Our heroine hails from the desperately poor coal mining District 12, where she lost her father to an accident in the mines. It's the most destitute part of Panem. Fortunately, Katniss is a deadeye archer, and she supplements the family's meager food supply by shooting animals in the woods. Katniss is at home in the woods, something that works to her advantage later in the Games.
When survival is job one, you have to be a practical person—and our girl is just that.
For a child of destiny, Katniss Everdeen is actually a bit of a pill. She's not on a mission to save the world, like Gale, or just trying to survive like Peeta. She doesn't have a cause, she doesn't like being the center of attention, and all things being equal, she just wants to be left alone and do what it takes to keep herself and her family alive. So yeah, no time to hang out with friends or watch TV, even though her life turns into the ultimate episode of Survivor.
Katniss's desire to be left alone is clear in the first few scenes, as she slips out past the District 12 fence to do a little hunting. She does it to get food for her family, yes (more on that in a bit), but she also seems to appreciate the solitude. Her hunting skills are of the kind where she can sneak up on you without drawing any attention to herself. As Gale tells her right after she's volunteered to be a Tribute, that means more than she may think:
GALE: If they don't have a bow, then you make one, okay? You know how to hunt.
We see that independence in the arena, as Katniss first heads for the hills, then engages in a slow game of cat-and-mouse with the Careers (the scary kids from Districts 1 and 2 who apparently majored in murderkill in school). She stays quiet and unseen throughout. The Careers get into a big group and go tromping through the scenery, but Katniss stays silent and picks her moments. Given her skill with a bow, that can be pretty devastating. (Seriously, between her and the Careers, who's still alive at the end?)
On a subtler level, her ability to sneak up on people can be more than just literal. She doesn't think of herself as a symbol, and she doesn't much want to be. Nobody can really spot when she goes from being an ordinary girl to an instant celebrity, or from a celebrity to a defiant symbol of resistance.
Well, except for President Snow, of course, who's a pretty paranoid dude and spots the kind of trouble Katniss represents very early. But instead of silencing it, he actually makes it worse by overemphasizing her importance.
SNOW: Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it's contained.
SNOW: So, contain it.
Seneca, the game maker, seems to be blowing it off; Katniss is just one more piece of meat for the grinder to him. But Snow seems to see some danger in her, and he doesn't just mean winning the Hunger Games.
Katniss's other quality is something any good hero needs: a willingness to help others. Katniss isn't entirely happy about it, of course. She doesn't want to die in the arena; she just wants to keep living the way she has been. But "keep living the way she has been" involves looking out for her sister Primrose.
We see it even before she goes off into the woods, as she comforts Prim after her little sister has had a nightmare about being in the Hunger Games:
KATNISS: It's okay. It's okay. You were just dreaming. You were dreaming.
PRIMROSE: It was me.
KATNISS: I know. I know, but it's not. It's your first year, Prim. Your name's only been in there once. They're not going to pick you.
That's some serious big sister devotion.
And as it turns out, it's even more than that. Their mother appears to have checked out on life after the girls' dad died, leaving Katniss to care for Prim on her own. When Katniss goes off, she tells Mom to step it up:
KATNISS: You can't tune out again.
KATNISS' MOTHER: I won't...
KATNISS: No. You can't. Not like when Dad died. I won't be there anymore, and you're all she has. No matter what you FEEL, you have to BE there for her. Do you understand? Don't cry. Don't cry. Don't... Don't...
So it's pretty clear that Katniss is willing to go above and beyond for those she cares about, even volunteering for the Hunger Games to keep her sister out of them. No bigger sacrifice than that.
And it's not only immediate family. Once she's in the arena, people like Peeta and Rue become very important to her, to the point of risking her own life to keep them safe even though they may eventually be forced to kill each other. As she tells Peeta when he's injured:
KATNISS: I'm not gonna leave you. I'm not gonna do that.
Talk about dedication. I mean, we love our besties, but would we take a bullet (or an arrow) for them?
Katniss is definitely afraid of something happening to her family, especially her little sis, but when it comes to her own safety, she can be fearless. Of course, she's worried about dying in the Games, but it doesn't keep her from getting in the face of just about every authority figure she meets. She shows this early, by nearly impaling Haymitch's hand with a knife to get his attention. When Cinna tells her and Peeta about the flaming costumes, he says, "Don't be afraid." Katniss shoots back, "I'm not afraid." She's very convincing.
