,” I mean I would very quickly be retired to an office desk position or something after my imminent burnout, and by “off-hours,” I mean my very public breakdown would involve a grand display of “don’t give a fuck” from myself and my assigned District, to go down in pop-cultural history.

The parade of tributes is the big PR game. Cinna’s outfits are the bomb diggity, and Katniss and Peeta are dressed all in black and set on fire, instead of the alternative, as shown by District 11’s Tributes, Thresh and Rue, in sequined gingham “farmer” getups, complete with cropped overalls. District 12, bringing the class! Even Caesar Flickerman, this time functioning as Joan Rivers, can’t laugh at Katniss and Peeta. After hesitating a moment, Katniss plays to the crowd with Peeta, and Lawrence is really good at making Katniss’s fake-smiles seem fake. That either goes straight over the heads of the people of the Capitol, or they’re really into uncomfortable children with a veneer of expected behaviors barely disguising revulsion and terror, so they’re eating it up. Effie, Cinna, and Haymitch are all ecstatic about this, but Haymitch is the only one who recognizes the predatory look another tribute, Cato (like from the Green Hornet, but not Bruce Lee! Or Jay Chou), is giving the D12 kids. He cuts the party short and ushers everybody back to their fancy Capitol apartments, where Katniss’s room is rigged with a changeable “view” outside her window, including a forest, with birdsong, a lot like District 12. She stares at it for a moment, then turns the whole thing off and goes to sleep; there’s no room for distracting thoughts about home now.

Cue training! The coordinator explains how there’s other stuff to do during training besides practicing bludgeoning and stabbing things to death, and try those out, because you don’t want to die of thirst, heat, etc. Those things are for you to suffer through, not die from, silly! You have to know how to survive that stuff at least long enough for us to get the ratings up, hellurrr. However, some of the Tributes, including District 2’s Cato the Ever-Watchful, still eviscerating Katniss with his eyes, plunge into the violent aspects of their training with gusto. Haymitch explains over dinner that the first few Districts tend to have volunteer-only Tributes, who train from childhood for the task and volunteer in their late teens to bring honor and glory to their Districts, since they almost always win thanks to their honed skill and overall better health, diets, and so on. Effie’s like, “…Uh. DOWNER MUCH, RUDE,” at Haymitch, and tries to bring the mood back up by reminding Katniss and Peeta that D1-4 don’t get special treatment– or dessert! Who wants chocolate-covered strawberries?!

Only Cinna and the aestheticians, apparently, because Haymitch is all, “Anydangway, a little birdy told me you are good at shooting animals in the face for bread, Starvy McPoacherson,” and Peeta is that bird. So Peeta confirms, like, “Yes, Katniss is soooo good at shooting things, I’m sure that she’ll be fine,” except for all of that emphasis is just Katniss’s (only slightly unhealthy) paranoia kicking in that Peeta is mocking her and trying to undermine the assistance she may get from Haymitch at the same time. When she snaps back that Peeta’s the one who’s going to be alright, what with all that experience making bread, tossing around heavy-ass bags of flour like it ain’t no thang, Peeta has had it– he was just legit trying to emphasize Katniss’s strengths to people who can help her help herself, since weapons experience trumps bakery stocking for survival potential, even in the eyes of his own parents. Peeta’s mother told him District 12 might finally have a winner, and it’s not the one she birthed, if you know what she means. Ooh. Peeta excuses himself, Katniss excuses herself, because look at the girl being bad at feelings!, and Effie probably seethes off-camera about everyone’s atrocious manners.

Training again, and these shots really show off how the young actors, in particular the “side” characters, got really screwed over by the script later on in the film, because their character interactions and body language in “off”-scenes far outstrip the quality of the dialogue they are given, if any. (Seriously; Lawrence and Hutcherson had a lot more room in-movie to portray their characters beyond just verbal expression, so you don’t notice it as much with them, and most of the “adult” characters are such veteran actors they handled the THG script easily, and even Hemsworth squeezes a lot of body language and facial expressions into the largely-offscreen Gale. But you only see how competent the actors are for all the other Tributes when they’re casually in interaction with each other, because the writers really did them no favors.) Case in point: Cato tries to start a fight with another male Tribute over a missing knife after his District counterpart, Clove, has shown how awesome she is with throwing knives, and I guess he needs to flex on that? But whoa! Tiny little Amandla Stenberg has your knife, son! She was just too fast and too slick for you, and not only did she take your knife, she is up on the ceiling with it like a tiny District 11 Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can. Katniss notices, as does Thresh, who just gives Rue an “OH, YOU~!” head-shake. It’s adorable, what can I say? A red-haired girl (I’m going to assume it’s Fox-Face from the books, who’s very much the smartest Tribute in the 74th Games) is playing a memory game of plant identification, and seems to be smoking it. Spoiler alert: she’s really, really not.

Peeta falls off a climbing net, and is prepared to just lay on the floor and be sad for himself (because this is very much who Peeta is) until Katniss rolls up and tells him to stop being such a punk if he doesn’t want the bullies to see him as an easy target. Peeta then picks up a ridiculously oversized and tricked-out kettlebell and throws it in a display of impotent machismo, but it gets people’s attention in a better way than laying on the floor under a net with a pained expression, anyway. Then he paints his arm to look like tree bark, saying it’s because he used to ice cakes at his father’s bakery (the bourgeoisie Merchant class in District 12 would tell the starving children of the Seam to eat cake, except for that they just would eat it themselves). Still, it’s… something? It comes up later, anyway, as “minor” details in training montages do.

Then it’s time for Tribute interviews, and Caesar Flickerman’s theme music is my favorite part of the Hunger Games score, immediately followed by Most Creative Use of Folk Music in a Gladiatorial Trilogy. Caesar himself, however, is a horrible person (imo, hence the name) who is also very, very good at his job for the Capitol. A lot of the fandom is very much in support of Caesar, at least in part because Katniss likes him, because he’s very charismatic– but he’s a show business personality. Caesar is both a person and a character (and a person playing a character of himself as a person) even in-story, and as much as we are audiences of this show with Caesar playing to the Capitol, we are also Caesar’s audience, and people are buying his schtick. This is just as true for Cinna and Effie, by the way, but book!Effie gets a lot of hate, despite being revealed as joining revolutionary forces by the series’ end, and movie!Effie was written and taken as a punchline; Cinna’s fanbase is validated very early on in Catching Fire; and Caesar’s fans seem to be okay with him as this ambiguous figure. He seems nice enough, and he does a good job of leading the teenage Tributes in conversation without obviously haranguing them, but when Katniss, after Cinna’s advice, shows off another flaming ensemble and is honest with the audience to try and win them over (Katniss’s response to trying to be likeable is essentially, “HOW DO I SHOT WEB”), Caesar takes the opportunity to ask Katniss about Prim. How did you feel after volunteering? Did you see your sister before you came here? What did she say to you? Of course the Capitol audience eats up Katniss’s answer, that Katniss said she would try to win for Prim; but Caesar is the one who asked it, and it’s cruel, even if it helped her win sponsorships. We don’t get more insight into him than that. I don’t know, man. Caesar’s job is to make good TV, and to make you want him to make good TV, and he’s good at it, whether or not that helps Katniss; and it weirds me out that “good at the business end of show biz” is a character trait to be liked at all. It’s just self-serving. Maybe I just have trust issues with performers or something.

But now it’s Peeta’s turn, and after congratulating Katniss on being sparkly and popular, Katniss and the District 12 Pit Crew watch the live broadcast on televisions backstage. Peeta continues to be, like, Galinda-level popular to Katniss’s Elphaba, but seeing as Katniss is his new project, has he mentioned, with his charming and blond self, that he is totally in secret love with Katniss? In the book, this was extra uncomfortable because Katniss was not actually backstage, and the entire viewing audience saw her grit her teeth and look disgust-shocked before hiding her face and pretending to blush. As it is, when Peeta gets backstage, Katniss does an amazing grab and slam into the wall, pinning his throat down with her forearm, screaming that by trying to sell a romantic angle, Katniss looks weak now. Cinna and Haymitch separate them, like, “No, girl, you’re confusing being the passive party in a heteronormative romance with objectifying sexuality put upon you with the kind of weakness that doesn’t get you care packages from rich people who lust after/want to live vicariously through you (except for the ‘maybe dying’). In either case, make it work and don’t fuck it up.” TRUER WORDS, KATNISS. You’re gonna grin and bear it, your newfound popularit-y. Still, icky!

Anyway, Katniss is back in her room, only now she can’t sleep, and when she walks out into the common area, Peeta’s up, too. She apologizes for the throat thing, and Peeta’s cool with it, because that was a little unexpected, depending on what kind of genre-aware you are (Katniss: Spartacus: Vengeance, Peeta: CW TV shows). Peeta has been musing that if he’s going to be killed in the Arena anyway, he doesn’t want to be changed by the Capitol. Katniss just looks at him like a bug crawled out of his mouth, like what about being ripped from your home and trained up for a death match with a score of other children shouldn’t change you? But Peeta means his ideals and stuff. Oh, Shuya Nanahara, Katniss is not your Noriko, and Haymitch is not your Shogo. Katniss says she can’t afford to think like that, because she has people counting on her, racking up her feminine personal sacrifice points at the same time as gearing up for her mercenary badassitude. Then she and Peeta are awkward, and just say, “Uh, see you tomorrow,” like tomorrow isn’t one of the last sure things they have in their sentence to die on someone else’s terms; in the book, this scene was on the roof, and they’d already seen that there was a force field so none of the Tributes could jump and suicide instead of being puppeted by the Capitol (at least, not off-camera).

