JOURNEY TO THE CAPITOL
After Katniss and Peeta’s names are drawn, they’re isolated from their families in preparation for the journey to the Capitol. Katniss is given a few teary minutes with her sister, who hands back the mockingjay pin and says, “To protect you.” Katniss turns to her mother. “You can’t tune out again,” she says. “Not like when Dad died. I won’t be here anymore. You’re all she has. No matter what you feel, you will be there for her.”
Katniss also has a brief conversation with Gale who urges her to find a bow when she enters the arena. “They just want a good show,” he insists. “That’s all they want.”
As they are taken to the train, Effie Trinket explains that Katniss and Peeta are “in for a treat”. As she chatters about chandeliers and platinum doorknobs, the sound of her voice fades out and is replaced by James Newton Howard’s melancholic score. In the foreground of this shot, Peeta is slightly out of focus and close to tears while Katniss stares impassively out of the window. There are a series of erratic, handheld shots as Katniss and Peeta are herded to the train. There is a sustained point of view shot which, in combination with the music, makes the audience feel a keen sense of sympathy for Katniss. When she’s on the train, Ross shows a close up of Katniss’ face as she slowly walks into the carriage, an expression of astonishment crossing her face. Ross cuts to a shot of the lavish carriage, pulling focus to Katniss’ face as she looked back towards Trinket. He tilts down as her hand hesitantly touches a polished tabletop, then cuts to several shots panning across the tables of food. Ross dollies into a close up of Katniss as she stares at the luxurious carriage in wonder. The sense of wonder that Katniss feels upon entering the carriage contributes to the a contrast between District 12 and The Capitol.
Peeta unsuccessfully tries to start a conversation with Katniss. As she looks at him, Ross cuts to a flashback of Peeta tossing bread to some pigs behind his house when, it is later revealed, he shared some of the scraps with Katniss and her starving family. Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) stumbles into the carriage. He admits that there’s not much he can do to help them. “Embrace the probability of your immanent death,” he says, “and know in your heart that there’s nothing I can do to save you.” Katniss indignantly asks him why he’s there. “Refreshments,” he says, raising a glass of whiskey.
After their encounter with Haymitch, Ross cuts to a shot of Katniss sitting on her bed, hugging her knees, the light of a television screen flickering across her face. When he cuts to the reverse shot, the audience sees Caesar Flickerman and Claudius Templesmith (Toby Jones) discussing The Hunger Games against a split screen of tributes clashing violently. There is footage of a previous tribute with a bloody brick in his hand as the hosts discuss the moment “a tribute becomes a victor”. Katniss is clearly shocked and disgusted, quickly turning the screen off. Although The Hunger Games is a film about violence, it doesn’t glorify this violence, choosing to represent it as disturbing and criticising this dystopian society for encouraging it. Apart from the beginning of the film, this is the first time that the audience is given a glimpse of how The Hunger Games is broadcast to the residents of The Capitol. In many ways, The Hunger Games is a criticism of reality television which pits contestants against each other in humiliating and often degrading competitions for the benefit of viewers.
“You really want to know how to stay alive?” Haymitch asks at breakfast the next morning. “You get people to like you. Oh. Not what you were expecting. When you’re in the middle of the games and you’re starving or freezing, some water, a knife or even some matches can even make the difference between life and death. And those things only come from sponsors. And to get sponsors, you have to make people like you.” The parallels between The Hunger Games and reality television, in which people often vote for contestants, are obvious.
The conversation is interrupted when Peeta leaps from his chair and looks at the approaching city which gleams in the distance. The view disappears and moments later, the sound of a cheering crowd rises before appearing through the window. The crowd is filled with colourfully dressed people whose faces are covered with makeup. The difference between The Capitol and District 12 could not be more profound. Peeta waves to the crowd and Haymitch declares that he “knows what he’s doing”.
PREPARING FOR THE GAMES
When they arrive in The Capitol, director David Ross cuts to an establishing shot of the city, then to several shots of citizens walking through the street. Again, the use of mise en scene – including the colourful costumes and make up – creates a stark contrast between The Capitol and District 12. There is a montage of shots as Katniss is prepared for the Tribute Parade. Laid out on what appears to be an operating table, she is plucked and waxed and hosed down. Katniss overhears Flavius say something. “Oh, we were just saying we might need to hose you down again before we take you to Cinna,” he says.
Cinna is the kindest character that Katniss encounters in The Capitol. “I’m sorry that this happened to you,” he says, “but I’m here to help you in any way that I can.” He tells her that he’s there to help her make an impression. Ross cuts to several shots of the trito a close up of Katniss as she ng for the parade. There are several shots of the brightly dressed audience talking loudly and drinking. The camera dollies in on a dias above the parade ground. The production design in this scene helps to spell out the parallels between Panem and Ancient Rome, where gladiators fought to the death in The Colosseum. In addition to the characters with Romannames – like Claudius, Favius and Cinna – the architecture in this sequence is reminiscent of Rome. Much like Rome, the tributes also emerge riding chariots. As the crowd applauds, Caesar Flickerman and Claudius Templesmith provide a running commentary, discussing how the stylists have managed to make them look wonderful. This commentary makes The Capitol seem even more cold and uncaring given that, in a few days, the tributes will be required to kill each other. As the District 12 tributes emerge, Ross cuts to a close up Katniss watching in shock as the crowd applauds her. Throughout this sequence, Ross cuts to multiple shots of the audience cheering manically. These close ups contribute to the overwhelming sense that The Capitol is a brutal and uncaring society.