After the Tribute parade, she runs into the alcohol-soaked Haymitch and has one of the best one-liners in the film:
KATNISS: Are you sure you should be around an open flame?
As Katniss gets deeper into the Games, this cheeky attitude evolves into something much more serious.
So here we have a self-assured girl who's confident in her skills at lurking and shooting things dead with a bow; someone who doesn't want attention and won't declare herself an enemy (and thus put a target on her back). Someone with a knack for surviving and someone who will clearly step up and help other people who need her even when she risks her own life.
That kind of person can be big trouble to a regime that's used to calling the shots. Better keep an eye on this one, Snow. She becomes even more defiant in the face of authority, and learns to play the media game to keep herself alive. The Capitol even becomes involved in making her out to be bigger than she is, starting with the "Girl on Fire" moniker.
The hype gets kicked into overdrive with the alleged romance with Peeta (still kinda sorta a story to feed the media instead of anything real). Finally, Snow picks up on the possibility that she may be a threat and, in pushing it, actually makes her even harder to kill:
SNOW: An eleven?
SENECA: She earned it.
SNOW: She shot an arrow at your head.
SENECA: Well, at an apple.
SNOW: Near your head.
Katniss is just a little spark right now. But that spark is a heck of a lot bigger by the end of the Games, setting the stage for the heroine she'll eventually become.
But that's a story for another movie.
Poor sweet Peeta: he's the kid in the corner who quietly pines for the pretty girl who never notices.
And in this case, he's the handsome, camera-ready baker's son who saved Katniss once and helps save her again in the Games.
Peeta and Katniss are from the same impoverished District, but he's got enough to eat because his family owns a bakery and raises pigs. Back when the only thing Katniss had to worry about was starving to death, Peeta threw her some loaves of bread when she was all hunkered in the mud and starving. While he might do that anyway just because he's a good guy, we get some longing looks from him that suggests he has a little thing for her.
When fate throws them together as a team, he admits to Caesar Flickerman that he's got it good for Katniss:
PEETA: Well, there uh... There is this one girl that I've had a crush on forever. But I don't think she actually recognized me until the Reaping.
CAESAR: Well, I'll tell you what, Peeta. You go out there and you win this thing, and when you get home, she'll have to go out with you. Right, folks?
PEETA: Thanks, but I don't think winning's gonna help me at all.
CAESAR: And why not?
PEETA: Because she came here with me.
CAESAR: Well, that's bad luck.
PEETA: Yeah, it is.
It turns out not to be bad luck at all. Seeing an opportunity, Haymitch sells them as a couple in love to generate some sponsors among the Capitol's more romantically inclined citizens. We're not too sure at this point whether this is Peeta's motivation, too, or if it's more than just a survival strategy. Is he in love with her, or is he just a self-sacrificing good guy who'd have done it for anyone?
Of course, no one filled Katniss in on this romance angle, and she kind of freaks out on him:
KATNISS: What the hell was that? You don't talk to me and then you say you have a crush on me? You say you want to train alone? Is this how you want to play? Huh?
Whether Peeta's feelings about Katniss are requited or not, authentic or staged, he continues to look out for her throughout the Games. He keeps the Careers from killing her when they see her up in the tree, suggesting they just wait her out. (He knows his girl's likely to figure out a way to escape.) And in an ultimate moment of self-sacrifice, Peeta would rather die than see Katniss risk her life in the arena to get medicine that might save him. Feverish and close to death, he begs Katniss not to go. In a tender moment, she agrees and lies down next to him.
As soon as he's out, off she goes.
Peeta brings another piece to the puzzle that his not-quite-a-girlfriend-yet-but-stay-tuned can't muster. Unlike Katniss, who's awkward and uncomfortable in front of the camera, Peeta's a natural TV personality. His charisma and instinctive PR skill help improve the couple's standing, and his gentleness helps smooth over some of Katniss's pricklier character traits. It's surprising to see this in him, because early on we learn he's not the most self-confident guy in the world:
PEETA: I have no chance of winning! None! All right? It's true. Everybody knows it. You know what my mother said? She said District 12 might finally have a winner. But she wasn't talking about me. She was talking about you.
Somehow he manages to disguise his doubts. In his interview with Caesar, he's chatty and appealing. We don't know where he got this charisma, being from gritty, downtrodden District 12—not exactly a place that spawns upbeat, media-savvy teenagers. Still, the guys a charmer, and his ability to help create the love-story narrative helps save Katniss for a second time.
