Fire is catching, much like Jennifer Lawrence since she burst onto the scene in 2010′s Oscar underdog, Winter’s Bone. The flames spread with the cinematic and home release of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Hollywood has shared rants and raves about this young woman so unwilling to compromise herself or fit any type of celebrity mold. Whether you think her sincere or annoying, she continues to crowd the headlines, forging a path for the greater female top billing on movie screens, a process Catching Fire is a large part of.
Cinema has long been a man’s world, with women serving as quirky side kicks, romantic interests, best friends, almost always in supporting roles. When a lady is handed a lead role, it often fulfills some sexist stereotype, as in almost every movie Jennifer Lopez has made, Selena being the major exceptionJennifer Lawrence has been blowing our minds for three years now, doing something completely different, Catching Fire topping it all.
In Winter’s Bone, she dominated the screen, a stitched-together force of secondhand clothes and fierce determination. In The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, Jennifer Lawrence came as a rescue from the blandness of the Twilight series, the idea that young women are incomplete without a love interest or male influence. With Katniss Everdeen, Jennifer Lawrence gave us confidence and insecurity, power and fear. Even in a fantastic dystopia, Katniss was real and flawed, thrilling with too much wisdom and teenage emotional dysfunction. In Catching Fire, her psychological trauma was intense, her confusion about love a distorted reflection of what many of us feel throughout our lives. Each film, her performance deeply anchored a franchise that could have easily lost its way among the studio proclivities for watered down characters, special effects and men as the focus of our emotional investment.
Although Jennifer Lawrence is not the first to do it, her role in Catching Fire has highlighted the powerful box office appeal of women as more than stencil filler. It is no surprise – genre fiction has long been a refuge of success for atypical female characters. This happens because the roles within such stories often reach outside gender boundaries, creating a space for idealization of women beyond sex symbol and damsel in distress. These stories often twist gender roles to new shapes. Prior to Catching Fire, a recent example was Avengers: Black Widow’s prominence as a power leader grew, her attachment to Hawkeye that of loyal friend and equal, not estranged lover or ex-girlfriend. Maria Hill was right hand to Nick Fury, subservient in command but constantly emerging as the strongest voice of logic and reason. This is new for filmed versions of comic books, where females often learn their power from men (V for Vendetta), or serve as little more than love interest for male leads (Jean Grey as depicted in the first three installments of the X-Men film franchise).
Catching Fire has set a high bar. It seals that idea of woman as a hero, a savior. She can be broken but doesn’t need men to fix herself. The finale of Catching Fire contains hints of more, Katniss beginning to understand that she is both used and useful – that small glimmer we see in her face, the fire of revenge, of despair, her refusal to succumb to any of it.
The film’s success with Lawrence at the helm shows that women can carry a franchise, and that the world wants more of it. Catching Fire had massive box office success and continues its victory on home release, outselling Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave four to one. With the Catching Fire follow-up, Mockingjay, being divided into two films, we can hope for more of the heroine we have come to love, that very catching fire that overthrows Hollywood ideas about what we want from our leading ladies.