The Tributes all have their rankings with the Gamemakers the next day, and District 12’s always go last. By this point in the day, though, the Gamemakers are really tuned out and ready for lunch, so while they stop what they’re doing to laugh and note when Katniss misses her first shot with the high-tech bow and arrow provided (she was adjusting to the weapon for the first time, in-book explained as not wanting to let the other Tributes know she could shoot, but still needing to impress the Studio Execs Gamemakers enough to give her one in the Arena), they’re pretty much only interested in roasted ham and liquor from that point on, even when Katniss hits her second target dead in the heart. Katniss… does not appreciate that. She knows she needs to be memorable or she will die. So she does the logical thing, which is to shoot directly at the Gamemakers and take the apple clean out of the pig’s mouth in one shot, and that gets their attention. She bows, thanks them for their consideration, and walks out. Seneca Crane muses on this.

Back at the apartments, Effie is like, “Oh. My. God. What have you done?” and when she gestures to herself, Cinna, and Haymitch, saying this is serious, and Katniss isn’t going to be the only one who suffers consequences from her actions (which, from the perspective that Effie is self-involved, could be implying she’ll have a hard time getting work, but from the perspective of these are government-sponsored competitive murders, is pretty goddamned serious), Haymitch brushes her off. “What more can they do to them?” he asks, referring to the kids being publicly sent off to kill each other the next day. He also gives Katniss a thumbs-up, and wishes he had been there to see the Gamemakers’ facial expressions, and they both laugh to themselves about it. But the results of the rankings are on TV now, and everyone needs to shut up– the Tributes aren’t referred to by name, except for Katniss, THE GIRL WHO WAS ON FIRE!, who scores an 11 of 11, which is WAY better than Peeta’s 8. Either way, moneymoneymoneymoney– MONEY! Yeaaaah.

Less enthused is President Donald Sutherland. Snow has called Crane to his expansive rose garden, pretty much for the purpose of reminding him, “Dude, she shot at you? She shot. At you. And you gave her an 11? GET THAT WEAK SHIT OFF MY TRACK.” Crane thinks he’s got everything under control. The President squints, and is not so sure. To top everything off, in the Capitol proper again, now Peeta wants to train separately for potentially his last day alive. Katniss understands, but it’s still disappointing to be reminded that, you know, teenagers are getting ready to kill each other. The next morning, Haymitch leads Katniss to the hoverplane thing she’ll be going to the Arena in, rattling off the last-minute details he doesn’t want her to forget. The weapons in the Cornucopia are a trap, it’s a slaughterfest every year. The ground is rigged; don’t step off your designated platform before the timer goes off for the Games to start or you will be killed if you’re lucky and mangled if you’re not. Get water, get the high ground. In the hovercraft, a tracker is implanted in each of the contestants’ arms to monitor the Games from afar. The Careers seem excited about the whole process.

The next shot is in Katniss’s prep room beneath the Arena, where Cinna comes in and hugs her, and tells her that he’s not allowed to bet, but if he could, he’d bet on her. Katniss is shaking and tries not to cry, and Cinna shows her the Mockingjay pin in the collar of her jacket. She enters a lift tube that slowly brings her to the surface platform, and sees the Arena for the first time. Katniss eyes the Cornucopia– she sees a bow and arrow lying just outside its mouth. The timer is counting down to the start of the Games. Katniss sees Peeta seeing her, and he shakes his head at her. People are watching the Games in the Capitol, and in District 12; Mrs. Everdeen stares straight at the screen, intent on what’s happening, and Prim watches her mother watch. People in the Hob are gathered close together, watching on the screen in the community building. Gale isn’t watching– he sits on the hill he was last with Katniss at, staring out at the wilderness he’d bet he could make it five miles into. The buzzer sounds, and Katniss can’t process everything; sound has faded away, and the camera shots are jerky, full of incomplete actions by people she doesn’t know. Peeta, meanwhile, has taken off like a shot, while Katniss is just taken off-guard by the carnage. After a few panicked seconds, she decides on a small backpack when she’s attacked– and then her attacker’s attacked– and then she’s attacked again, but the bag shields Katniss from Clove’s thrown non-throwing knife, and Katniss finds her legs and runs.

The other children continue murdering each other at the Cornucopia, including Cato coming after a very young-looking boy who tried to hide amid the weaponry until he though everyone had dispersed already, but Katniss isn’t sticking around for that. She bumps into Fox-Face, and they’re both panicked girls trying to escape a bloodbath; after a very tense minute where neither of them knows what to do or if they should strike first, Fox-Face runs, and Katniss goes the opposite direction. She runs for a good long time, and has the high ground until she falls off of it (literally), but Katniss gets up and keeps running. Eventually, she goes through her bag, which has a waterproof canister of matches, a small canteen, rope, some wire, a sleeping bag, and Clove’s big-ass semi-serrated bowie sticking out of the back of it. Cannon-fire sounds, and Katniss counts out the twelve shots that mean twelve dead tributes in as many minutes. She gets up and keeps moving, clearly in her element, finding water and then tying herself into a tree for the night, noticing the camera hidden in the knot of a removed branch. Luckily, Katniss is high enough up that she isn’t noticed when she, and the pack of allied Careers, see another Tribute’s nearby campfire; they kill the girl at her tree, and, laughing, relive the girl’s last moments while they wander directly under Katniss. “‘Oh, please, please don’t kill me!'” And Peeta is with them! Looking for Katniss! Traitor! Actually, not really, he’s just trying to not be dead, and selling out Katniss’s actually-unknown position is as good a lie as any. Still, D2’s Cato and D1’s Glimmer, who seem to like each other best, as they’re the… blondest Careers? the most vicious?, consider just killing Peeta, except that Katniss is too big of a threat to risk killing off the other half of the “star-crossed lovers” without any gain. (Why is that still an expression, anyway? Whatever, Roman and Shakespearian themes are oddly prevalent in this series, I should have learned by this point to just accept whatever writing is thrown out there at me.) Anyway, Katniss stays in her tree and watches the dead Tributes’ faces, still without names, projected onto the electronic, false sky of the Arena. She decides to move the next day.

Only whoooops! She’s getting too close to the borders of the Arena itself, and, moreover, she’s too far away from the other Tributes to keep the action going. Which means, naturally, it’s time for the Gamemakers, in their control room full of tricked-out graphic design hardware and 3D projected mockups, to set off the FIREBALLS AND EXPLODING TREES. It’s apparently pretty fine-tuned stuff, so while Katniss runs and dodges and gets her leg burnt, Seneca Crane is pinpointing the trees and flames he wants and from where, herding her towards the other Tributes once she’s been injured. There’s probably rules about how many Tributes are allowed to die per year from “exposure” written down somewhere. Naturally, once the Careers see Katniss laying in a creek, trying to soothe her wound, they gleefully give chase, essentially treeing her again, but unable to follow themselves (even though Glimmer has the bow and arrows, she just sucks with them). Katniss taunts them, but Peeta, still traveling with the Careers, suggests waiting until Katniss comes down, since her alternative is to starve up there. They both stare at each other, Peeta trying to send a message with his face, and Katniss emoting, “THE FUCK, BRO.”

Meanwhile, there are a lot of camera close-ups on Katniss trying to deal with her burn– pulling bits of damaged pants off of her blistering skin, pouring water from her canteen over it, and trying to clean it with a piece of her sleeve. Lawrence does a good job accurately portraying what burns feel like, and I cringe in the theater; Haymitch is apparently feeling the same thing watching the Games in the District 12 apartments, so he sets himself to schmoozing with the horrible (but rich!) Capitol folk to kiss ass for Katniss, and they’re probably the same assholes he’s had to unsuccessfully beg for help for the past 20-odd years, but Haymitch is better at the game than he lets on. A metal parachute with a pinging tracker in it lands in the tree above her, and Katniss climbs for it and finds a note from Haymitch (“Apply generously and stay alive.” –H) with a jar full of glittery burn cream. Which also apparently has some kick-ASS painkiller in it, because Katniss is able to tie herself back onto a branch for the night and go to sleep after putting some on. (Seriously, have you ever had a burn? The pain really just does not stop.) My money’s on the secret being the glitter.

Only our girl is just not going to be allowed a regular sleep-wake pattern, because, “Psst! Psssst!” Katniss wakes up to see tiny Rue, whose hair game, may I say, is goddamned immaculate for this entire movie, with nary a curl out of place, pointing insistently at a branch above Katniss’s head. There is a sizable hive, abuzz with wasps– but not just any wasps, as Caesar exposits in a cut to the show-within-the-show– HALLUCINOGENIC GOVERNMENT SPONSORED GENETICALLY ENGINEERED BIOTERRORIST CROWD-CONTROL “MUTTATION” WASPS. FROM THE COLONIAL WAR. Apparently, when D1-12 survivors say they have seen some shit? Mutant Dalí-esque nightmares. As you may have surmised, Tracker Jackers are potentially lethal, and pretty much guarantee you’ll wish you were dead before that. We cut back to Rue and Katniss, and while Katniss is still adjusting to being awake and BEES ABOVE ME EEEUUUUUAAAARGH, Rue is very patiently gesturing to the sleeping Careers under the tree, then back to the hive, then back to the Careers… Katniss gets it. Unfortunately, since morning’s now breaking, and that is when certain horrific (but ecologically necessary!) flying arthropods wake up, too. Trying to be as quiet as she can, Katniss starts sawing through the branch, powering through stings to her exposed neck and hands.

Gravity wins out as Katniss’s arms start to go, and she remains lucid enough to climb down once the Jackers have stung the everloving crap out of the fleeing Careers– except for Glimmer, who fell behind and was quickly swarmed. Katniss starts to hallucinate just as she reaches the rapidly distorting corpse and pries the bow and arrows from Glimmer’s swollen, stiff fingers. And then shit starts to get weird. There’s a lot of stuttering cameras, and the light in the Arena is too bright, like when you get your pupils dilated at the optomestrist’s office and head outside, and Katniss lurches through the woods, hallucinating Caesar Flickerman commentating there with her. She sees three Peetas converge into one, screaming at her to run, and she blacks out, having fever dreams of the mining explosion that killed her father, and then her empty house in District 12, a photo of her father on the mantel, exploding as well. (I admit, I was jarred to see the photo was definitely of a White man, since there was so much emphasis in-text about Katniss’s father being the consummate Seam man, complete with potentially-Super-NDN-coded plant identification, survival, and archery skillz. I’m not sure what I was expecting, because I would have also been surprised, albeit pleasantly, if Mr. Everdeen was WHOA INDIGENOUS FACE, but I’m still not inured to homogenous Whiteness, I guess.) Her house reassembles itself, un-exploding in reverse footage, and Katniss flashes back to right after her father’s death, trying to scream her unresponsive mother back to her and to Prim, who is sitting nervously in the corner. Her mother speaks in Peeta’s voice: run.