While Katniss is a girl of action, Peeta sits quietly and thinks a lot more. It's very revealing that one of his important skills is camouflage—making himself invisible. He's not about to shoot an arrow into the Capitol judges' dinner party. He contemplates his current situation, which leads him to some very important philosophical conclusions, like how winning the Hunger Games still leaves you with scars for life.
PEETA: I just don't want them to change me.
KATNISS: How would they change you?
PEETA: I don't know. They'd turn me into something I'm not. I just don't want to be another piece in their game, you know?
KATNISS: You mean you won't kill anyone?
PEETA: No. I mean, I'm sure I would, just like anybody else when the time came, but I just keep wishing that I could think of a way to show them that they don't own me. If I'm gonna die, I want to still be me. Does that make any sense?
This moment of reflection is important because it helps keep Katniss balanced, understanding that they can lose not only their lives in the arena, but their souls as well.
It's tough, though, because Peeta doesn't have Katniss's self-confidence.
So here are the winners on the train, going home from their harrowing experience. Bonded forever right? Peeta gets a rude awakening:
PEETA: So what happens when we get back?
KATNISS: I don't know. I guess we try to forget.
PEETA: I don't want to forget.
Katniss looks away. Poor Peeta. If we were him, we'd be thinking, "You've got to be kidding me. I did all this for nothing?" But hang tough, Peeta. Your girl is going to come around.
But that's a story for another movie…meanwhile, we're just glad Katniss has this sweet boy on her side.
It wouldn't be a love triangle without a third leg, and Gale is most definitely the third in this party.
Basically, he's everything you'd want in a boyfriend: strong, hunky, principled, and even into the same things as Katniss (i.e., sneaking out past the electrified fence and shooting things with a bow). What more do you want in a bestie with benefits and possible serious snuggle-dude?
Well, there's that whole televised death match that stands a very good chance of killing his girlfriend.
Nothing snuffs out romance more than that. Not to mention seeing your sweetie pretend to fall in love with another guy for the benefit of TV ratings. But there's more to it than that; while Gale may seem like the perfect guy, there are a couple of things beneath the surface that raise a red flag.
For starters, there's something he loves more than Katniss.
The sweet kiss of political freedom is never far from his heart, and he's pretty convinced that sooner or later, the people are going to rise up and stick it to the Capitol. You can see that in the frank way he talks about the Hunger Games.
GALE: You root for your favorite, you cry when they get killed. It's sick.
GALE: No one watches and they don't have a game. It's as simple as that.
He's lucky that the sharp ears of the Capitol can't hear his revolutionary talk. That makes him a crusader, which is admirable. But crusaders always put their causes before others, and Gale seems very interested in his. Considering his more or less implied revolt against the Capitol, that doesn't speak too well for his lifespan either.
That said, Gale is still the most trustworthy person Katniss knows in District 12, and that gives him a few advantages. For example, she immediately looks to Gale to take care of her family when she goes: not her mother, but Gale:
KATNISS: Take care of them, Gale. Whatever you do, don't let them starve!
That's a pretty big level of trust, and it means that, even at her loneliest moments, Katniss still has someone watching her back and ready to lend a hand back home.
He's also helpful in giving Katniss a little optimism before the Games. Given that Katniss is generally a grim sort, it's the sort of thing she probably needs to hear.
KATNISS: There's 24 of us, Gale, and only one comes out.
GALE: Yeah, and it's gonna be you.
Also, Gale's principles, and the hating of The Man that comes with it, prompts him to give Katniss some useful (and lethal) advice before she gets dropped into the blender.
GALE: Get to a bow.
KATNISS: They may not have one...
GALE: They will if you show 'em how good you are. They just want a good show. That's all they want. If they don't have a bow, then you make one, okay? You know how to hunt.
GALE: It's no different, Katniss.
Killing animals, killing people—it's all the same, right? That's pretty hard-core advice, not only in terms of giving Katniss the eye of the tiger, but in reminding her that it's all on television, which carries rules that she can use to her advantage. They do, indeed, love a show. Fancy tricks with a bow—especially tricks that end with arrows sticking out of other people—can make a huge difference in attracting sponsors and staying alive.
