One of the best science-fiction franchises in recent history comes to its melancholy conclusion in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2. If you thought this series was going to end triumphantly, you haven’t been paying attention. This story is set in a world where everyone has been okay with the ritualized slaughtering of children for the past 70 years, and the “good guys” freely refer to their moral-boosting media spots as “propos,” short for propaganda, indicating they are willing to manipulate the masses by any means necessary. Happiness in Panem comes in the smallest of doses. No wonder so many former Hunger Games victors are hooked on morphine.
This final entry in the series picks up immediately where the first part of this film left off. Peeta is intent on killing Katniss, and Katniss is intent on killing President Snow. Katniss and a team of highly trained soldiers set off through the booby-trapped capitol to kill Snow, discovering more and more disturbing things about this war and their part in it along the way. Mockingjay, Part 2 is terrifying in moments and tragic in others. Every once in a while, it’s touching too. Cinematically, it’s a fine end to this fine film series.
To The Hunger Games series’ credit—and this applies to both the books and the films—Suzanne Collins and the filmmakers who adapted her story for the screen take this dystopian world to its logical ends. Unlike in so many other film series, none of the characters’ actions ever seem contrived. Everyone does what a person like them would do in this situation in order to survive. The actors portraying these characters are all good, but they are all helped considerably by the logic of their character arcs. The performances ring true in large part because the characterization is true.
This strict adherence to character and narrative logic gives the series, and especially this final film, the feeling of clockwork. Katniss, her family, friends, colleagues, and even her enemies are all pawns in a system that none of them had a hand in creating. There is little they can do to escape it. Their fates seem predetermined by the system itself. Katniss’ rebellion against the system and the way it uses people is the driving force of the narrative. The cinematic narrative rebels as well, using juxtaposed shots to turn happy moments (like wedding dances) into sad ones and victims (like little girls on their mothers’ shoulders fleeing in terror) into enemis and back into co-victims with Katniss and her crew agin. Mockingjay, Part 2 always keeps the underlying assertion of the series in focus – that everything and everyone are victims in a system ruled by cycles of violence.
Watching Katniss figure out how to get people to step outside their natural roles in that cycle and consider what they are doing and how everything could be different becomes the most compelling aspect of the series, far outmatching any easily marketable love triangle. That love triangle becomes a joke in this movie, thankfully, as there are much more pressing concerns for Katniss, her beaus, the citizens of Panem, and the audience if we’re paying attention.
Are we locked in a cycle of fear of each other and violent response? If so, how can we break the cycle as a global society and as individuals? Katniss endures remarkable sacrifice for her efforts to break that cycle. Her rewards are few. Are we willing to risk what she risks for so little reward in this life?
There are SPOILERS in these final paragraphs. Consider reading them after you see the film.
A closing scene offers her and us solace. The scene itself contrasts with the rest of the narrative both cinematically—lighting, color saturation, musically—and tonally—it is puckeringly sentimental. It’s also the one time in the series in which we jump dramatically through time. The longest previous jump was less than a year at the most between the first and second films. It’s similar to the “Nineteen Years Later” epilogue on the Harry Potter series, but here, the filmmakers didn’t attempt to age the actors, and there’s not even a hint of time-shift implications for the other characters in the series.
I see this scene as a sort of beatific vision, a dream Katniss experiences about what good the future could hold as she sleeps held in Peeta’s arms, who she can finally allow herself to love. She talks about dreams in this scene and how to have better ones. She also looks directly at us during this scene as if to ask us what kind of future we desire, one like we’re seeing in that moment or the one we’ve seen in the previous four films. This closing scene offers the same challenge the rest of the series has offered us – will we allow the darkness to rule us or the light? What dreams will we share with our children? What dreams will we allow to guide us? Will we merely hope the odds are in our favor, or will we, like Katniss, step up and take control of the game no matter the cost?
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