Mockingjay Part 2: Empires and Scapegoats
When I first heard that the last book of The Hunger Games series was going to be split into two movies, as is all the rage these days, I didn’t like the idea very much. It wasn’t even my favourite book of the series (that would be Catching Fire). But seeing how they handled the two movies differently I began to appreciate it. The first primarily dealt with the role of media in propaganda, holding up empires by convincing the average person to fight on their behalf. Part 2 was much more action-packed but dealt with a couple different angles on the broader themes of the series: the nature of empire and the scapegoat desire.
Spoilers will follow.
One Empire for Another
It would be tempting to see the rebels, led by Alma Coin (Julianne Moore, probably my favourite actress), as the obvious good guys. They’re standing up to the evils committed by the Capitol against those in the Districts, evils which extend beyond The Hunger Games and the more subtle approaches (many similar to real life) into outright obliteration of those who stand against them after the war starts.
And yet, the movie does not waste much time establishing that maybe the rebels under Coin aren’t really any better than the Capital under Snow. Gael, best friend of the lead character Katniss, explains a strategy early on of how they will wipe out medical crews by dropping bombs, waiting for the medical crew to help the wounded, then releasing a delayed bomb. This kind of thing isn’t unusual in real warfare, even though most of us would probably look down on it as morally problematic to deliberately target the wounded and medical staff.
Later, Peeta – formerly a love interest of Katniss, but recently tortured and brainwashed into trying to kill her – is sent by Coin to the small team with Katniss, theoretically because it would make for good propaganda to see him fighting with them. The leader of that squad has a more nuanced and probably more accurate understanding, however, suggesting that Coin is looking ahead to when the war is over. At that time, she’s going to have to win an election. She knows that whoever Katniss puts her support behind is likely to win, and she knows that Katniss likely would not put her support behind her. So maybe it’s time to cross off Katniss, giving her a heroic martyr death for the propaganda just before the war ended anyway.
I’m not going to recap other examples, including the most prominent one near the end. In general, they spend a lot of time building up President Snow of the Capitol as essentially Satan incarnate… and then they slowly help you realize that everybody has that Satanic influence within them. Snow and Coin, the Capitol and the Districts, are really two sides of the same coin.
This is usually how it works in the real world, too. There’s some truth to the phrase that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” When you have successfully gotten rid of the people who you hate because of their oppressive actions, using similar actions, and now have their power… most of the time that is going to end up with similar abuses of power. One Empire is replaced by another, and the status quo is protected, except with some of the power structures reversed.
Scapegoats in The Hunger Games
The thing that shocked me the most in the books is when the new victorious government suggests reinstituting the Hunger Games, where children are forced to fight each other to the death. This was exactly what started the rebellion in the first place, and now they want to do the same. The motivation is explained well in the movie: people still want to see Capitol blood, but Coin doesn’t really want a never-ending stream of executions of the people of the Capitol because they’ll ultimately need the resources of the Capitol to create a healthy nation – just like the Capitol needed the districts. To satisfy the bloodlust, then, she proposes that they carry out a Hunger Games using the Capitol’s children.
This is a remarkable comment. For one, they realize that they cannot afford to build a world where everybody who has done something wrong gets killed for it. That’s not the basis for a functional society. Our world is a lot healthier when we show mercy, in practical ways like being able to share resources. But the angry mob is demanding blood, so a compromise is reached – we’ll kill some representatives of the wrong committed so that we don’t feel as bad letting the people who actually did the wrong live.
Snow gave a different angle on this in the first movie. He suggested then that it was necessary to give the people under your power a little bit of hope. Too much and they would believe they have rights and rise up against you. Not enough and they wouldn’t have any reason to live and keep producing the goods you need to maintain your wealth. The Hunger Games gave just the right amount of hope in the same way Coin proposes them as a way to satisfy just enough bloodlust.
Short version of what I think this means to me as a Christian: the children here are the Christ figure, other than the fact that they fought back. They bear the wrath of the world and our sins on themselves, even though they don’t deserve it. And they die because of it, with one exception each year. In doing so, however, it exposes the sin of the whole scapegoat system – particularly the actions of Katniss and Peeta at the end of the first book/movie. As with Jesus, we should be able to say it is clearly evil to kill those children in the Hunger Games. And then, in theory, we learn from our mistakes and try to build a society without needing that scapegoat to settle our Satanic desire for violence. We learn to simply forgive, as God has forgiven us.