Katniss wakes up back in the Arena, laying in a pile of leaves, with leaves plastered over her stings. She peels the one off her neck back, and she’s healed up, and as Katniss starts to wander around, she sees little Rue, hiding behind a tree. They share some cooked Arenabird (it’s groosling in the book, but that is a dumb name for some poultry, for real), and Rue tells Katniss how she’s changed her leaves three times already, and has been watching over her. Katniss’s weakness is kind-hearted children, so sharing food and allying with Rue is kind of a given at this point, and she asks who’s died, and how many, and what about Peeta? Which makes Rue’s eyes go all shoujo-manga twinkly, and is it true about the Tributes from District 12 and do you liiiiiiiiike hiiiiiiim? Katniss thinks that is exactly as sweet as it actually is, and isn’t that just like a little girl to ask big ol’ Katniss something like that, and defaults to her srs-bsns Big Sister personality. It’s time for some strategizing, and Katniss has a fairly risky plan for starving out the Careers, that involves triggering the landmines the Careers reverse-engineered, and setting green-wood fires as a distraction from their main mark. Rue teaches Katniss about Mockingjays (RELEVANT PLOT ANIMAL), and how they imitate songs they hear (RELEVANT PLOT POINT), and each girl adopts a four-note tune as their own all-clear signal so the other will know they’re coming as they move through their plot.

I was less bummed out about the cuts to this Mockingjay scene than I was about the one introducing the pin, because honestly, that information will either be shown or can be explained over the course of the next two films, but in the book, at least, we get a lot more information about Rue, like, before she dies? (…WHAT?? IT’S BATTLE TO THE DEATH, YOU ALREADY KNEW JENNIFER LAWRENCE WAS GOING TO WIN, GOSH.) Rue talks about District 11, one of Panem’s agricultural Districts, how she’s also the big sister in her family, how the people are frequently beaten and starved even beyond what Katniss is used to, since she can at least hunt (Rue mentions never having had an entire groosling leg to herself before). District 11’s electric fences are always on. Communication is heavily restricted, so Mockingjays were used to transmit messages, and that was one of Rue’s jobs within the community, to sing where she could not speak– so people would know when it was safe, when there were Peacekeepers around, when there was or wasn’t food. When Rue sees the Mockingjay pin on Katniss, that’s what she associates the bird with, and she decides to trust the older girl.

In combination with Collins’s racially specific depictions of the Districts, and even for the movie, her insistence that Thresh and Rue were African-American (whereas there was supposedly wiggle room with Katniss), this is incredibly fucked up, mainly because this is the closest to accurate The Hunger Games gets, and it’s tragic. And Rue is there to function as a Prim proxy, and to stimulate emotion in Katniss. Rue’s struggle doesn’t make Katniss wonder about Rue or about how she views herself and their respective struggles, like you would in a conversation with someone you consider an equal human being, it is how Katniss realizes the government doesn’t really let the Districts know what goes on elsewhere in the country. Rue’s death makes Katniss realize the government’s Games are inherently unjust. To be fair, you aren’t really getting Katniss’s internal dialogue in the film, so you don’t see how she becomes less-horrible of a person even in her thoughts when she is with Rue (she is particularly disturbed that in the footage of District 11’s reaping, no one volunteers to take Rue’s place as Tribute, though it comes out later that those videos may have been staged filmings after the official Tributes were decided, and Rue may have, in fact, volunteered for someone else herself), but Rue does little beyond serve her purpose as a Katniss expansion kit. I mean, Rue’s supposed to have survived so long, even with a comatose Katniss in tow, because she is nimble enough to jump between trees while still high in the branches, and can move quickly and quietly, and despite not having any manufactured weapons, devised a sling to either hunt for herself or defend herself. By all means, she should have been better off without Katniss, and shouldn’t have wound up in the situation that killed her in the first place, but that didn’t move the story along. The Hunger Games series is full of interesting and tragic characters who either end up broken or dead over Katniss Everdeen, in ways that make it specifically about her and that don’t logically make sense.

Regarding the other aspect of the Mockingjay: it’s a hybrid of a muttation. Jabberjays were a government project, bobble-headed kingfisher/kookaburra-looking birds that could imitate human speech and had a knack for memorization, and were employed as the ultimate spies everywhere there were birds, picking up private conversations, public complaints, etc. Which, post-apocalyptic dystopia, birds should actually not have bounced back to the point where, when Jabberjays were introduced, they would have gone completely unnoticed, since nuclear fallout is heavily implied, and dramatic climate change to the point of radical ecological restructuring is fairly explicit. But anyway, once people put together that the weird birds maintaining prolonged eye contact and speaking with the voices of men were the snitches, that made for a fantastic counter-intelligence program that consisted of “lie to the idiot copy-birds.” Panem officials had to scrap the Jabberjay endeavor once they kept getting tip-offs that I. C. Butz was behind every rumored insurgency in the rebellious Districts, but the Jabberjays ended up mating with local mockingbird populations (since I guess that’s what they were genetically based on anyway?), creating a whole new kind of wonky and unattractive bird reclaimed by the populations of Districts 1 through 12 as a symbol of resistance and survival– and reclaimed by extant resistance forces as the symbol for the coming revolution.

This is also kickass if you interpret Katniss as a WoC, particularly as an indigenous/mixed-indigenous character, because how neat is that theme of reclamation of identity and refusing to be used against yourself through government institutions? Or even the resistance to being wholly destroyed and rebuilt, and changed into something you’re not?? IT IS SUPER NEAT. Even if you wanted to get into the Seam-mockingbird/Merchant-Jabberjay duality, as the series goes on and Katniss begrudgingly accepts her mother as, like, a fully-realized human being who went through some fucked-up shit, too, and is flawed as a result, the Jabberjays were never the enemy; they just were. They had been damaged to be different than mockingbirds, but in the end, being used by the government didn’t really help them any, and once they outlived their usefulness, they just went back to what they always were– still changed, and changing the world with their new presence by making Mockingjays, but still very much both mockingbird and Jabberjay, and all self-healing and thriving defiance.

But I think I just got my Mockingjay feelings out of the way once I got over the Katniss-as-White hurdle and the initial shock of the pin itself being a sort of storytelling afterthought. I was sad about Rue, but that’s something I’d been irritated about since reading the novels. Writing out how they all fit together reawakens that, but it’s a tired and quiet kind of hurt, clichéd erasure and whitewashing, and that’s not the kind of thing that jumps out at you the same way as seeing a thirteen-year-old have to gracefully not address racial slurs from her audience (and professional clientéle, if we’re being really honest) to questioning paparazzis, for example. The Hunger Games was never about me, or anybody like me, but the book maintained the illusion of it, even if the illusion was incredibly stereotypical and problematic. At least I could see myself in there, if I was willing to let myself do that (which I don’t even hope for from mainstream YA literature, at this point), and honestly, my pessimism was only reinforced by the movie. This was a big reason I didn’t want to see THG. It’s more of the same, and, on top of everything else, it’s such a common restructuring of narrative that it’s boring by this point.

On that note, Katniss’s plot, of course, goes well just before it goes badly. Rue successfully sets the first fire when Katniss gets back to the Cornucopia, and all the Careers take off to investigate, except the one who’d injured himself in the pre-Games training and was left to monitor the mines they’d buried around all their supplies and food. While Katniss is watching, Fox-Face again! She’d been lurking while the Careers set up, apparently, and just hopped around the radii of sensitivity for each of the reburied mines to sneak and grab stuff off of the top of the pile for herself, then running along her merry way before the left-behind Career even thought to look around. Swiper, no swiping!! The guy gets up to limp after Fox-Face, probably thinking, “What actually just happened?,” and Katniss eyes the precarious setup she’s been offered. She settles on shooting at apples again (GET IT, PARALLELS), tearing a hole in a bag hanging in the Careers’ mountain o’ swag, and the falling fruit trigger an explosion that destroys errthang. Including one or both of Katniss’s eardrums (which is temporary in-movie, but whatever), and physically throwing her back into the tree line just in time for the Career Away Team and their Sentry to come running back to the wreckage. Katniss is disoriented, because that’s what explosions do to you when you aren’t trained to deal with them (and sometimes even when you are), but when Cato, in his anger, snaps the Sentry kid’s neck so hard Katniss can hear it with her muffled ears, she figures out the direction she needs to go is away.

However! However. Katniss’s hearing comes back (… :/) and she whistles to the Mockingjays and to Rue that she’s safe. But there’s no answering call, and Katniss comes across the pile of wood that was meant to be their second fire, unlit. And then she hears Rue screaming. “Katniss! Katniss!” Katniss comes running, and I wish they’d left the line in from the book where, in her panic, she calls Rue Prim; but Rue has been trapped under a weighted net, and when Katniss cuts her free, Rue is immediately hugging her and sobbing, and neither of them notices the Career boy who didn’t go back to the Cornucopia with his group until he winds his arm back to throw a spear. Katniss sees him and shoots in the same moment the spear leaves his hand, and mercifully for ratings, Katniss shoots him in the chest instead of in the throat, as in the book (although it’s still the magic of TV arrows that don’t go straight through you, and instead lodge themselves, bloodless, in body shots). But his spear still had its own trajectory, and that was straight into either the lower chest or upper abdomen of tiny Rue. Katniss turns to face her war-sister, and Rue is already pulling the spear out of herself and going into shock. I remember thinking I liked that they moved the spear throw higher, because a chest wound would more plausibly kill Rue as quickly as the story demanded (gut wounds are nasty and slow), though it would be messier, visual and audio, than the moviemakers were willing to show, and messier than I probably could have dealt with sitting through on top of the overwhelming sadness.

