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In the first installment of The Hunger Games trilogy, teenaged Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) resides in District 12 of the nation of Panem. She takes her sister’s place as one of the two competitors her district must send to the annual Hunger Games, a nationally televised competition in which 24 contestants fight to the death. Both the book by Suzanne Collins and the movie take interesting characters and an exciting story and wrap them in serious themes, including oppressive and abusive governments, the huge chasm between the very rich and the very poor, and how being a spectator to horrifying events can dull empathy and compassion. For more information, read the full Banner review of both the first movie and the book series.

Katniss survives the Games, as does her game partner and possible love interest Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). They do so by playing the parts of doomed lovers, gaining lots of sympathy from viewers and then threatening to ingest poison berries rather than either killing the other. This does not sit well with the cruel, calculating President Snow.

In Catching Fire, Katniss and Peeta are back home in District 12. Katniss is back in the arms of Gale, her best friend and other possible love interest. Things are not getting any better, and President Snow is keeping a close eye on Katniss. As they embark on their victory tour, Katniss and Peeta must continue the charade of their romance. Moving from district to district, they begin to realize that things are not well in many districts. Public sentiment is turning against the regime. Then they hear the news that each of them will be back in the Hunger Games arena.

Jennifer Lawrence ably continues to fully inhabit the character of Katniss, a prickly, reserved, and strong young woman who is more interested in taking care of the people she loves than in the disastrous national politics that keep her district poor and hungry. She’d much rather disappear into the woods than join a revolution. She wants to keep her head down and take care of her own. But her country loves the Katniss they saw in the first Games, and she has become a national symbol.

The movie is well-made, well-acted, exciting, and thought-provoking. You’ve probably heard all about it already.

So why does The Banner bother with an already much-publicized and financially successful movie series aimed at teens? Because it is a much-publicized and successful movie series that has engaged the hearts and minds of a good portion of the teenaged (and older) population of North America. While it is violent, and while God never enters the conversation, it offers a multitude of talking points for parents, teachers, and other leaders.

For instance, what does it mean that we have easy access to plentiful food while other people in our world are starving? I appreciated that the movie held onto the crazy excess of the Capital, where people eat until they are full, then use a beverage to, well, empty their stomachs so they can eat more. How does this fit with what we learn during the World Hunger Campaign and World Hunger Sunday?

One aspect of the Games that is different the second time around is that the competitors are all former Victors. Many are still-young “Careers” who have volunteered to train for the games and are physically strong, mostly beautiful, and frighteningly vicious. But others are older, or have been damaged by their previous participation, or have disabilities. No one has been left untouched by the violence. Catching Fire honors the differences and weaknesses of human beings, showing viewers imperfect characters who clearly matter, even though we hardly know them. What do we value in a person, and what does our society value?

And then there’s justice. Who speaks for the oppressed? Who speaks for those who cannot speak themselves? My church book club discussed a book about life in North Korea the day before I saw Catching Fire. We wondered at how it is that the government can be so restrictive, and yet no one rebels. One reason was that if any one person did something to promote change, everyone they loved would be adversely affected—their families would be marked for generations. President Snow holds the same sway over Katniss; if she doesn’t stay in line, her family is at even greater risk. What do we do to support oppressed people around the world? Especially those who are persecuted for their faith?

Many teen viewers will likely be at the movie for the excitement and for the good-looking young actors who make up the love triangle. They’ll be rewarded with a good story and a bit of sexual tension. But with discretion and discernment, the film presents adults ample opportunity to widen the scope of their interest and understanding.

Rated PG-13, this movie is not appropriate for young children.

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