Jenni Miller November 22, 2013
This article reveals significant plot information about “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”
Filminism is a bi-weekly column about women in film. It runs on alternating Fridays.
If you Google “Hunger Games” and sex, the majority of the first page is fan fiction. Go ahead, do it, we’ll wait.
Right now there are plenty of stories about Jennifer Lawrence being asked to comment on sex and young women in the media — a clever way to perpetuate the celeb cat fights we adore, Miley versus America’s Best Friend, Jennifer Lawrence! — but trust that in a few weeks, the results will once again be forums and Tumblrs devoted to the sex lives of our favorite Tributes.
This might be my favorite line, from a story about the Tributes playing Truth or Dare: “All the girls inhaled sharply, eager to know more about The Sex God’s meeting with the Chimpanzee” (The Sex God is Finnick Odair, and the Chimpanzee is, well, a chimpanzee).
And yet, in both the books and the films, our heroes are rather shockingly chaste. Even in the Capitol, where furious partying and gender-bending fashions are the order of the day, the emphasis on consumption is limited to luxuries like food and drink and lifestyle luxury. Effie Trinket’s fondness for outrageous shoes that make her teeter around like a deer is a class statement — she doesn’t have to stoop to physical labor like the residents of Panem — but it’s impossible to ignore how the fashions of the Capitol are sensual, if not outright fetishistic.
That’s part of the fun. Yeah, “The Hunger Games” is supposed to be serious business about fascist regimes and violence and the media spectacle, but give me all of Cinna’s gold eyeliner! I want DVD extras full of outtakes from these parties, behind-the-scenes with the costumers and designers and extras! But it’s also part of the problem with “The Hunger Games,” which wants to have its cake and puke it up too. We’re supposed to judge the overwhelming excess of the Capitol, but lots of care is taken to make it look awesome. As others like Devin Faraci have noted, this excess is carried over to the promotion of the film, from the expensive chocolates sent out to journalists to the red carpet extravaganza and lavish premiere party that both effectively mimicked what “The Hunger Games” supposedly decries.
Similarly, we’re teased by the romantic triangle. Although author Suzanne Collins cites the myth of the Minotaur as a major influence on the books, Lawrence refers to Katniss as a sort of Joan of Arc. Of course, Katniss also calls to mind warrior goddess and virgin Athena, as well as Artemis, the goddess of the hunt whose symbols include a bow and arrow. Are Katniss’s love interests Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) even necessary? The triangle is supposed to add some heft to the plot, perhaps make it more personal and urgent for Katniss, but she was already in it to win it for her little sister and mother, not to mention the lives and futures of her entire District.
So, where’s the sex? What would up the stakes more for our stricken teens than a good dose of oxytocin?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m totally entertained by teenagers fighting to the death in an arena engineered by government geniuses doing the bidding of a scary dictator who’s one goose-step, tiny mustache, and testicle away from being Hitler. Like, the Roman architecture and vertical red banners, we get it! But are we really supposed to believe that Katniss and Gale, who have been friends since childhood, don’t even kiss until he’s 19? That when Katniss and Peeta cuddle up in their luxurious train suites after simultaneous nightmares, nothing else happens? Come on, son!
The argument that they’re all too busy staying alive is silly. Those teenagers in Panem are boning like crazy because one, they’re teenagers, and two, when you’ve got nothing left to lose and life is bleak as hell, one thing that can make you feel a whole lot better is human contact. Even pretending to be a citizen of Panem can be stressful! Why else would Hutcherson have been allegedly sending naked selfies and videos to ladies online after a hard day in the Arena? (His response to “Out” magazine about the rumors was, “I find it so shocking still that nakedness is so shocking.” Then he dropped some polyamory knowledge and suggested that Peeta, Katniss, and Gale could get together as a triad. Read the interview; it’s pretty great).
Would having a sexually active heroine undercut her power any more than being co-opted by the revolution against her will? One of the most satisfying moments in “Catching Fire” is when the bigger plan is revealed, a plan that had been kept hidden from Katniss so she wouldn’t screw it up even though it hinges on her. She’s no longer being treated like the savvy person who outwitted the Capitol and upended the future of Panem; she’s treated like a child who doesn’t know what’s best for her or for the growing legion of people who look up to her. That’s not the satisfying part, actually; it’s when Katniss lunges for Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), screaming, and slaps the everlovin’ sh*t out of him. That is the Katniss who has inspired the rebellion, not the one that’s protected by a group of people willing to sacrifice themselves. Ostensibly they’re risking their lives for the greater good of society (the greater good), but that’s only achieved by protecting Katniss.
I wouldn’t suggest that Collins threw in that part of the story to pacify readers who want a little sugar in their bowl. Nothing about “The Hunger Games” strikes me as that craven. But if these characters are old enough to kill, surely they’re old enough to have sex. And surely their audience is old enough to see it. It may seem like a prurient nitpick, but the almost complete omission of sex (Jena Malone to the rescue!) contributes to a veneer of inauthenticity – of course this is a fantasy series, but a dystopian glimpse of our future shouldn’t feel like it takes place on another planet.
Categories: ColumnsTags: Catching Fire, Jennifer Lawrence, Josh hutcherson, Liam hemsworth, Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Woody harrelson