Katniss cradles Rue in her lap, telling her everything is going to be alright, and she’s fine, she’s fine. Rue just asks if Katniss was successful, and did she blow up the food? Katniss confirms. Rue thinks that’s good; she tells Katniss that she has to win… and does she know any songs? Katniss’s voice is crying before her eyes can catch up, and she sings the same lullaby to Rue that she sang to Prim in the first act, and the camera shifts to Rue’s now-blurring POV while she dies quietly. Katniss sobs openly, screaming and weeping over Rue’s body. She closes Rue’s eyes, and zips up her jacket over the wound, folding the little girl’s hands clasped over her chest. Katniss gathers wildflowers from nearby, and arranges them around Rue’s body and hair and as a bouquet in her hands, and she finds the camera and does the District 12 salute, unblinking, directly into the live broadcast to Panem.

I like this better than the book version, where Katniss does the same thing, but it’s not a live broadcast; the Gamemakers just have hovercrafts to gather the dead Tributes’ bodies once they’ve been left alone, and in the edited Game programming, they show footage of the mutilated corpses as they’re being collected up. Honoring Rue’s body with the most respectful burial she could muster would send the wrong message, and meant that Rue’s image couldn’t be used in death to continue the Games’ propaganda, and it also became sensitive internal knowledge. With the movie, even though, obviously, live broadcasting defiant teenagers to an already-resistant nation is illogical to the point of being ludicrous, Katniss’s statement is much more incendiary. The entire gathered public audience in District 11 (who are also not solely Black, thankfully, but what was up with the D12 casting, then) salutes the projection screens that they are watching (being forced to watch?) the Games on in response. One man separates from the crowd, picks something up– I think a garbage can?– and throws it through a store’s window. RIOT IN DISTRICT 11. The people begin destroying the Panem-supplied projection equipment, ganging up on and beating Peacekeepers in the streets, whose reinforcements begin showing up in droves.

Seneca Crane is having absolutely none of this. He is ready for Katniss’s character to be written off of this crappy soap opera, and Haymitch is there, insistently repeating, “But the numbers.” He’s right, though, and this is why live broadcast is the Worst Idea, because there is now this very public nuisance in the Games, and killing Katniss at this point would make her a hugely sympathetic martyr and would pretty much guarantee the opposite of a solution to the rioting problem. Haymitch suggests: push the romantic angle! That Haymitch is a smart cookie. But then again, his goal is not to please President Snow, who is having less than negative five of this. Seneca Crane, of course, presents Haymitch’s recuperative (if duplicitous) “suggestion” as his very own brilliant idea, and Snow is just like, “…I like you, Seneca. I really do. Don’t make me regret not having your parents retroactively killed at birth for this epic fuck-up, you dig?” There is nothing Donald Sutherland hates more than an underdog story. Seneca Crane is picking up what Snow’s putting down, but what the fuck is he supposed to do with that information beyond sweating under his beard and doing what Haymitch, who was potentially drunk even in that moment, told him to? Why are the Games being broadcast live?? It’s amazing he’s lasted three years in the position, honestly.

Katniss, meanwhile, is through. She is as done as she can get, and is just heading back towards the creek and the Tracker Jacker trees, away from the Cornucopia, when an announcement is broadcast, high-school style, over the Arena’s PA system. It says, effectively, that two Tributes will be allowed to win together and live, as long as they are both from the same District. Too late for Rue and Thresh, as well as whoever Fox-Face’s counterpart was, the only pairs that leaves are Cato and Clove, and Katniss and Peeta. Which, of course, means it’s time for me to bust out some more ~book comparisons~, because this is where Katniss and Peeta become undeniably terrible and selfish people (even for teenagers) in the novels, and not knowing what Katniss is thinking in combination with not, in any way, shape, or form, having to perceive any of Peeta’s gross-out book actions, greatly improves both characters.

In the novel, Katniss has already reverted back to her compartmentalizing self when the announcement is made, and her first thoughts are that, in order to ensure her own survival, she will now have to play even more to the camera. The star-crossed lovers, after all! How bad would she look, back home in District 12, if she managed to survive and win without even looking for Peeta? How bad would she look killing him, or letting him die? How miserable would her life be then? I’m not even exaggerating, here, this is Katniss’s thought pattern, because she is horrible. One of the recurring issues she has, over the course of the three books, is that Peeta wants to know why she saved him, and, at the end of everything, why she wouldn’t kill him despite several (several) occasions where that would be, you know, something she could/should do. Katniss’s inner dilemma goes: “I either saved him because I’m a selfish monster or because I’m in love with him?? Or… the third option… I SAVED HIM FOR THE REVOLUTION. THAT I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT YET BECAUSE THAT WAS STILL THE FIRST BOOK. YES, THAT’S WHAT I DID.” And I just shook my head, thinking, “So close! And yet, so far. So very, very far.” Because the nice thing about movie!Katniss, is since she’s not going out of her way to tell you to your face, “If your continued existence didn’t serve to maintain my quality of life, I would shoot you in the eye,” the other third option is that Katniss is a decent human being. She couldn’t save Rue; she was never going to be allowed to save Rue, in-story or metatextually. But Peeta… there could be a way for her to save someone. 23 children wouldn’t have to die. 22 children would, but– wouldn’t even one life mean something?

So movie Katniss sets off to find Peeta, using her soft-footed tracking skills for something other than food. Still, she almost steps on Peeta’s face after following the trail of blood he left behind him– I guess no one else was looking for him? But they wouldn’t have found him, because Peeta has expertly blended himself into the boulders on the river that fed into the creek, looking like some kind of Henson-esque elemental spirit of childhood trauma (look, I like the Muppets as much as anybody, but try watching The Storyteller series on TV as a toddler and tell me that man wasn’t jarring, at the very least). But the blood is from a nasty leg wound off of Cato’s sword, and Peeta needs to be half-carried while Katniss finds a semi-sheltered cave for the two of them to crash in. Katniss checks out Peeta’s thigh, and it sets off another round of everything is going to be alrights. Peeta doesn’t need to hear it, though. He can tell it’s bad, and he’s probably dying. So he decides to start in on his regrets, which would be more sad if they weren’t so stalker-tastic. I mean, he’s not full-on Edward Cullen stalkery– in-movie, anyway.

In the movie, Peeta tells Katniss he’s sorry he didn’t just give her the bread, and he thinks about it all the time; how he remembers the first day they met in school, and he’s liked her ever since then; how she used to wear her hair in two braids (which made my eye twitch at even more indigenous coding, which, okay, I get we sexy mixed Natives don’t have the monopoly on braids, but that’s also how my sisters and I wore our hair every day when we were in grade school); how she used to sing. While Katniss is profoundly weirded out, partly because EW FEELINGS, partly because EW WAIT I THOUGHT THE FEELINGS WERE FAKE FOR THE CAMERA IDK HOW YOU FEELINGS, partly because EW SEPTICEMIA, and partly because EW STALKER WITH A DECADE-LONG CRUSH. The things cut from the book: Peeta telling Katniss how she was pointed out to him by his father— the one with the mean wife who punched Peeta in the eye, and who always gave Katniss a good deal on trades for squirrel meat– because Peeta’s father had been in love with Katniss’s mother, who wouldn’t give him the time of day and instead ran away with a Seam man. And when Peeta, with a really creepy baby streak of racist/classist dudebroistic entitlement is like, “Pssh, what could a Seam man have on you, dad?”– not, “BUT I THOUGHT YOU LOVED MOM,” or, “DAD, I FORGOT MY CRAYONS AT HOME”– Peeta’s dad is thrown off for a second. Uhhh, his beautiful voice?

And then Peeta was like, “Sounds legit,” but when Katniss sang in class, he had the epiphany, “Oh, falling in love with someone’s voice seems like a great life plan now that I’ve heard Katniss. *__*” Which, let’s be honest, that is some Littlefinger/Sansa shit right there. Peeta was also real good about demanding Katniss kiss him in exchange for, like, taking medicine, and eating food, and continuing to exist while fully reliant upon her (which is even creepier than it sounds, because Peeta’s very, “Woe is me! If you care about me enough to not want me to die, surely it is justifiable to coerce you into romantic activity to ‘keep me alive’!” Katniss is mildly grossed out by this 9 times out of 10, but that last 10% she’s thinking, “Oh, well wait, kissing Peeta could be nice?” and I die a little bit inside). He also left it pretty deliberately vague as to whether this was a Game broadcast thing or a “Peeta loves you, but also wants you to fear and obey him because he is the Goblin King” thing. I know in Catching Fire, there’s a bit where Haymitch breaks it down to Katniss that Peeta wasn’t actually acting, and truly loves her— and, of course, they are one of the only two potential canon couples– but that just means Peeta’s a manipulative ass if that was/is true. Horrible. People.

Anyway, when the words and feels get to be too much for Katniss to deal with, Peeta could just use a hug, so Katniss does that, and kisses him on the cheek, which earns the two of them a parachute with some soup, and a note from Haymitch encouraging Katniss to keep up the smooching. Blergh. Katniss feeds Peeta a little bit, reminding us she is a Girl, but when he asks why she saved him, Katniss is like “…WOW, I HOPE YOU GET SOME MEDICINE IN YOU SOON. FEVERISH, EH?” It’s a testament to the two actors and, again, to adaptive reduced horribleness that I don’t outright hate Peeta for asking that, and that Katniss’s response could be that she is just a decent kid, but I was still reminded very strongly of this quote from Cloverfield, where a character, Marlena, jumps in as another character, Hud, is being attacked by monsters and saves him, getting seriously injured herself in the process. He thanks her for saving him, but to Marlena, what would that say about her if she was the kind of person who wouldn’t help someone else who needed it? What kind of a question is that even? (I think in Cloverfield canon she’s actually not a native New Yorker, which would explain that attitude vs. Hud’s assumption that everyone would look out for themselves, but the point is still valid.)