We hardly see him after those first few scenes, but he's been behind the scenes, taking care, we assume, of things back home and anxiously watching Katniss's adventures on TV. As the train carrying the victors pulls into the station, it's a stunning moment. Katniss spies Gale in the waiting crowd. Peeta, who's just accompanied her though hell, is standing next to her.
The world of Gale and home must seem unreal to her at this point. Can she ever feel the same way about him? Of course, it's not his fault that he wasn't chosen by random lottery to slaughter 23 other people. We're left with the question: have the Games made everything else meaningless for Katniss? Can Gale ever be part of her life again? Should you ever love a revolutionary?
We've never seen the devil smile, but if we did, we figure he'd look a lot like President Snow. The sinister leader of Panem may carry the basic vibes of a jolly old Santa Claus, but he's got some blood-red claws under that snowy beard, and he doesn't mind flashing them when he needs to.
If you read Machiavelli's The Prince, you know what this guy's about. We'll give you the short version: he's powerful because he likes power, and everything he does he does to hold onto his power. He's very, very good at politics, and doesn't hesitate to kill if his control is under threat.
He'll kill his associates as well as his enemies, as he does at the end when he delivers the poison berries to Seneca Crane. He has to make sure that the people he rules understand their place and never have cause to question him.
Hence, the Hunger Games, a nationally broadcast blood-sport that suitably distracts the masses while he keeps on enjoying the good life and ruling with an iron fist.
It's fairly ingenious actually, and though he didn't invent the Hunger Games, he sure knows how to use it. Here's his explanation to Crane as Katniss stubbornly refuses to die in the games.
SNOW: Seneca... why do you think we have a winner?
CRANE: What do you mean?
SNOW: I mean, why do we have a winner? I mean, if we just wanted to intimidate the Districts, why not round up 24 of them at random and execute them all at once? Be a lot faster. Hope.
SNOW: Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it's contained.
SNOW: So CONTAIN it.
He uses the Hunger Games as a weapon against the people, giving them just enough hope to soldier on while reminding them that the Capitol still calls the shots in everything. He's got it down to a science, and he knows exactly how to deploy it for maximum impact.
Except we're pretty sure he overplays his hand. In his effort to stop the danger that Katniss represents, he ends up making her a bigger threat than she might otherwise become. She's an underdog, but thanks to Haymitch, Effie, and Cinna in the Capitol, people like her. They've played the media game well. Snow has to shift gears fast if he wants to stay ahead of it, as he explains to Crane:
CRANE: Everyone likes an underdog.
SNOW: I don't.
So he tries harder to kill her… but not just kill her. She needs to die in a way that his regime finds useful. He doesn't want her to be a martyr, for instance, or appear to be killed by arbitrary rules. He might even want her to live, provided that he breaks her good and proper and she ends up drinking herself to death like Haymitch.
So, he makes mistakes.
Or rather, Crane makes mistakes trying to enact his policies and he has Crane murdered. Katniss unhelpfully refuses to die, and the Capitol's hypocrisy is made loud and clear by changing the rules at the last minute and then changing them back:
ANNOUNCER: Attention. Attention Tributes. There has been a slight rule change. The previous provision allowing for two victors from the same District has been revoked. Only one victor may be crowned. Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor.
Suddenly, what was supposed to reinforce his power has created a girl who presents a danger to it; there's nothing Snow can do about it.
If this was a less classy movie, he'd be slinking away at the end like Snidely Whiplash, muttering, "Curses! Foiled again."
Instead, the look on his face says it all.
Haymitch Abernathy is a drunk.
He spends most of the movie inebriated, and when people take his booze away from him, he gets downright violent. Yet he's Peeta and Effie's advisor, being the only other person from District 12 who ever won the Hunger Games. As much as they don't like him, they have to trust him.
Why? In addition to being a survivor, he's a celebrity to the people in the Capitol. He can lobby the rich and powerful to send goodies to Peeta and Katniss. That can be the difference between life and death in the arena, and having been through it himself, he knows how important those goodies can be.
Initially, Haymitch looks like an alcoholic nitwit who cares only for the next bottle he's about to guzzle down:
KATNISS: So, why are you here, then?
HAYMITCH: Oh. The refreshments.
No mention of, you know, helping the kids who are about to go to slaughter? Not a great look, Haymitch. Having said that, we're inclined to cut old Haymitch a little slack. After all, he's been doing this ever since he won the Hunger Games himself, and every year he gets to meet two nice young people who subsequently die horribly within a few days.
