It’s November 22. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is opening. One of your friends has an extra ticket and you know everyone’s going to be talking about the movie on Monday. It’s not that you don’t want to go — it’s just that you totally forget what happened in the first one, and there’s no time to re-watch it or re-read the book.
Have no fear! Because Catching Fire launches right into the story with barely a pause to catch audiences up on the events of the first installation in the series, we’ve prepared a cheat-sheet on the basics of what you need to remember to understand the sure-to-be-huge follow-up.
Needless to say, spoilers follow for the first Hunger Games book/movie.
Lots of spoilers.
Where and when does this movie take place?
Welcome to Panem, an ambiguously futuristic, post-apocalyptic North American totalitarian nation ruled by President Snow (played by Donald Sutherland) based in the Capitol. The rest of Panem comprises 12 Districts, each with a main industry but, to varying degrees, poorer than and subservient to the Capitol. Until about 75 years before the movie takes place, there was a District 13, but an attempted rebellion by the districts resulted in the Capitol’s destruction of that region.
What are the Hunger Games?
After the aforementioned rebellion was put down, the Capitol instituted a system whereby one boy and one girl from each district would be chosen by lottery to compete as tributes in the yearly Games, a complex, pageant-like fight to the death — broadcast for all to see. The system is meant to show the degree to which the Capitol is in charge. In some districts, children train to be Careers, aiming to represent their districts, but for most regions it is not seen as an honor. Each year’s victor is rewarded with wealth, including food — a scarce commodity in most districts.
How do the Games actually go down?
First, all the tributes go to the Capitol and are paraded around; it’s to their advantage to win crowd favor, as sponsors can help them out by sending things into the arena once the Games begin. The Games start off with each player equidistant from the Cornucopia, a large pile of weapons and survival tools, giving each the option to run for his or her life (without equipment) — or attempting to grab something (and risking the chance of being killed by another competitor). Each time a competitor dies, a cannon sounds; the identities of the dead are revealed at the end of each day. The Games end when only one survivor remains.
Who is those attractive young couple featured in the movie’s trailer?
Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss Everdeen. She’s the main character. In the first book/movie, she volunteers for the Games after her sister Prim is selected as the female tribute from District 12. The male tribute is Peeta Mellark, played by Josh Hutcherson.
Wait, how are Katniss and Peeta both still alive?
Though there’s usually only one victor, Katniss and Peeta — who didn’t have much of a relationship prior to the Games — manage to save each other. First, thanks to Katniss’ archery chops, honed by hunting for food in impoverished District 12, and looking out for each other, they make it to the end. Then, by pretending to be in love enough to die for each other, they win over the audience in the Capitol; when they threaten to eat poison berries in a suicide pact to avoid one killing the other, the Games end and they are both declared victors.
Okay, so what about other characters?
Katniss’ best friend and possible romantic interest is Gale Hawthorne, played by Liam Hemsworth. Woody Harrelson plays Haymitch, a past victor from District 12 who mentors Katniss and Peeta. Elizabeth Banks (if you can recognize her under the makeup) plays Effie, the Capitol’s escort for the District 12 victors. Pretty much everyone else you’ll be able to figure out.
Should I remember any characters who don’t appear in this movie?
It would help to remember Rue, a young Games competitor Katniss befriended but who didn’t make it through the competition, and Seneca Crane, the head Gamemaker, the showrunner-type guy for Peeta and Katniss’ Games who, though his death is not explicitly shown, incurred the displeasure of the President for allowing them both to win.
What’s with all the fire?
District 12 is a mining region, so it’s associated with fire and, during the pre-fighting portion of the Games, Katniss wears gowns made to show her as the “girl on fire.” Also, metaphor.
What’s a mockingjay?
A hybrid bird species, the mockingjay — which is able to mimic non-bird sounds — is the symbol on the pin Katniss wears into the Games as a token. They were the result of a scientific accident, and are thus symbolic of the inability of the Capitol to actually control every aspect of life.
Anything else to know?
At this point, go read the book.