Anyway, in the book this continues long enough that they build up a mini-cache of sponsor-donated food (gag me with a spoon), but in the movie, they are just getting down to soup-‘n’-snuggles hour when there’s a new announcement made, about a “Feast” at the Cornucopia, to provide every District’s surviving member(s) with something they desperately need to survive. Katniss is all for this, because Peeta’s leg is starting to get all… MRSA-y. But movie Peeta, while a little bit dim about Katniss’s intentions (SHE TRIED TO CHOKE YOU OUT FOR TELLING PEOPLE YOU WERE CRUSHING ON HER, DUDE), is noble enough that he just wants her to stay with him and be safe. (Book Peeta threatened to put himself in harm’s way and/or suicide if Katniss didn’t agree to stay in the cave with him, and since the sponsors Haymitch lined up naturally wanted more drama to their stories than “teenagers in a cave,” they just went on ahead and sent her some knockout drugs to speed the whole thing up– though my head-canon is that they were equally tired of Peeta’s whining.) Katniss insists that she needs to go and get Peeta’s medicine, saying he’d do the same for her, but eventually just tells Peeta of course she’ll stay with him, and gives him an open-mouthed kiss to prove it when he keeps wondering why on earth Katniss keeps helping him. There is an incredibly awkward and hilarious cut to Gale looking disgusted and uncomfortable in District 12, having caved in to watching the 74th Games.

And see, and you’d think that would mean Gale ultimately puts his relationships over his proto-revolutionary leanings, or that he’d be sympathetic to what Katniss went through, since, you know, he, like, saw it? But you’d be wrong, because Gale is also horrible, just slightly less so than Peeta in book 1, and that is mostly because Gale is offscreen and offpage for the majority of book 1. Still, I like him better than Peeta as a character, but he’s definitely very firmly in the jerk category. People need to raise their love triangle standards, is what I’m saying. (Not that I really have room to speak, since I read a lot of Fushigi Yuugi and CLAMP and V. C. Andrews in my tweeny years, but at least the abuse dynamics in those are semi-acknowledged.) But yeah, so then movie Katniss just waits for Peeta to fall asleep, because those white blood cells, man! Takes a lot out of you. Then she sneaks off to the Cornucopia, because duh. Don’t be an asshole and let someone who’s depending on you die now because you’re afraid to face death yourself. That would not be cool on Katniss’s part.

Katniss gets to the Cornucopia and is hiding in the bushes along the perimeter of the already-once-blown-up clearing, eyeing the table with numbered bags on it, but still gauging the situation from her hiding place. FOX-FACE STRIKES AGAIN! The redheaded girl runs from the edge of the field, nabs her bag (and not anyone else’s, which would have slowed her down, but was also pretty decent of her) and has booked it before any of the other waiting Tributes can do more than form the word, “What.” Katniss takes that as her cue to run for District 12’s knapsack, but takes a throwing knife across the forehead for her misjudgment. (More SFX nitpicking: face injuries bleed like whoa. Katniss should have started to have trouble with blood in her eyes and dripping off her face within a few minutes.) It’s Clove, barreling full-speed towards her, and Katniss fumbles with her bow, missing a close-range shot at the Career Tribute. Clove tackles her, and they wrestle on the ground, and Katniss is pinned. Enjoying herself, Clove starts in, knife pressed to Katniss’s face and hand over her throat, about how she’s going to cut Katniss up the same way she and the other Careers killed Rue, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop her. These were the last words she should have been saying, because as Clove is physically lifted off of Katniss and violently shaken, we realize Thresh was there the whole time, originally just after a bag himself– but now it’s personal.

“You killed that little girl?” “No! Nooo!” “I heard you! You said her name!” Thresh starts slamming Clove against the side of the Cornucopia, and she screams for Cato, and while both Careers are horrendous and sadistic and thoroughly enjoy doing unto others what is now being done unto Clove, it’s still startling, even in this movie, to hear a child scream for help while they’re being murdered. Thresh eventually either does enough trauma to Clove’s head or neck for her to die rapidly, and he grabs his bag and District 2’s, tossing over his shoulder, “Just this time, 12,” because of Rue. Katniss pulls herself together enough to run back to Peeta with his medicine, having already learned to roll with the punches after being exposed to death. This is also another example of the screenwriters favoring a more simplistic script in favor of what was actually a decent bit in the books– the way this scene had originally played out, Clove had gone after Katniss at the Cornucopia, and presumably Cato had been waiting on Thresh’s showing up or chasing Fox-Face. When Clove screamed, Cato had screamed back, but by the time he got to her, Thresh had already crushed the girl’s skull and left. Katniss had been worried Cato would follow her, but instead of giving chase, he’d cradled Clove’s body to himself and started crying, rocking back and forth– and why not? He knew her, and had trained with her, so at very least they were more comrades than Katniss and Peeta had started out, and just like Katniss, he’d been given the opportunity to go home, and not have to go home alone. The Careers are children, too, just fucked up by the system in a different way than it fucked up the outer Districts’ children, even while their parents reap the benefits of being privileged and favored by the Capitol, exchanging the chance that their children may have to play in the Hunger Games for the certainty that a pre-teen, and probably a pre-teen whose parents were Careers or whose only option for social mobility is joining up as a Career, being trained to kill other pre-teens without hesitation or sympathy will.

Back at the cave, Katniss wakes Peeta up so she can give him the medicine in the bag, and Peeta is appropriately upset that she put herself at risk and snuck out while he was asleep and had no way of helping her, but Katniss brushes him off, like, “I’m alive, aren’t I?” Apparently the Capitol audience just really likes teenagers lotioning themselves and each other up (Finnick Odair can tell you aaaalllll about that), because the medicine is some topical ointment stuff again. So Katniss puts Neosporin on Peeta’s leg, and Peeta puts Bactine on Katniss’s forehead, and it’s been a long day for both of them, so they go to sleep. In the morning, Katniss has a hairline scar on her face, and Peeta’s leg is as good as new (!!!), so they decide to scope out the terrain some more and rustle up some grub. Pause again: in the book, not only is Katniss still partially deafened, Peeta’s leg doesn’t get better. The drugs they get (and I feel like it was an intravenous or an intramuscular shot) just stop Peeta’s blood poisoning from spreading. Even when, post-Games, the teenagers are buffed and shined up for presentation á la The Wizard of Oz (Katniss is shocked that her everyday hunting and working scars were somehow removed in addition to her eardrum being repaired in the Capitol hospital, both because that is straight-up body horror and because it is medical technology beyond what she could even dream of, and it’s revealed that Cinna’s aesthetic team wanted to give Katniss plastic surgery while she was unconscious, but Cinna vetoed it), that just means that when the fancy surgeons are unable to save Peeta’s mangled leg after he’d been laying it in muddy creek water and stuffing leaves into it (go figure), he gets a really realistic-looking prosthetic. And of course a ridiculously short rehabilitation and adjustment time, but that’s faux-gritty fiction for you. Look, I’m just saying if Dreamworks is one-upping your anti-ablist inclusivity in a movie about war-damaged children with a cartoon about Vikings and dragons, it’s time to look at your life and look at your choices. Also, how great would America Ferrera have been in THG? HOW GREAT?

But Peeta and Katniss separate, partly because Peeta’s not at 100%, but also because 100% for Peeta’s stealth and hunting skill in the woods is maybe 5% of Katniss’s levels, when Katniss hears a cannon go off. She freaks, turning around immediately and sprinting back to where she left Peeta, yelling for him as she turns a bend and sees his jacket on the ground with a pile of berries on it. Katniss finds Peeta, still picking berries and holding a fistful of the fruit, and slaps them to the ground. The berries were Nightlock (GET IT, LIKE HEMLOCK AND NIGHTSHADE– the names in this story are reedeeculous), and they kill fast, and Katniss thought Peeta had died, and don’t ever scare her like that again, Peeta, damn you! She grabs him and hugs him hard, and Peeta looks stunned, repeating over and over again that he’s sorry, and he didn’t know. Poor babies. As reinforcement for Katniss’s talent for botanical taxonomy, the two of them come across Fox-Face, who’d followed the District 12 teens, lying dead with Peeta’s coat-gathered Nightlock still in hand. Katniss takes the remaining berries out of Fox-Face’s hand, musing that maybe Cato likes berries, too, and they step over the dead girl’s body without even closing her eyes (which I thought was pretty callous considering she’d never done anything to them except steal some poisonous fruit when she was starving) as the Gamemakers decide to dim the lights in this mother. There is snarling, and a shout followed by cannonfire, and Thresh’s face is projected on the sky, and the music picks up. Peeta’s trying to figure out what’s up. “That was the finale.” Katniss draws her bow back, and I keep being annoyed that whoever was directing Jennifer Lawrence has her pulling the bowstring across her mouth, probably because they think that shit’s a cute look, when it’s really just distractingly fetishistic in a serious scene, and keeps making me think she should constantly be bleeding or seriously bruised from that stupidity, and she wouldn’t be able to shoot for shit.

