Home > Film, Politics, Reviews > Film Review – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2

Film Review – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 (2015; Directed by Francis Lawrence)

The concluding chapter of the four-film screen version of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, like the subsequent three films, is at once telegraphed and unpredictable in its narrative movements, simultaneously rote and shifting in its themes, metaphors, and ideological implications. It brings the twin struggles of its heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), to closure: her single-minded quest to overthrow and perhaps kill her nation of Panem’s debonair but cruel President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and his savvily oppressive regime, and her relationship dilemma between the stalwart man of action Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) and the sensitive, PTSD-afflicted fellow veteran of the titular Games Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). These struggles may seem separate but the concluding part of Mockingjay suggests that they are subtly entwined.

Mockingjay, Part 2 picks up almost exactly where Part 1 left off, with Peeta quarantined by the rebels with a nasty case of anti-Katniss brainwashing following his recapture from confinement by Snow’s forces in the Capitol. The rebels, led by putative President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and contemplative strategist Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died before the completion of filming, necessitating some subtle finessing of his character’s role in the story’s closing developments), continue their hard-fought but inexorable advance on the Capitol and continue to deploy Katniss as the Mockingjay, a potent propaganda symbol of the defiant resistance to the Snow World Order. Coin reconsiders the value of the Mockingjay’s increasing proximity to the dangers of the front when Katniss is shot after delivering a rousing off-the-cuff anti-Snow speech to his captured partisans, but the irrepressible Katniss serves no master and smuggles herself onto a ship into the bombed-out Capitol to pursue her anti-Snow vendetta.

But Coin pushes back in the contest to control the Mockingjay, sending in a “Star Squad” of Games Victors and other war heroes to wrangle Katniss and follow the advance through the streets of the Capitol at a safe distance, filming those ever-popular propos to inspire the masses. Gale is there, as is the trident-wielding Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and, for reasons that are never adequately explained in the film at least, the shell-shocked and unpredictable Peeta. Their movements are only so “safe”, though, since the city is blanketed in deadly booby-traps which only get thicker closer to the presidential palace, Snow’s location and Katniss’ personal target. Despite experienced officers as escorts and a device that displays the locations of all of the traps (that the rebels know of, at least), the challenge carries a definite resemblance to a certain popular televised violent competition that Katniss is all too familiar with, and Finnick for one cannot allow the resemblance to pass without very literal comment.

Predictably, this over-elaborate shoot on location goes terribly awry at basically the first sign of danger. With the squad shrinking and enemies from Peacekeepers to zombie-like “mutts” hot on their trail, Katniss races to her own assassination mission against all odds, struggling with her shifting feelings for Gale and Peeta as she goes. As the rebels’ tactics in defeating the Capitol become as brutal as those of the forces they are rebelling against, a gestating choice between Snow and Coin comes into focus for Katniss, mirroring in many ways that between Gale and Peeta. Neither dialectic can be resolved without great sacrifice, and although it’s no great spoiler to state that both are resolved pretty much as any astute viewer would predict, genuine spoilers are necessary to unpack their implications, such as they are. If somehow anyone has escaped the conclusion of this generational text and is interested enough to still be reading about it, they should read no further if they wish to stay green to the final developments of the narrative.

Katniss’ closing choices of The Hunger Games are as follows: she kills the increasingly dictatorial Coin, who has just stated her intention of continuing to run the Games which are both the symbolic and real engine of the Capitol’s oppression of the Districts, instead of the due-to-be-executed Snow, whom she allows to be torn apart by an angry mob; and she rejects Gale, who is steadily climbing the military order of the new regime and may have had a hand in some of its galvanizing horrors, to retire from public life to her home in District 12 and start a family in an idyllic rural setting with Peeta.

Certainly, these choices are linked, reflecting Katniss’ desire not to be controlled, not to be a pawn in a larger game of power and death as she has valiantly resisted being since volunteering for the Games. I wrote in my review of the first film about how the iron-fisted government of Snow is a synthesis of various real-world authoritarian states and image-centric, celebrity-obsessed capitalist mass media, deployed by Collins as an introductory primer for her teenaged audience that likewise feeds into their personal resentments against the domestic and quotidian authorities controlling their lives until (and perhaps into) adulthood. Surely, somewhere in America, a sullen teen has shouted, “You’re worse than Coriolanus Snow!” at the parent telling them that they cannot meet their friends at the mall until they finish their homework. That parent may have been confused at the connection.

But the personal and the political are tightly linked in The Hunger Games, especially for its revolutionary heroine. Katniss Everdeen is only interested in the wider politics of Panem insofar as they threaten her safety and the safety of those she cares for. There are many minor casting miracles in these films (Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Hoffman and Sutherland, even Lenny freakin’ Kravitz) but the greatest, Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, focuses her character’s personal investments like a laser beam. Her image is manipulated repeatedly by both Snow and Coin for their own ends, but she is always turning those manipulations to her advantage, using them to achieve her goals. Herein lies her truly revolutionary nature, in the manner by which institutions try to direct her identity and she allows them to feel that they are while quietly employing her appearances as a public figure to set their trajectory on her preferred path. Katniss’ thought process as she makes her fateful choices is ever-discernible in Lawrence’s face, the mark of a fine actor.

Ultimately, Katniss acts politically towards personal ends, aiding the effort to overthrow Snow’s fascists but also cutting off Coin’s potential fascism before it can take hold so that her own humble denouement dream of a peaceful family life is protected. Likewise, Gale’s strength in the heat of battle inures him to the empathy that drives Katniss and thus makes him complicit in atrocities, while the weakness and sensitivity of Peeta, who is no warrior and often a burden in dangerous situations, is precisely what recommends him to Katniss as an ideal life partner. Thus, Katniss does not make two choices in the final act of Mockingjay, Part 2. She makes one.

The ideological valences of Collins’ books and the uniformly solid and occasionally stylish movies that have resulted from them have been hotly debated, with partisans right and left claiming that The Hunger Games buttresses their political edifice at the expense of that of their opposite. But Collins’ thesis is not spectrumized and holds no party membership. In a contemporary America where politics are invariably and often destructively personal, where strength and power are consistently and unproblematically considered to be two sides of the same (Alma) Coin, Collins suggests that we try to take a Katniss Everdeen approach and allow an inspired empathy to direct the machinations of the powerful. A quiet revolution of feeling. Righteous sensitivity. The Hunger Games is often extremely heavy-handed in its themes, but this one infuses the films with a sunny glow that suffuses its final moments with a saturating warmth. America may not be able to return to a peaceful paradise as Katniss and Peeta do, but their oasis of empathy can surely lend a lost, fragmented union an ember or two to warm its cold hands.

Categories: Film, Politics, Reviews
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: