Archive for December 23rd, 2013

December 23, 2013


I’m refusing to make any proper “best of 2013″ lists until at least January (if then) but here I am at The Booksmugglers’ blog talking about some of the best translated works I read this year. Of the three books I chose to talk about, only one was published (in translation) in 2013. I didn’t read nearly as much work in translation as I’d have liked to this year–I know of a number of works that I missed out on from India alone–so consider this post a plea for recommendations as well.

December 23, 2013

Bulletpoints: Catching Fire

I watched three movies in one week recently. This was one of them.


  • I remember so little of the books beyond basic plot that I find it difficult to be sure how far the things that are wrong with the film (there is a lot right with the film though) are also things that are wrong with the book. I’m not a fan of criticisms that excuse the film based on the book’s flaws though–particularly since I get the feeling that the biggest problem could quite easily have been fixed without too great a deviation from the book’s plot.
  • That biggest problem is this–that this is a series of three books about violent revolution told from the perspective of someone who remains unaware of said revolution (that her own actions exist within that context) until the end of the second book. It’s less glaring in the first book and movie, in part because we don’t know much about this wider context either. But one of the things the first movie did well, I thought, was to fully utilise its shift from the first to the third person and allow us to see things Katniss couldn’t. The second movie rarely does this; it seems that one of its strategies is to keep us as innocent as Katniss is.
  • Katniss’s innocence/moral purity/something is another interesting point. One of the complaints I had when I read the first book (and I saw many people say the same of the first movie) is the way in which, despite the awful circumstances she’s put in, Katniss never has to make a morally difficult choice. All the people she has to kill are presented not only as trying to kill her (it’s the Hunger Games, it’s not like they have a choice) but as fundamentally bad as well. ‘Good’ people who might have posed a challenge (Rue, whom she befriends and Thresh, who saves her life) are conveniently killed off by bad people. Catching Fire takes this and makes it a plot point–suddenly there’s an entire set of characters invested in making sure that Katniss never has to do anything that would make her morally grey, since apparently this would compromise her status as a symbol. (Which, Collins seems to suggest, would seriously compromise the revolution? I’m no expert on revolutions, but I have my doubts–but sure, let’s assume this to be fact.) I find this fascinating, because it’s as if we’re asked, in the second movie (and book? I can’t really remember), to notice something that feels like a clear flaw in the first book-and-movie.
  • That absolutely wonderful, believable moment where Katniss says no, really, she hasn’t got time to think about love because awful things have happened and she’s dealing with those.
  • YA gets a lot of flack for its love triangles (though I really don’t see that many in the YA I read) but this trilogy’s general treatment of romance is a lot more complex than it gets credit for. Love can be part performative, is at least partly voluntary, is ultimately part disposable. People can have no time for it, people can choose the relationships that won’t destroy them. Obviously there’s an element of wish-fulfillment in the fact that Katniss gets to do all of these things while two attractive men are pining for her, but why not?
  • This is connected to a general, practical heartlessness that we see glimpses of and that I adore. Think of Katniss calmly telling Haymitch that she wants him to volunteer (and therefore probably die) in Peeta’s place.
  • I do like that Peeta’s the stronger one in the political arena.
  • Finnick is Aquaman.
  • Perhaps it’s old age or general callousness or the sheer numbers involved, but I find it hard to care about the characters in the arena once I’m aware of what’s happening outside it. I went in expecting to cry quite a lot (I cry at all movies–I once managed to cry at Legally Blonde) and warned the friend with whom I was watching. He was a little confused, therefore, when I spent most of the time snickering at the pure evil being inflicted upon our heroes by the Capitol. I did get a bit teary at the early scene in District 11, but once that was over it was hard to feel very strongly about Katniss and Peeta and their struggle for survival.
  • In an early scene, Katniss is unable to shoot a turkey without having a traumatic flashback to her time in the arena. A couple of weeks later (we haven’t seen her shooting at all in the interim), when she’s training for the games, she’s fine. I can think of multiple reasons for this, but the movie chooses to visit none of them.
  • Didn’t Kristen Bell want to be Johanna?
  • Elizabeth Banks’ Effie Trinket was one of my favourite things about this movie and I’m hoping that the next two movies are as ambivalent about her as I remember the books being.
  • I suspect that when I have few thoughts about a movie this whole bulletpoint format just highlights that fact and makes me look bad. Oh well.
  • Edit: It strikes me that a useful way of reading the trilogy (I’m sure someone’s done it properly by now) is as a progressive widening of perspective; beginning with Katniss’ very individual sense of grievance against the state, moving to the wider political ramifications of the games (beyond the ways in which they compromise Katniss’ selfhood, which is the driving force behind her rebellion in the first book), realising (as the audience also gradually realises) that other people have subjectivities, that Gale’s involved in rebellion as well as pining for her, that Prim has capabilities other than being saved, and so onward and outward to the events of the third book.