But the woods are boiling with the muttations of the moment, werewolves with uncanny valley faces literally bursting from the earth of the Arena, and Katniss has to shoot as she runs with Peeta, both being herded back towards the Cornucopia. Cato is there, as well, because this is the finale– all three of them scramble on top of the metal structure while they’re swarmed, and begin to fight each other hand-to-hand, since a bow and arrow are about as useful as a bucket of spit in close quarters in the dark. There’s frantic punching and choking, and the fighting is still clearly choreographed, but it’s more realistically paced and sloppy for three scared teenagers trying to jump each other. When Katniss has a little more space between herself and Cato, enough to be able to pull back and shoot him without being impeded, he’s already got Peeta in a headlock, and is babbling himself. “Go on! Shoot, and we both go down and you win. Go on. I’m dead anyway. I always was, right? I couldn’t tell that until now. How’s that, is that what they want?” Katniss hesitates, probably more for Peeta than for Cato, because it’s true that both boys will die if she shoots, but what Cato’s saying is also true. Still, he sees her pause as an opportunity, and that emboldens him, even while Peeta begins tapping on Cato’s linked hands next to his own throat, giving Katniss a target. “I can still do this… I can still do this. One more kill. It’s the only thing I know how to do, bringing pride to my District. Not that it matters.” It’s a fantastic addition to a scene that otherwise I prefer in the books, for the sheer visceral terror of it, and for what comes next, and how that really gives some perspective on the (admittedly otherwise poorly-written) PTSD Katniss and Peeta deal with for the rest of their lives, but I would have been very unsettled to see the book version played out on screen at PG-13 rating. Choices have to be made, and the MPAA will make them for you if you don’t self-edit, though there’s plenty of creative workarounds for not showing on-screen violence. Just sayin’. Whatever, it works either way, so no harm no foul (in this particular scene, anyway).

As Cato finishes monologuing, Katniss shoots him in the hand, and Peeta spins free of his grasp because of the magic arrows again, the kind that won’t go through a two-inch thick extremity and into your torso. Cato falls, and starts shrieking, because he is being torn apart and devoured alive by the muttations, and Katniss fires a mercy shot into the writhing mass, stopping the screaming and dispersing the too-human-faced mutants. The “sun” comes back out, and Peeta and Katniss climb down, squinting and blinking in the light, and wondering what happens next, when there’s another announcement. “WE TOTALLY LIED,” the broadcast declares, “STILL ONE WINNER ONLY, PSYYYYYCHE! MAY THE ODDS BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOR, LOL.” To call the teenagers crestfallen would be an understatement. Peeta’s first inclination is that Katniss kill him and go home, if only one of them can. Distressed, Katniss refuses. She can problem-solve this! Everything’s going to be alright, remember?! Katniss remembers… the Nightlock in her pocket. She slowly pulls them out to show them to Peeta, splitting the berries evenly between the two of them. Katniss asks him to trust her, and that they will both eat them at the count of three, killing themselves rather than giving the Capitol what the wanted and needed from the Games in the end, and giving up their own loyalties to themselves and each other. (Which is a nice sentiment, and dramatic and everything, but this could have been done much earlier on in the story, even if by different characters, to establish that as a potential path they could take– Battle Royale really shines at that, where THG noticably falls short.)

On three, however, the intercom blares up again. “WAIT WAIT WE WERE TOTALLY MESSING WITH YOU WAIT TWO WINNERS OKAY TWO WINNERS WAIT.” The two Victors of the 74th Annual Hunger Games: Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark!

The celebrations start almost immediately, and Katniss thinks she can rest easy, having won at the ultimate game of chicken with a corrupt totalitarian government, and ready to call it a day, but Effie was always right that things were more complicated than Katniss could see. Haymitch talks with her in their apartments. It’s not over. It’s never over. But for now… she’ll just have to lie. They’ll handle tomorrow when it comes, but today, Katniss will have to go back on television, and smile to the world, and say she wasn’t trying to make a political statement out of anger, because that’s threatening; the only acceptable story she can tell that won’t get her and Peeta and her support team, and probably their families, all killed is that teenage love and passion burned through her with such ferocity that suicide tossed in the face of the Gamemakers was really all about her own inability to survive and her lack of will to live without Peeta Mellark by her side. Honestly, I think this says a lot about narratives of femininity and power, and how, very often, when going outside the norm, it is easier to write off women’s deliberate actions as coincidental weakness combined with a certain moral fortitude. Particularly, radical women, and especially radical women of color, are rewritten in their own stories as passive entities who have actions done unto them vs. active fighters conscious of the full implications of their own actions. I’m just not sure how self-aware this writing is, or if it was explicitly shoehorned in to fit the YA-lit requisite love triangle.

But Katniss, while she knows a lot of things, does not know that the game has just begun. She really doesn’t even know the game. But she’s learning– particularly that it ain’t no mystery, if it’s politics or history, the thing you gotta know is everything is show biz! Katniss, in a very young-looking poofy dress sits cuddled up with Peeta on a stage with Caesar, and she’s put all of Tyra’s aspiring Top Models to shame working on her stage smize. The Capitol audience is eating the whole thing up, hook, line, and sinker, but President Snow, there to crown the Victors, is less happy, as usual, and much like… myself?? Am I secretly President Snow? No, I’m just a destroyer of beautiful things. The Pres gives Katniss a measuring look, glaring at her as an annoyance that isn’t quite a full-blown problem yet, and pauses before noting the teenager’s “lovely pin.” She plays it cool, thanking Snow while glaring back, saying simply, “It’s from my District.” But she still doesn’t even know what Mockingjays mean yet– Katniss doesn’t even know what the game really is, and how dangerous a position she, and literally, everyone she knows is in, but she’s going to have to keep learning. Hahaha, not really, actually, other people kind of just exposit around her in the books! You saw how Katniss thinks earlier. But yes, there is SUFFERING AFOOT, and what Katniss does start to learn is how actions, like saying to wrong thing in passing to a man with a crown, can have far-reaching consequences.

Meanwhile, Seneca Crane is in some official building or other, being led to a room by armed guards, and quickly ushered in past heavy double doors. The guards don’t follow, and lock it from the outside. The only thing in the room is a cut crystal bowl full of Nightlock.

But that doesn’t matter to Katniss and Peeta. They’re back on the train that brought them to the Capitol, hopefully heading home. But what happens now? “…I don’t know. I guess we try to forget.” Peeta disagrees with Katniss on that– he doesn’t want to forget. There is a LOT going on in that line (a lot), even beyond, of course, that the memories of the Games won’t ever really leave Katniss, and that would be enough tragedy for one person to bear without two more books of these two teenagers in way over their heads. As it is, more adulating crowds have already gathered around the mag-lev as it pulls into District 12; Katniss has already topped the bill, and earned the kill, but now she has to find the will to carry on with the show. After all, her audience is waiting.


  1. chickwithmonkey says

    This is by far my favorite thing ever written on the internet about The Hunger Games. And I loved both the book and the movie.

    “another tribute, Cato (like from the Green Hornet, but not Bruce Lee! Or Jay Chou)”

    That’s Kato. Cato is either Marcus Porcius Cato, an historian, or Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis, a politician and Stoic.

  2. Maria says

    This is a brilliant point:

    I’m going to take it a step farther, beyond even the absurdly over-elaborate Games as a means of intimidating the Districts into “cooperation” with the Panem dictatorship, and say that Collins’s D12 starvation-lite isn’t only a lazy lack of research and/or a rejection of the researched realities of starvation because of it not fitting with a plot dynamic, it becomes downright offensive in combination with Katniss’s whitewashing. The kind of starvation implied in the books– abandoned children dead in the streets, people not helping near-dead children when they have food, because they have to look out for themselves, and this being an ingrained enough status quo that when/if said children survive, that’s considered normal and acceptable behavior– is the kind of thing that actually goes on in police states and cultural revolutions all the time. I know that for me at least, this particularly struck a chord with the timing of THG’s release, since US President Barack Obama just visited North Korea, regarding a pact where the States provides food aid in exchange for weapons restrictions; and if you’ve read, heard, or seen anything of conditions in North Korea, and North Korean refugees’ stories of their escape and survival, the so-called “Hunger Games” look like a walk in the park.


    Way to put YA lit and a movie’s release into a larger sociopolitical context, something that I think other reviews of this movie/novel series forget.

  3. Maria says

    Also, one thing I’m really glad about is that I saw this film in a predominantly non-white theater, where Rue’s death was an audible tragedy, and someone else started crying. It’s so sad that in the US you can’t count on a black child’s death being treated as a tragedy, and it was such a relief that that was the case.

  4. Juliana says

    In the movie (never made it past chapter one in the books) I never even got that Clove and Cato were supposed to be from the same district. I assumed he and the blonde girl were supposed to be because of some stupid logic like “they’re both blonde”.

    One thing that annoyed me in the movie was how Clove monologued when she had Katniss at her mercy, partly because it seemed kind of stupid and just like a movie thing to do and partly because it felt like they were trying to make people not feel bad for her. The scene you described happening in the book would definitely hammer in the depressingness of the situation, I think, and that they’re all just teenagers in a situation they shouldn’t be in, even the District 1 kids who’ve trained for their whole lives.

    I’m also amazed to hear that Peeta was even more creepy in the books, considering what he said in the movie was already tripping me “That’s not creepy at all/sarcasm” response.

  5. says

    You made a lot of really cool points here and I know I’ve forgotten half of what I meant to say in response.

    As far as Katniss’ mom’s depression, I feel like the movie did a decent job (not great, but decent) of showing that it was depression; but at the same time, I didn’t find Katniss’ remark to her to be problematic. Because no, it’s not fair to the mom to tell her to just get over it, but neither is it fair to Katniss that she was effectively orphaned in one blow or that she as a child had to be responsible for feeding three people. And now that Katniss is leaving to die, the two left behind will die as well unless the mom can find a way to work despite her depression. It’s an ugly reality that does screw over the mom, but that doesn’t make it any less real.

    I think Caesar’s actor is really talented to show that Caesar-the-character is a good actor. The character is so intensely sincere – it reminds of the quote that pyrite glitters more than gold because it has more to prove. You really don’t know what he’s thinking – you could swing towards a Cinna-esque interpretation where he’s trying to make these kids sympathetic and memorable (except for the opening conversation about how the national identity is founded on dead children), you could see him as an Effie-like figure who can’t get out of her own headspace enough to recognize other people’s problems (except he does display some understanding of the ramifications this has on the tributes), or you could see him as a President Snow-type who’s fully aware and exploitative of the power dynamics (except we never see him being malicious). He is a very ambiguous character.

    I knew Rue’s death was coming and I still cried. :( And then I remember the fanfiction in one of the past LOGI’s where Rue survived, and I cried harder.

