I saw Hunger Games: Catching Fire twice in theaters. This was partly because I had two different groups of friends to go with but partly because it was just a damn enjoyable movie. I mean, this is the moment, right? This is the momentum building movie of the franchise. Katniss is going to find her reason to step forward, to become a symbol of power, something outside herself, something bigger than survival. Maybe just to become a martyr. I thought it was much more tightly done than it was in the book and I was impressed with how they pulled it all together. Although I enjoyed the books, I haven’t been their biggest defender and I felt there was a lot that could be and was improved on in the film.
One of the things that I feel like was most notable to me in these movies was how much I love all the supporting characters. In fact, I love the supporting characters significantly more than I love the main characters. Look, I empathize with Katniss but her intense introversion makes rooting for her sometimes frustrating. I have never, ever been Team Gale. Boy is too damn whiny for my taste. And while I was pleased to see Peeta get a few genuinely charming lines in this installment, I am mostly eagerly waiting to see what the actor can do when he’s really allowed to cut loose and go totally nuts in the end. Because Peeta exists primarily to be a “nice guy” and support Katniss. He’s not a terrible character but he doesn’t ever really grab me either. But the supporting roles! I want to marry Johanna and have 10,000 of her babies. Seriously, that girl’s rage is a fire of the most beautiful and pure variety and Jenna Malone absolutely slaughtered it. I love my rageful girl characters. I need them. As a girl who struggles to feel anger, they help me process things, help me feel a spark of something I sometimes can’t access on my own. We don’t teach our little girls to be angry, teach them how to scream when they should. We don’t tell them that being nice is a trap but Johanna has nothing left to lose and she doesn’t care what they do anymore. No one wants to end up in her position but I think most of us can on some level feel her helplessness and anger. I think it matters that we do. We need girls who can be that kind of brave and fierce and strong.
But do you know who my favorite character is? She’s my favorite because she makes me so uncomfortable, and because I think maybe she’s me. Effie. Poor Effie. Effie who is so earnest, who starts these films so passionately believing everything she’s been taught and why? Because it’s comfortable. Because she’s in a good place. We never find out what it took for Effie to become the personality she is, but I’m sure it took work. I’m sure she had to climb a hell of a ladder to become the woman who took care of the Tributes. And probably she hoped that someday she would get to move out of District 12 and move up, to a more prestigious district. We don’t know how it works after all but I’m sure there are rules, I’m sure she sacrificed. Maybe Effie grew up all her life dreaming of being on television, of being part of the Games. She wanted so badly to be Somebody. She believes in all of this, you can tell. She really, truly believes that the Games have meaning, that they are what keeps everything safe. And in a way, she’s right. Living in the Capitol, the Games are what keep her safe. They keep her way of life safe, they keep everything in place for her. She is the privileged top of the heap, the few who get to benefit off of everyone else dying on the lower rungs. But there are nicer ways to put that and in the meantime there are such beautiful clothes and there are parties to go to and just day to day life to live and someday she’s going to be famous, she’s going to be a star. Privilege works because we need it to work, because it keeps us safe.
Maybe that doesn’t seem familiar to anyone else but it sure seems familiar to me. Growing up in a middle class home, a white girl who did pretty okay and was fiercely conservative because I believed you had to be and because it was important to be right and because these were the things that protected us. And I was right. They did protect us. I just didn’t really realize that they only protected us, only protected me and mine and there were people in so many other places who weren’t being protected at all. And then one day something happens to Effie, like something happened to me. Except it’s never just one thing, it’s lots of little things and before you know it you realize that this system you’ve taken everything from isn’t what you thought it was. It’s cruel and harsh and it’s not fair. It’s profoundly unjust. You’ve been swimming in injustice your whole life and you just didn’t realize it because you were the one on top getting all of the air. Here is where you make decisions, whether you like it or not, and this is why I love Effie more than any other character in the entire series – because she is so completely and totally relatable.
We all want to believe we’d be the hero, that we would be part of the revolution, the people risking our lives to make a change. We want to believe that we would be like Cinna, creating the amazing mockingbird dress, knowing what it would cost him but knowing also what it could mean. We want to believe that we are the people who would have hidden Jews in Germany, we are good people who would do the right thing. But what if you’re not? What if you’re more like Effie? What if I’m more like Effie? I realize that the water I’m swimming in is profoundly unjust, it’s cruel, that people are dying and drowning and that I am benefitting from this wealth of privilege. And I… suggest we all wear jewelry to show how we’re a team and we’re opposed to it. It’s the most courage she’s got and I love her for it because it’s everything she has and it’s so small. She does not have what it takes to throw her life on the line. I believe people evolve and change and that Effie can too but in this moment she is a child who is mostly afraid. She has a glimpse of what has happened, what she is a part of. She is against it but she doesn’t want to get dirty. I mean, she has such beautiful clothes. Have you seen her butterflies? I’m positive I am more like Effie than Katniss or Joanna and I love her for her transparency and her absolute humanity. Heroes are heroes because they do what most of us wouldn’t. Most of us are afraid of the dirt. Most of us, most days, are more like Effie.