The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014)

This review contains spoilers of a film currently in theaters

Director: Francis Lawrence

The third film of the Hunger Games series was recently released in theaters and has continued the conversation about the nature of political repression and resistance. Like the previous two films, this story deals with the oppression of the “districts” by the powerful Capitol, which had used a yearly violent “hunger games” event where each district had to pay a “tribute” of two citizens to fight to the death in a battle royale that was broadcast across the country. The previous film ended with a plot by some of the tributes in concert with a resistance movement to destroy the arena during the broadcast of the games. This destruction of the arena launched a revolution throughout the districts against the Capitol and is what sets the stage for this film.

The leader of the revolution gives a speech

The leader of the revolution gives a speech

Mockingjay Part 1 begins shortly after the previous film’s end. Instead of focusing on the larger society of this universe, most of the time we spend in this film is focused on the resistance movement that is leading a revolution against the Capitol, along with the ruins of the districts that the Capitol has violently destroyed. The main character, Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence) continues her role as the symbol of the resistance as she had in the previous films. The main difference in this film however is that the revolution was actively under way while in the previous film it was merely being anticipated. Katniss continues to be a unwilling hero and is constantly reluctant to help the resistance, often allowing her personal issues to get in the way of her dedication to the broader cause. For example, her partner from the games Peeta Mellark has been taken hostage by the Capitol and is being used to produce propaganda against the revolutionaries. She feels that he is being forced to denounce the revolution, but she becomes more concerned with saving him from his captors than trying to combat the propaganda that the Capitol has put out against the revolution. The revolutionary leaders are eager to have Katniss begin producing propaganda against the Capitol, as she is already a symbol for the revolution. While she does reluctantly agree, she adds the condition that Peeta (and other tributes) be freed and pardoned for their propaganda against the revolution. This decision upsets many of the revolutionaries but the compromise is made.

This personal motivation of hers is often portrayed as being more important to her than fighting the Capitol, until she is later shown first hand the destruction of her home district, which is when she begins to develop an even deeper opposition to the Capitol’s growing war against the districts. Once she begins to see the destructive nature of the Capitol, Katniss eventually comes around to helping the revolutionaries to a greater extent, but her motivation constantly remains highly personal and individualized. The other revolutionaries are sometimes frustrated by her selfishness and the film does a good job at portraying it as a major struggle between her and her comrades, a sort of critique of personal motivation in a time where great discipline is needed. While Katniss does eventually come around to supporting the revolution, her reluctance shows that she needed to learn to subvert her own interests to the interests of the broader movement. Although it is questionable how temporary her devotion is considering that her main goal remains rescuing Peeta.

Katniss speaks with the President of the Capitol

Katniss speaks with the President of the Capitol

The contrast between her personal motivation and the more collective mindset of the revolutionary movement is highlighted by the aesthetic portrayal of the resistance. The conditions that the revolutionaries live in resemble a sort of Ninteen Eighty Four type of society, where everyone wears the same jump suit, a military discipline is required from everyone, and goods and services are scarce. This way of portraying the resistance is an interesting choice that does not come off as a simple critique of their creeping authoritarian tendencies, but rather we are still meant to sympathize with the movement and see the necessity for that kind of discipline considering their conditions. Each film so far has had a different take on Panem (the fictional North American country in which the films take place). The first film focused on theĀ  consumerist and joyous character of the Capitol, the second film had a different take on the Capitol that portrayed it as a Fascist society with military parades inspired by Triumph of the Will, and this film focused instead of the seemingly militaristic society that was attempting to overthrow the Capitol’s rule. While this film does not try to make obvious moralistic statements about how the resistance is structured, there seem to be no implied critiques of how they have conducted themselves up to this point, and their ability to fight the Capitol seems to be justification enough for why they exist in the form they do. The brutality of the Capitol is made clear in all three films, so there is not much room for critiquing the way the revolutionaries have waged their war so far.

The dystopian dining hall of the resistance

The dystopian dining hall of the resistance

The film spent a lot of time dealing with the production of propaganda by the revolutionaries instead of focusing on Hollywood style military battles between the good guys and the bad guys. Both the Capitol and the revolutionary movement focus much of their efforts on trying to win a media war against each other, with Peeta being used by the Capitol to discredit the revolutionaries, and Katniss being used to spread the revolutionary message. Unlike most major films however, propaganda is not seen as an inherently negative or dishonest endeavor but rather just another tool of conflict.

Like the previous films, Mockingjay continues to be a film about revolt and subversion of an oppressive system. It is to a large extent a vague struggle between the “good” heroes and the “evil” oppressors which leaves room for much interpretation. This vagueness will allow commentators from both the Left and the Right to claim it as promoting their message. The way in which the resistance is portrayed and the nature of political propaganda complicate the good/evil dichotomy to an extent and show that struggles against oppression can be complicated even in a world like the one depicted in the Hunger Games.