By Dan Stout
In the final installment of the Hunger Games films, Mockingjay Part 2, Katniss and Peeta intermittently ask each other, “Real or not real?” In the gloomy shadows of ruinous and rank devastation, the world’s survival depends on their bravery. But, in this futuristic labyrinth of crumbling buildings and smoky skies, is it an actual civilization or a hologram? Do global news videos present actual events or simulations? Stripping away sufficient action and romantic scenes, we’re left with a dominant question: Is discernment between good and evil more difficult in a time when power-brokers craftily attempt to duplicate each through technology?
The story invokes messages of Moroni in Mormon Chapter Eight; burying the plates, he describes “great pollutions upon the face of the earth” as well as “lying, and deceivings” in the day they’re unearthed. Some LDS will glean a clearer glimpse of such deceptions in Mockingjay Part 2.
Based on the bestselling Hunger Games trilogy of teen novels (e.g., Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay), Mockingjay Part 2 is the last of the film versions. No novel in the genre has sold more copies on Amazon, not even Harry Potter. Author Suzanne Collins’ global government, Panem, is divided into 12 poverty-stricken districts ruled by black-hearted, yet somehow likable Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland). Distracting citizens from their agony, the hunger games pit two adolescents from each district in a fight to the death broadcast live throughout the world.
The first two movies combine impending doom of the gladiator arena with the incongruent jollity of a game show wingding hosted by ultra-flamboyant Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci); his purple doo shines in the camera lights and midnight blue suit flashes with tiny lights. Protagonist Katniss Aberdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) not only wins, but prevails as a universal icon and heroine. Ultimately, she escapes the system, joining a rebel army led by the competent leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore). At this point, Mockingjay Part 2 begins, obligated to reveal the world’s fate and wrap up the four-part movie potboiler.
Strikingly different from the earlier “games” films, this one’s less dependent on action and spectacle. Will Katniss defeat Snow, and restore order to a crippled civilization? We want to know, but the question doesn’t deliver the same dramatic tension of the early works. The purpose of MJay 2 is to explain things, or at least offer philosophical lines leading to deeper understanding of how advanced society can revert to barbarianism and fascist ideals. Teens can only take so much running and shooting; inevitably they want something to take away.
Spoiler Alert for this Paragraph: That “something” rests in the “real or not real” motif resurfacing in the climactic scene: Katniss aims her arrow at President Snow, the world having been reclaimed by the rebels; peace is restored. In a jubilant “symbolic Hunger Games,” newly installed President Coyle stands deified above the arena. Katniss draws her bow, recalling subtle warnings about Coyle’s ulterior motives. She knows more about this malevolence than we audience members, so in a culminating second Katniss shoots Coyle to our amazement and disappointment, leaving Snow to be dismembered by the masses.
During this scene, I unexpectedly returned to Moroni’s phrase, “great pollutions upon the land,” but with the newfound idea that it’s about moral pollution as much as air and water contamination. Beyond Katniss’ affinity for competition and survival, is her discernment of the heart or moral intelligence; the capacity to uncover frauds in disguise. In a day when dubious politicians attain positions of power, what ability is more important than spotting a cretin posing as a noble chief?
MJay 2 is an idea movie–not a luminous work despite strenuous efforts to be profound–as when Peeta tells Katniss: “Anyone can kill anyone. You just have to be willing to sacrifice yourself.” Didactic and stilted dialogue nearly curtails its thought-provoking quality, and the pace of the first half is lethargic; it won’t be numbered among this year’s best, although many fans will resonate with the ending’s clarity and closure, especially (Spoiler Alert to the End of the Sentence) Katniss and Peetah’s marriage and subsequent family.
A movie is more than the sum of its parts, however, and MJay 2 is a trove of ideas for wolves-in-sheep’s-clothing discussions that are presently pertinent. Likewise, there are illustrations for media ethicists warning about the “real” or “not real” dimensions of information technology. Is it moral to alter news video? How effective are digitally modified images in swaying public opinion? In MJay 2 the political mood in Panem is easily swayed by a creative synthesis of authentic and simulated battle victories. Are ethical codes in place to thwart such possibilities in our age? Or, at the very least, are we seriously talking about these issues? If MJay 2 moves us in that direction, it will be well worth the price of admission.