Every. Single. Year.
That can wear on a guy, but because he's obligated to do this, he has to deal with it over and over again. So yeah, he drinks. We can't condone it, but we can at least see where he's coming from.
This time, though, Haymitch sees a glimmer of a chance in these two. (Or maybe he does it with every District 12 Tribute, we may never know.) He pushes them harder to earn sponsors, to behave in ways that draw their attention, and to otherwise do everything they can to make it through the Games.
He knows how to do this because he's played the game for years. Appearance is everything in this world, and being memorable is often more important than being tough. Look, for example, at the advice he gives Katniss on impressing the judges:
HAYMITCH: I don't know how else to put this: Make sure they remember you.
Then later, when Peeta confesses his love for Katniss on live TV, Haymitch jumps on it even though Katniss doesn't like the idea at all. Why?
HAYMITCH: Now I can sell the star-crossed lovers from District 12.
KATNISS: We are NOT star-crossed lovers.
HAYMITCH: It's a television show, and being in love with that boy might just get you sponsors which could save your damn life.
He's actually talking about power here. Katniss and Peeta are victims of this system: sent off against their will to battle to the death against Captain Steroids and the other killbots from Districts 1 and 2. As such, there's not a lot they can do about their situation. But if they can stand out on television, they become celebrities, and fame can get them the things they need.
No one knows how to play this game better than Haymitch, and he works overtime at it. It's a sick game, but he can play it with the best of them. As a result, Katniss gets some goodies that end up saving her life. While Haymitch may be an unbelievable pain in the butt, he's also perhaps their biggest ally in the Capitol.
That said…seriously dude, stick to iced tea.
Caesar is an enemy who seems like a friend. Effie is a friend who looks for all the world like an enemy. One look at that Purple People Eater number she's wearing and we know whose side she apparently serves. At first glance, we wouldn't trust Effie any farther than we could throw her, even if she switched into a more aerodynamic dress.
Certainly, she seems that way in the beginning, when she puts on the Capitol's biggest, phoniest smile in an attempt to cheer up the crowd who gets to sacrifice one of their kids to the beast.
EFFIE: Welcome! Welcome, welcome. Happy Hunger Games, and may the odds be ever in your favor. Now, before we begin, we have a very special film brought to you all the way from the Capitol.
It's every cliché about the Capitol writ large: she's shallow, preening, and trying really hard to get a conquered people to enjoy their enslavement. She even embodies the hypocrisy of the Capitol, which puts a lot of value on decorum and very little on, you know, setting children loose to slaughter each other.
EFFIE: How about it's just bad manners, Cinna? How about THAT?
But at the same time, there's something quietly vulnerable about Effie, and as it turns out, she has Katniss's best interests in mind more than you might think. Listen to her try to help Katniss and Peeta look on the bright side as they sit on the luxury train taking them to the capital:
EFFIE: I think it's one of the wonderful things about this opportunity, that even though you're here and even though it's just for a little while, you get to enjoy all of this.
Clueless, but an attempt.
That continues as she tries to help Katniss make a good presentation in the Capitol, perhaps even earning Katniss some sponsors that can contribute life-saving supplies in the Games themselves. In that sense, Effie's actually quite valuable to Katniss. Her put-a-happy-face-on-everything approach may clash with Katniss's instinctive willingness to stick it to the Man, but it also helps Katniss to make an impression so that the Capitol can't help but sit up and take notice.
To accomplish all that, you need a social butterfly second to none. And as the saga goes on (Spoiler Alert) Effie goes from being a flighty little twit to someone Katniss can depend upon in the most surprising ways. At this point, we see her aligning very quietly with Katniss and Peeta. While her talents may seem frivolous, they do a lot to help the Tributes navigate their way through the dangerous days leading up to the Games.
Cinna's special in ways that have nothing to do with being played by a rock star. His first words to Katniss are "I'm sorry this happened to you," the first time anyone from the Capitol really acknowledges the terrible fate that will almost certainly befall her.
Unlike Effie and Haymitch, who are wrapped up in their own little worlds, Cinna is on Katniss's side from the beginning. He goes above and beyond to help her feel like she has a friend in this upside-down world.