After the ceremony, Katniss returns to her room and sits on the bed. Director Gary Ross pans down to a shot of her hand as it runs hesitantly over the unfamiliar texture of the quilt. Picking up a small controller from the bedside table, she flicks through a number of different views on the wall screen, breathing in sharply when she comes across footage of a forest that looks like home. She slowly approaches the screen, staring at it while James Newton Howard’s melancholic music plays in the background. She throws the controller down in frustration when she realises that she’ll never experience that freedom again.
The reality of the situation Katniss finds herself in is reinforced when Ross cuts to a shot of several sharp weapons displayed on racks. “In two weeks, twenty three of you will be dead,” says Atala. A training montage follows as the tributes try their hand at the weapons. This scene helps to establish Rue (Amandla Stenberg) who later plays an important role in the narrative. When an argument breaks out between two tributes over a missing knife, Ross cuts to a shot of Katniss who looks up. Through a point of view shot, the audience sees Rue hanging from the ceiling, grinning.
In the subsequent scene, Haymitch explains that the argument was started by a Career from District 1 where all children are trained in an academy. Although they’re “pretty lethal”, Haymitch says that their “arrogance can be a big problem”, glaring at Katniss. Frustrated and upset because he doesn’t have a chance of winning, Peeta reveals that his own mother thinks Katniss has a better chance of surviving than he does. Here, a flashback explains the relationship between Katniss and Peeta. After being berated by his mother, he tosses a loaf of bread to the starving Katniss. Perhaps realising that Peeta’s compassion won’t do much good in The Hunger Games, she leaves the table in disgust.
The Hunger Games is a criticism of violence and the ruthlessness of a totalitarian government. This is illustrated in the scene where Haymitch watches miserably as he watches two children engaging in a mock battle. The scene begins with several shots of a board showing the odds that each tribute has of winning The Hunger Games. Director Gary Ross cuts to an over-the-shoulder shot of Haymitch watching two children unwrapping presents. He cuts to a shot of Haymitch looking on in disgust, then to a shot of the boy, who received a toy sword, chasing his sister around cheerfully. Haymitch exhales, clearly upset.
In the next scene, Katniss is asked to demonstrate her unique skills to attract sponsors. Frustrated that they’re not paying attention, she impulsively shoots an arrow through an apple in the mouth of a roasted pig. Haymitch is obviously impressed with the display of disobedience and defiance. “I would have given anything to see it,” he says. Shortly thereafter President Snow and Seneca Crane discuss the incident. “She shot an arrow at your head,” the president observes dryly. He explains that The Hunger Games has a winner to give the districts hope and keep them in line. “It is the only thing stronger than fear,” he explains. “A little hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it’s contained.” He instructs Seneca to contain Katniss.
Soon Katniss and Peeta are introduced at the formal beginning of the 75th annual Hunger Games. Caesar Flickerman opens the program, standing in front of enormous screens on a set that is reminiscent of real reality television programs like Big Brother. The camera cranes across the audience revealing a crowd of well-dressed, smiling citizens. Backstage, Cinna tells Katniss how beautiful she looks before going on stage. Angered, she responds that she “doesn’t know how to make people like you.” A montage of shots shows the other tributes taking the stage and being interviewed by Flickerman in the style of reality television interviews. “I’m prepared. I’m vicious. I’m ready to go,” says Cato aggressively.
When it’s Katniss’ turn to take the stage, director Gary Ross uses a number of cinematic techniques to convey her nervousness. Standing offstage, Ross uses a handheld close up of Katniss bathed in the deep orange and red light of the enormous screens. The handheld camera movement contributes to her sense of apprehension. A point of view shot also encourages the audience to identify with her as she peers around the corner of the stage at Flickerman introducing her. Ross tracks her as she steps onto the stage to the sound of applause. The sound of applause becomes slightly muted Ross cuts to a series of jump cuts as the camera pans across the cheering audience. These unsettling jump cuts further help the audience to understand how nervous and apprehensive Katniss is feeling. Her confidence increases as the interview continues. Flickerman asks Katniss about her sister. “I told her that I would try to win,” Katniss replies. “That I would try to win for her.”
When Peeta takes the stage, he reveals that winning The Hunger Games won’t help him win the heart of the “special girl back home” because she’s one of the tributes. Katniss responds furiously. “What the hell was that?” she screams, throwing him against a wall. “You don’t talk to me, and then you say you have a crush on me? You say you want to train alone? Is that how you want to play?” Haymitch and Cinna agree that he did the right thing, making her look “desirable” in the eyes of the audience, acknowledging that The Hunger Games is a public spectacle and winning the admiration of the audience is important. “It’s a television show!” Haymitch explains. “And being in love with that boy might just get you sponsors, which could save your damn life.”
That night, Katniss apologises. Peeta confesses that he doesn’t want the games to change him and doesn’t want to be a “piece in their game”. Although he can see himself killing to survive, he wants to “find a way to show them at they don’t own me.”
“If I’m going to die,” he says, “I want to still be me.”