    I also liked your point about “starvation-lite” and tying that into a political context. But it doesn’t even make sense from an accuracy standpoint. One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard is that nobody looks like they’re actually starving, just Hollywood skinny. Some sexist assholes focus exclusively on Katniss and how Jennifer Lawrence is “too big” (because starvation is sexy!), but I’ve also heard people critiquing District 12 as a whole and the residents look hungry but not actually desperate. To me, District 12’s situation came off as more food insecure than actually dying of starvation, and we have plenty of food insecurity right now in the United States. It’s definitely got a “is that really the worst you can imagine?” feel to it.

  6. Wren says

    This is a really fabulous break down and analyzed a lot of things I couldn’t quite articulate or hadn’t even though about.

    It’s really frustrating that out there in the physical realm, a lot of people have trouble with the fact that I can love, love, love Jennifer Lawrence and be impressed with her performance while STILL being spitting mad about the Katniss casting call, or really emotionally affected by Rue’s death and the subsequent riot scene while still wishing they had handled it better.

    The changes they made to the origin of the pin annoyed me really deeply and I don’t think I completely understood why until I read this post. Cutting Madge bugged me for all the reasons you mention, and because I think she and her family add a lot of nuance to the class system in the books and the way that works. So you really see that some people are much better off, but they’re still oppressed by the government, and Madge’s father is both corrupt and a collaborator but probably not evil, and Madge certainly isn’t evil. And then you have Gale who, baby-revolutionary that he is, understands perfectly well that the Tesserae system and the Hunger Games are DESIGNED to foster disunity in the districts, but can’t help but resenting sweet little Madge with her gold pin and negligible chance of being selected, because that’s the way humans work.

    One thing I will quibble over is that in my reading of the books, hunger in District 12 was meant to be very real, but not as bad as you say is implied. It’s been a while, but the way I remember it Katniss talks about how during rough winters, several small children or old people will end up dying and it’s carefully recorded by the government as pneumonia or whatever when everyone knows it’s malnutrition, which is terrible and bleak, but not bodies in the street as you mention. When Katniss’s family was in actual danger of starving, she worked very hard to conceal the fact that things were as bad as they had gotten, because she was terrified of being sent to the state-run home for children and thought that would totally break Prim. In other words, she was rejecting help from the state or civilians, which is in fact…uh…profoundly questionable. And Katniss is certainly pissed off at how bad things can be, and then she meets Rue and realizes that in other places shit gets so much worse.

    I had lots of mixed feelings about the books, both on a technical and a philosophical level. It feels like I still end up knee-jerk defending them on the internet a lot though, because a lot of the more fatuous (fatuous obviously does not equal thoughtful critiques like the ones you link to) complaints leveled against them struck me as really gendered. And because I feel like Collins is self-aware and deliberate in a lot of her choices, even if the execution isn’t quite good enough to pull those choices off. Basically, I guess it boils down to the fact that I think the books are worth talking about seriously, and I’m glad you’re doing that.

    And the movie…I enjoyed it and thought it was really well put together and a strong adaptation, and super emotionally intense in the moment, but I really went in hoping that it would be a step UP from the books, in ambition and execution, and that’s not what I got.

  7. Amanda Weinstein says

    “However, as farla did a really good job of pointing out, that starvation is something that can happen in District 12 when there are plants that have not been ripped wholesale from the soil and trees have not been stripped of their bark is a depiction of starvation from someone who’s never seen it.”

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I’m probably giving it and the books too much credit here, but is this necessarily true if those plants and trees are perceived as not belonging to the people involved? In Ireland at the height of the famine there were major food crops being exported and people were starving to death. Any vegetation that is viewed as a rent crop or forests belonging to the government might remain unmolested despite widespread starvation. Particularly as it is in some ways easier to hide poached meat than it is bark-stripped trees…

  8. says

    Amanda Weinstein,

    In the movie, the forest is fenced off from the village, with prominent No Trespassing signs and false warnings of electrocution, and Katniss and Gale sneak out to hunt there. However, there are also trees and plants (undamaged IIRC) in the village, some of them growing right up next to the houses. So while it’s reasonable to infer that the forest plants are off limits, I can’t see that extending to the plants growing in the village.

  9. says


    Yeah, I know it’s with a K, but as far as pronunciation goes, when I hear CAY-toe, I think Bruce Lee in a mask. :)


    I am SO weirded out by Peeta, it’s not even funny. If you decide to read the books… it doesn’t get better from there. For any of the characters. At all.


    I keep hearing that fan response tends to include a lot of inappropriate emotional responses either to Rue’s or to Clove and Cato’s deaths. It kind of reminds me about how part of Snyder’s message in Sucker Punch was “don’t be such an objectifying creep, creeps,” even though it went over a lot of people’s heads, but I don’t think THG is doing it on purpose so much as they’re just actually pushing people to root for Thresh to beat Clove’s head in. Gale had a throwaway line about that being messed-up early in the movie, but the film’s material wasn’t handled with the sensitivity to suggest that he was right on that, it was just meant to show how edgy and counterculture he is. :c

  10. says

    Sylvia Sybil,

    I get where Katniss was coming from on the bitterness re: depression, and even how that would make her and her mother distant with each other, but I was also, I think, informed by the book on my reading of those scenes. Mrs. Everdeen is much more responsive in all three novels, because she’s actually implied to have had to figure out a drug treatment for the depression she was going through (St. John’s Wort, I guess? D12 doesn’t get regular medicine shipments), and since bouncing back, uses it to treat depression and PPD in other people in the community.

    So Katniss’s trust issues still make sense, because adults can still fail you on a moment’s notice and leave you a child having to take on a parent’s role, but if she really is living in a town starvation is normative, depression and apathy should be something she grew up alongside and saw every day. It would still be terrifying to have to watch a parent go through, particularly since, again in the books, District 12 apparently has a state-run orphanage that Katniss was trying to avoid being sent to– but since in-novel we also hear Katniss’s inner narrative, she genuinely feels like her mother’s depression was her being selfish.

    In the movie it’s got less of that baggage tied in, but the choice of wording for the line in that scene, that Mrs. Everdeen “can’t tune out again,” really irked me. I “tune out” during a boring lecture. Depression isn’t the same thing, by a long shot. Even if she’d said, “You can’t shut down again,” it would have bothered me less, I think.

    (Also, Stanley Tucci is a fabulous actor. He was the German doctor in last summer’s Captain America, which I love, love, loved, and loved him in. But he’s kind of like Michael Fassbender for me in that they are both incredibly talented individuals who are creeps, unfortunately. I haven’t heard any D.V. stuff re: Tucci, but yeah, I kind of assume everyone in show business is a jerk until proven otherwise.)

    I think for the level of semi-rural poverty being depicted (vs. the conditions implied in the novel), Jennifer Lawrence’s appearance as one of the better-fed members of the community, being a hunter and all, makes sense within that edited storytelling. She also read as older to me than 16 years old, Katniss’s book age, and actually read older in THG than she did as Mystique in X-M:FC, where the character should have been closer to Lawrence’s actual age. The starvation’s why destroying the Careers’ food even occurs to Katniss, though, because she, as a starving child, is meant to be read as overly preoccupied with food. She’s not, at least not to the extent that she realistically would be, but the whole book was just such an overly precious depiction of “what not having food must be like, gosh!”

    Although it would have been fascinating if Cinna’s team’s obsession with Katniss’s looks was more focused on her being too big, where the Hunger Games would then become a commentary on violence, media, and the policing of women’s bodies (or the “right kind” of bodies) at the same time as policing their access to food (or the “right kind” of food). It would have been too meta, though; as it is, the message about violence-as-entertainment gets kind of lost in the violence being peddled as entertainment, and the media structuring critique shifted to an easier target of unscripted “reality” TV. There were a lot of good starter nuggets in the series, there just wasn’t any real amount of research or follow-through. :/

  11. says


    I know Gale couldn’t help having so many FEELINGS about Madge being upper-class, but it really pissed me off that she made sure to get him medicine from her (at least, as I interpreted her) coping-via-addiction mother when he needed it, and seemed to have feelings for Gale herself, and Collins didn’t write in that anyone learned any Important Lessons beyond Katniss feeling… jealousy?!, and Madge didn’t end up making it out of D12 with everyone else in the end of Catching Fire.

    I think Collins really had a great core idea for the Hunger Games series, but she could have benefited from a different editor and, like, a research assistant in some things– I know that when I was reading the books, I jumped to the extreme starvation plotline rather than the food insecurity one because there’s no depiction of real malnutrition, and if things weren’t getting so bad that Katniss was stuck between that starvation rock and the hard place of no one can help you, her actions don’t really make sense. I mean, there’s a potential angle that could have been pursued in there about Katniss being afraid of being split from Prim and her mother, like how DCF disproportionately is brought in to intervene with PoC families, but that’s another thing dependent on Katniss having that element of paranoia and mistrust of government authorities to the point where flagrantly violating the laws about the boundary of District 12 and hunting becomes the more attractive option– instead of Katniss just having issues about adults generally, including the ones she doesn’t consider part of that system of checks and balances that would end with her entire family institutionalized.

    Like, mining accidents should be a thing by that point, and pensions were mentioned, so even if there’s not some kind of miners’ union, other mining families in the Seam should, in theory, have a support network in place for surviving families/SOs of men and women injured or killed on the job. (This is also dependent on the idea that people will share food with starving kids because they have some kind of sympathy in their shriveled little hearts, but I’m not entirely sure if Katniss was surrounded by objectively horrible adults or if she just created this persona for herself of being a Perpetually Maligned Victim throughout her suffering.) The food thing doesn’t make sense, and wasn’t done very well to begin with, so while I was reading I just tried to make the story work by flexing the material between the lines so it at least worked internally?