Cinna's a costume designer, and he handles everything associated with Katniss's look. He's the one who comes up with the dress that seems to burn, which helps give her the catchy nickname "The Girl on Fire." He also helps show Katniss how appearance and posturing are very important in this world, and that he does what he does for her benefit.
CINNA: Did they explain about trying to get sponsors?
KATNISS: Yeah, but I'm not very good at making friends.
CINNA: We'll see.
It starts with his tone, which is kind and gentle no matter what's going on. He makes it very clear that he's here to help Katniss. Unlike Effie or Haymitch, he doesn't treat her like some rube out of the sticks. He explains things patiently to her as a smart woman in a new environment who can pick up on the game with enough of a road map:
KATNISS: So you're here to make me look pretty.
CINNA: I'm here to help you make an impression.
He's good with the flash and sizzle, and in those early days before the actual bloodletting starts, she needs his expertise on her side.
But beyond the good advice, there's the sense that he genuinely likes Katniss. Effie treats her like a problem to be managed, while Haymitch clearly wants to avoid getting too close before her almost certain death in the arena. But Cinna? He treats her like someone he'd like to hang out and play music with were they to meet in some other circumstances. That gives him one last little boost to send her way: a little vote of confidence before she steps into the arena.
CINNA: I'm not allowed to bet, but if I could, I'd bet on you.
That's a true bud, that is. As if he weren't awesome enough, he somehow got his hands on that mockingjay pin that Prim gave to her sister when she volunteered for the Games. He gives it to Katniss right before she gets sent off to the kill zone. Political revolutions get started with such gestures…but that's getting ahead of ourselves. For now, it's enough to know that this guy really cares about her.
And even better, he becomes a mentor as cool as… well, as cool as a rock star showing up for a key part in the movie version of your favorite book.
Caesar Flickerman is played by a set of gleaming capped teeth wearing Stanley Tucci.
This is by design. There's no game-show host so phony, no talk-show diva so over-the-top, no television personality so perfectly able to distract people from the real problem as Flickerman.
Caesar's a combination of Oprah Winfrey, Howard Cosell, and Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister who perfected the phrase "lie big and lie often". Caesar's the guy who comes on TV to make sure everyone hears that lie from a friendly guy.
We rarely see Caesar when there aren't cameras on him, so it's hard to tell who the real guy is. But watch how his smile rises and falls when he first steps into the spotlight: how fake and plastic it looks. He speaks like a commercial spokesman, and all of his emotions are exaggerated for the camera.
That's how he is all the time. There's nothing authentic or genuine about him. He's a living mannequin designed to be propped up in front of the camera, give the ruling authority someone friendly and smiling to get the masses to turn off their brains. He'll basically parrot every little bit of propaganda placed in front of his telegenic nose.
"But he seems like such a nice guy!" we can hear some people saying. And sure, he seems like a semi-decent sort… no worse than, say, Effie for example.
But it's precisely because he seems so nice that makes him so dangerous. Think about it: this is a guy who interviews 24 young people as if they were the biggest stars in the world, never mentioning that 23 of them are going to be killed in the next few days.
And oh yeah, who's going to be doing the play-by-play on all of that? Right. This grinning weasel.
CAESAR: And what did you say to her in the end?
KATNISS: I told her that I would try to win. That I would try to win for her.
CAESAR: Of course you did. And try you will.
That's cold-blooded, man.
But that's Caesar's job. Not only must he to the Tributes—making them feel special and loved as they're dolled up before their near-certain executions—but he sets the whole of Panem at ease by assuring them that this is all necessary and normal. "Forget how hungry you are or how few rights you have. Just be sure to root for your favorite Tribute as they battle each other to the death!" It's a slick trick and Caesar pulls it off with the best: an object demonstration of why the nice man on television may not be so nice after all.
Not that there's anyone in the real world who does the same thing…
Rue's a little girl like Primrose, who didn't have a big sister looking after her. Oh, the other boy from her District looks out for her in the arena, but it's clear that she's on her own and in over her head.
That said, Rue's got her share of skills, like hiding and using the trees to move around. Katniss copies Rue during her early days in the arena. Rue also knows a winner when she sees one, which makes her latch on to Katniss and even watch over her after she's knocked out by the tracker jackers. That makes her not only a stand-in for Prim, but a pretty decent sidekick to Katniss in her own right.
