Revisiting ‘Mockingjay Part 1’ and Katniss Everdeen’s Relevance in our Current Climate of Protest

A still from 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1'. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) stands in a room in a crowd of people, they are all impoverished looking, in contrast to Katniss' military style garb and arrows strapped on her back. They are all giving her the Mockingjay salute in solidarity with her as the face of the rebellion.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; The centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming

William Butler Yeats’ impassioned, prescient verse in ‘The Second Coming’ immortalised dynamics of a moral apocalypse in the wake of WW1. Back then, he had an eye on spiritual revival of a leadership which could humanly substitute The Chosen One’s (Jesus Christ/God/religion) role by way of polity and society collectively. Predictably, his eloquence has gone down in history as a clarion call for all generations battling exclusivity of elitist dominion. There’s a potent, timeless reason behind harking back to an idea laid down in urgent written context a century ago and collating it with The Hunger Games‘ central riff about a future in doldrums. It’s like a mantra for our times as the post-modern era demands emergence of strong-willed personalities, not a Biblical hero with divine powers like Christ the Redeemer. It’s practical that way too. Who better to exemplify that substantive leonine grace than the series’ very own Katniss Everdeen?

So the stage is set for her showdown with sticklers of exploitative authority, in this third screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ engrossing allegory. Helmed by music video savant Francis Lawrence whose revolutionary thump in Beyonce’s ‘Run The World (Girls)’ and Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’ played with the rules, Mockingjay possesses the restorative power of his visual style, in keeping with the futuristic tale at hand. Looking back, it was mankind’s wretched hands which wreaked havoc on all ‘districts’ piping their voice against winds of injustice in the first installment, culminating in an annual ‘Hunger Games’ where man went against man to earn their survival. Everdeen, played with a seasoned sensibility by Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, raised victory flags in the groundbreaking first film and eventually tasted the fruits of her labour in the all-star ‘Reaping’ of its sophomore success Catching Fire.

A still from 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1'. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) stands with her arm raised, held in the air by Alma Coin (Julianne Moore). Both women wear grey boilersuits and are shown here in a mid shot. Katniss' shoulder length brown hair is shown here down, different from its usual braid.

Her fate sealed with a crown of thorns on her head, there are staggering stakes for her to uphold in Mockingjay. It’s a pattern that hardly calls for novelty and Everdeen’s appeal had already been committed to capturing the wrecking ball swinging back and forth between her dissenting sense of righteousness and the capitalist technocrats’ free will that could make or break her. This edition is then predictably pegged on those points. But a fresh lease of life is bursting at the seams for all spirited citizens. Their cause for equality is their ultimate collective source of salvation. In Everdeen, now made to outgrow her teenage ways —a feat Jennifer has especially performed ably ever since her breakout turns in The Burning Plain and Winter’s Bone— citizens of the Districts now see the ‘Earth Mother’ whose natural allegiance to her environment and elements of rebuke spurs them on to recast themselves as bravehearts and active rebels. It is because the duplicity of promise with victory makes them strike at the very roots of The Capitol, held in the firm grips of President Snow’s (a priceless Donald Sutherland) smouldering villainy.

A consortium of avenging angels, led by Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman, hence prevails over the public conscience, beseeching a rejected civilization to go forward and come out from its shadows. For this, they enlist Everdeen’s aid and reciprocal compliance on her part jumpstarts a movement like none other before it. That said, this mutiny comes with a price; internal aggression is met with sharper external forces of death and destruction.

I have always maintained the fact that The Hunger Games‘ kaleidoscopic manoeuvres of war-time distress, politics, media blitzkrieg, voyeurism and personal becoming public is ingenuous and has so far been handled with an urgent, electric charge. However, while the first film went for a hushed template, Mockingjay upgrades Catching Fire’s frenzy for an effective outcome. As Everdeen rallies her troops, she encounters personal turbulence which is all too evident. Her reaping partner and soulmate Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) has now been turned into a warrior beaten down by vagaries of this protracted double-edged battle. His innocence is damaged by toxic mental indoctrination practiced by the Capital’s smooth operators. Torn on all sides with her courage serving as both her talisman and ticking bomb, she has to protect her family, cohorts and largely sound the last knell for victorious humanity. She does all this while being thrust into the middle of a vociferous media campaign, echoing our 24/7 news-making and political propaganda.

A still from 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1'. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) stands in a demolished war zone with Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Both are wearing military gear, Katniss is aiming her bow at an off-screen target, Gale is pointing his crowwbow in the same direction.

As she challenges her detractors’ might from the torrid platform of ground zero, stretching the limits of her country’s future with her bow and arrow to boot, a contemplative, practical eye informs us of the impossible ends of her ideals. A moment of a dam being flooded by the rebels is striking. As is the moment where she watches with horror at her district being ravaged and ashen with last traces of life, or when a hospital full of wounded patients is bombed, echoing several images of war zones scattered around the world in our present day. All this is juxtaposed with high- octane action set-pieces present throughout the script that rely on the physicality of the people and their minds.

The best part about Mockingjay is that all the performers refrain from play-acting their burning desires. The perfect ensemble cast is a key aspect for uplifting this material from a point of factual earnestness to that of conviction. It comes with no basic negatives though its linearity of purpose may cut down its grip on absolute merit.

With a topical theme with noble intentions and an accomplished directorial bravado, the third and penultimate film of the Hunger Games franchise is an indictment of our society’s trajectory towards annihilation and a passionate cry for freedom. For me personally, it is relevant in how its angry spirit seems to particularly reflect our moods in a world of protests post George Floyd’s death. Also, before the futuristic prophecy of The Handmaid’s Tale became our cultural token, it was The Hunger Games that made the idea of a dystopian tomorrow accessible to its young adult audience. While the Puritanical/Biblical diktats get pronounced in The Handmaid’s Tale, here it is hauntingly futuristic as sort of a retro tone is reverse-engineered, like a ghoulish Tim Burton vision given real traction. Ultimately, Mockingjay Part 1 creates realistic stakes for its progress.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is available to stream on Amazon Prime

by Prithvijeet Sinha

Prithvijeet Sinha is from Lucknow, India. A regular contributor to Screen Queens, he lives for the beauty of poetry in moving images and translates them into stirring writings in verse and prose. He is also a dedicated cinephile. 

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