    But there is a lot Collins does get right. I love how she handles depression in the books, and Haymitch’s alcoholism (detox is a mofo), though her PTSD and some of the other psychological problems and injuries characters face weren’t very well thought out beyond the pop-cultural version of those issues. Like, I really do think Katniss is a horrible jerk. She’s a jerk even for a teenager. And she doesn’t stop being a petty teen just because the revolution is going on around her, and she is, justifiably, traumatized from a lot of what she’s been through, and a lot of the storytelling does go on around her vs. through her, because Katniss is still a child. She’s not powerless, but she’s nowhere near as powerful– or informed– as the adults making decisions for her. So the little milestones (Katniss’s epiphanies about the Games in Catching Fire! Katniss having to learn about politics the hard way! Katniss and Gale’s confrontation at the end of the series! Katniss and her mother at the end of the series!) are awesome, but they come with some highly questionable stuff, like that horrible epilogue to Mockingjay that makes my soul weep, and the weird racial coding stuff.

    I don’t think defending the book as “OMG FLAWLESS HDU CRITICIZE KATNISS” is the answer, but I’m also not going to say it’s garbage just because I know I have some very specific, adult hang-ups for something whose target audience really is children. I’d still recommend these novels to an older teen, particularly one who I knew would read them critically and who I could have a Learning Moment with afterwards, but I know I wasn’t at that point ten years ago as a middle schooler, and I was reading stuff closer to Twilight than THG on the spectrum of flawed gender politics.

    In the end I enjoyed myself watching the movie the once, but for me, I very likely won’t be watching it again (unless my mother or sisters get the DVD and I’m just in the same room while it’s on) because I’d rather spend my time watching and reading things I don’t get so conflicted over, irrespective of THG’s quality or lack thereof.

  12. says

    Amanda Weinstein, Sylvia Sybil,

    Yeah, one of the things Katniss has a lot of issues about regarding the Peeta-breadtoss thing is that she really had gone without food for so long she’d started to lose the will to live herself, basically continuing to exist solely to feed Prim, and she was rapidly failing at that. After Peeta threw her the food, she split it with her sister and even got her mother to eat, too, so her spirits were renewed, and she went out to a community field in the center of D12 and started pulling up the dandelions that blanketed it for their roots and greens. But she felt weird about it with Peeta, because she always felt indebted to him at the same time as not wanting to live off of charity when she felt capable enough to not need to be handed anything, and it didn’t fit who she felt she was (Katniss believes in bootstraps, essentially, but even in-story, she’s wrong, so it’s not as bad as it could be).

    But, like, dandelions are very much foodstuffs, and that no one else was eating plants in the District (in the “present-day” bits of the story, Gale and Katniss have semi-concealed a blackberry or raspberry bush growing just inside the fence so that no one else can get at them to sell), or that no one else was murdering people’s dairy goats or Prim’s cat, or, hell, that Prim’s cat was still catching mice that people weren’t trying to catch and eat themselves doesn’t mesh with Katniss’s idea of the Seam of District 12 starving as a collective whole.

  13. says

    Editors of historical and speculative genres of fiction should be paid extra to do some research and let authors know when they’re getting it way wrong. Of course, that wouldn’t stop Hollywood from “fixing” the stuff that inexplicably fails to reflect their upbringing in Malibu in a mansion with servants.

    Gena: In the movie it’s got less of that baggage tied in, but the choice of wording for the line in that scene, that Mrs. Everdeen “can’t tune out again,” really irked me. I “tune out” during a boring lecture. Depression isn’t the same thing, by a long shot. Even if she’d said, “You can’t shut down again,” it would have bothered me less, I think.

    Now THAT really clears it up for me, because I haven’t seen or read these, but I kind of wondered about what Sylvia Sybil brought up – it can even be good for depressed people (in my experience as one) to be reminded of responsibilities which we can handle successfully, as it distracts from the preoccupying depression and reminds us we are capable, worthwhile people. But yeah, “tune out” sounds flip as a reference to a bout of depression. “Shut down” would be well within the teenage vocabulary, and so much more accurate. That was the term I used to describe someone I knew when I was a preteen, who just completely retreated into herself after her spouse died, leaving two young children to look out for themselves while she remained detached like that for years.

  14. Maria says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    The other reason that “tune out” bothered me on a prose-y level is that AFAIK there aren’t many radios around, and it seems like all the TVs are Capitol-provided. Why would that phrase even exist that far into the future, when the tech associated with it is no longer commonly available?

    • Maria says


      Maybe… but the thing is, there’s still wood around, so at least the physical gesture has some significance. Tuning out/tuning in has such a specific, context-based meaning that it’s hard for me to imagine it being super common in a vaguely agrarian dystopia generations after that tech was wildly available. It’s like… like if you said “knock on wood” in a story set on a generation ship centuries away from anyone’s last encounter with actual wood (without the connotation of it being something extremely rare or valuable), or if Katniss referred herself as a member of the “sandwich generation” to describe her relationship to Prim and her mother.

  15. says


    I think that’s kind of a different thing, though, since technological terminology is very rapidly shifted through and discarded. For example, if I go to a high school now and start talking about carbon copies and ditto sheets, or, hell, to look for a card catalog, teenagers will not know what I’m talking about. There’s a picture circulating on Tumblr right now where a teacher had film canisters on their desk, and apparently one of their students thought it was inexplicably tiny Tupperware.

    Sort of like how blowing out old video game cartridges is only funny up until about my age group, because companies shifted to discs so rapidly; or, to refer to technology with a similar impact to radio communication, how phone terminology has shifted to adapt to the changing hardware, or how with home video/audio, “rewind” is rapidly declining in use because that is no longer relevant vocabulary for a lot of people.

    But language is weird, so it’s always possible that “tune out” will still be around. What irritated me the most was the made up plant/animal/drug names, honestly, because I get that Panem is postapocalyptic and Not Our America, but “morphling” only makes sense if you knew the word “morphine” and decided to make it more difficult to say– particularly since it has nothing logically to do with narcotics production. “Nightlock” doesn’t have anything to do with the symptoms of poisoning or anything, it’s just a cute way of blending the names of two existing, and unrelated, poisonous plants; the “night” bit makes sense, because the berries are dark-colored, but that’s not how people name things, arrrgh. (Character names were odd and role-specific, too, when they weren’t corruptions of older names themselves, but I see that a lot in children’s media, so I wasn’t bothered as much.)

  16. Quib says

    I read Peeta’s creepiness, in the first book and the movie, as a lack of awareness, and not intentional manipulation. He should realize that he’s setting up a situation where the options are “say you love me” or “we both die”, and not do that, but as a teenager with a crush, it makes sense for that to not occur to him. I also remember the kisses being Katniss’ idea, for reasons of appealing to the viewers, not something Peeta demanded from her at any point, but I don’t quite remember was the same in the book. The net effect was still creepy, but I thought it had everything to do with the entertainment industry pushing for romantic plots whether or not the subjects are ready for them or preoccupied with not getting murdered, rather than Peeta’s fault.
    Maybe I just liked him though.

    I did not like movie Gale. He wasn’t a bad guy for the 3 minutes he was on screen, but I found the “scare her deer and tell her the right way to do hunting” really grating and kinda chauvinist. Probably more so my reading of it, than the actual content of the movie, but Peeta came across as having a more egalitarian attitude by contrast.
    I didn’t see Katniss having an romantic connection with either of them though. I haven’t read the later books, and it disappoints me a little to hear, despite mostly avoiding spoilers, that love-triangle dynamics take over.

  17. says


    Yeah, the love-triangle thing is a big reason why I don’t think Collins is actually being meta with a critique of romances or anything; there are a couple of self-aware fakeouts, like, “Wait, why is this happening again?” before everyone says, “Oh, right, for the angst,” and it’s business as usual.

    The kissing was originally Katniss’s idea, and then was urged on for the show by Haymitch, and urged on for himself by Peeta. I would like those scenes more if Peeta was either more oblivious about it (there are specific moments, particularly with the soup, where Peeta’s all, “If you kiss me, THEN I’ll eat,” in between mouthfuls), or if he was using a joking tone and Katniss just didn’t pick up on that (which is IC for her, but the only way that joke isn’t actively douchey and annoying is if Peeta was trying to lighten the mood, and that’s not the impression I got, mostly because he kept doing it over and over again). And I really hated how Peeta threatened to get himself killed if Katniss put herself at risk for him– not because of the sentiment, or anything, but I would disagree that that serious a level of manipulation is egalitarian at all, not to mention that it means even through the fog of teenage romance, Peeta’s got enough awareness of the Games and the structures at play in Katniss’s intentions that he’s going to use his own weakness to try and control her. It’s typical immature teenager shit, but I don’t think Peeta’s actually a nice person, just the more decent option, in part because he’s got Katniss higher than the revolution in his priority list (also never given in-text as a reason to choose Peeta over Gale, partly because I think a young, heteropatriarchy-indoctrinated audience would read that as selfish vs. Katniss deserving to be with someone who wants to be with her).

    And I still think the “secret crush” interview thing was a jerk move, moreso in the movie, because there was no reason not to tell Katniss ahead of time if she wasn’t going to be on air. Idk. I get that Gale and Peeta are supposed to contrast each other, but, like I said, I think most everyone in the series is a jerk.

    But overall I’d have liked it better if, in-story, the love triangle was manufactured by the Capitol to make Katniss look bad for Catching Fire, and that led to extreme tension with Gale, because that would annoy the crap out of both of them. However, they’d still be sibling-tight in a way Peeta never could be because of his different upbringing (parents’ health/lives not at risk in the workplace, both parents alive, rich, law-abiding by choice vs. criminal by necessity, etc.). And then if, in the midst of everything going on the THG1-3, the ending had been more along the lines of Katniss and Peeta develop coping mechanisms, figure out some kind of talk therapy with Haymitch, and start allowing themselves to be the young people they couldn’t be before, including developing feelings for each other without pretense, I think that would be a much happier ending, and more relevant to a storyline about the damaging effects of violence on children while more effectively deconstructing the media obsession with manufactured, scripted romance and sexuality.

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