Naturally she's killed, by one of those psychotic Careers no less, which introduces us to her second big purpose in the story: martyr. Again, more specific details need to wait for later movies, but for now, it's enough to know that Katniss tried to protect Rue and couldn't. She's going to blame somebody for that—possibly the whole system Rue's killer represents—and it's going to get ugly.
Poor little Rue plays her part and has to go, but Katniss needs a little more than that to accept her death. She wants justice…and from those feelings, mighty revolutions begin.
In some ways, Primrose is just a MacGuffin: a device used to move the plot forward instead of a character in and of herself. Katniss has guarded Primrose ever since their father died, and when little sister is chosen in the Games, Katniss leaps to her defense.
There's not much to her in this first movie, except that she's kind-hearted and good. (Witness her keeping a cat alive and fed in the midst of starvation conditions.) She's also terrified of the outside world, which Katniss resolves to save her from.
Beyond that, though, she more a source of motivation than an actual character, which is why we don't see much of her once Katniss volunteers.
When Katniss lost her father, she dug in tighter. Her mother, on the other hand, just kind of gave up on life. She stopped doing those little mom things that make such a difference, like feeding her children on a regular basis. That forced Katniss to grow up in a hurry, which might have given her the toughness she needed to survive in the Games.
Like Primrose, Katniss's mom works better as a way of explaining who Katniss is rather than being a stand-alone character herself. But she's worth noting because of who she helps Katniss become (however accidentally) and where that causes the story to go.
Led by future-world Hitler Youth club president Cato (Alexander Ludwig), the Careers are the biggest threat to our heroes in the arena. They come from District 1 and 2, where (as Haymitch's helpful plot exposition tells us) they play to win.
HAYMITCH: He's a Career. You know what that is?
KATNISS: From District 1.
HAYMITCH: And 2. They train in a special academy until they're eighteen, then they volunteer. By that point, they're pretty lethal.
That's really all we need to know about them. The rest we can see by their behavior: Cato's intimidation of some poor schlub during training, for instance, or the very existence of Clove (Isabelle Fuhrman), who seems to have honed her Skunk Eye to lethal proportions.
Their ranks also include Glimmer (Leven Rambin), mean girl of mean girls, and her partner Marvel (Jack Quaid) who's got this unsettling spear thing going. He's the guy who kills Rue, which turns out to be a very bad move for him. They're joined by a young kid from District 3 (never named, but played by Ian Nelson), who basically stays with them to keep from dying. Peeta forms a pseudo-alliance with them for the same reasons, though he proves to be more loyal to his would-be sweetie Katniss than the thugs he's surrounded himself with.
Anyone who's ever been on an elementary school playground can spot their swagger a mile away. They're bullies, and the arena is just their personal mosh pit.
But in the end, that's all they are. Like bullies, they can be dangerous if you don't stand up to them, but like bullies, their power is still very petty and small. They're still sacrifices in the arena. While they talk tough as a group, sooner or later they're going to end up killing each other. The real villain is Snow, and like all good minions, the Careers are only there to live and die at his command.
That said, we still don't feel for them. They called the tune, they get to pay the piper.
We don't see a whole lot of the other Tributes, since most of this comes from Katniss's point of view. If she's not running from them or trying to protect them, they really don't enter into her worldview. But with 24 Tributes, there's apt to be a number who kind of slip through the cracks. The Careers number four, and Katniss, Peeta and Rue make seven.
Of the remaining 14 Tributes, only two of them actually have names. Most of the rest die in the opening bloodbath, and the rest get picked off off-screen. And those two? We've got a quick breakdown right here:
Thresh (Dayo Okeniyi): Rue's male counterpart from District 11. Thresh is a lot bigger and stronger than Rue, and apparently has the chops to get deep into the Games. We don't know exactly how he gets killed— by Cato? Torn apart by the dogs? Maybe lightning?— but he makes it to the top 5 at least, so he's clearly got what it takes.
Foxface (Jaqueline Emerson): That's not her actual name, but rather a nickname Katniss gives her to provide some personality to her. She's small and pointy and does a lot of darting, so the name fits. Like Thresh, Foxface ends up going deep into the Games, and is one of the last Tributes to be killed. Unlike Thresh, she does it mainly by hiding, foraging for edible plants, and keeping out of everyone's way. She's really good at it. In fact, if she hadn't stumbled across those poison berries, she might have still been hiding when our heroes finished off Cato, leaving them with the ugly dilemma of having to kill her if they wanted to survive.