MPAA Rating: PG-13
USCCB Rating: A-II
The Hunger Games film series, based on the best-selling young adult novels (2008-10) by Suzanne Collins, began in 2012 as fairly standard dystopian fantasy, admittedly grim but also entertaining and approachable. That was before the terrorist attacks in Paris and before anyone had heard of ISIS. Now Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself involved in a full blown civil war and a pawn in a much larger game while the real world, in late 2015, is faced with deadly fact of Islamic terrorism. As I watched this film, I found myself wishing we could back to the Nineties and just fight aliens again with Will Smith. But wars—both onscreen and on actual battlefields (if such things still exist)—continue on and solutions seem far away, and the possibility that worldwide conflict with continue for generations to come appears ever greater.
The first image that appears onscreen is Katniss removing her neck brace, revealing an ugly bruise from when her love interest Peeta, under the influence of Capitol-induced hallucinogenic drugs, tried to strangle her. It’s a potent symbol that everything has changed and she can’t trust anyone. She becomes convinced that assassinating President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is the only way to end the war, but President Coin (Julianne Moore), the leader of the rebellion, wants her to stay safe behind enemy lines to shoot propaganda films as the rebels forces close in on the Capitol.
Being a rebellious teen protagonist of a YA novel, Katniss goes rogue with the help of Peeta, Gale, and several other friends, some of whom will no doubt lose their lives to help her mission. As they get closer to Snow’s mansion, dodging Peacekeepers and booby traps along the way, it becomes clear that Coin’s methods of war may not be so noble, and one dictator may be overthrown only to be replaced with another.
Mockingjay Part 2 is most notable for its realistic depiction of war—not for the violence or gore of a PG-13 movie but for the sense of confusion, fear, impatience, and sorrow. Katniss and her crew spend little screen time fighting and most of it cowering in hiding, running from Peacemakers, dealing with conflicting loyalties, and waiting to see who dies next. No one is sure of the real enemy, and when Coin kills a group of children for political gain even Snow looks good by comparison. “I’m not above killing children,” he smiles, “But I’m not wasteful.” It underlines the sad reality that war is often a game for the rich and privileged at the expense of the common man. This is likely one reason behind Pope Francis’ hesitation to bless war against ISIS: he harbors no love for terrorism but understands that it is the poor who often suffer most from such deadly conflicts.
In the face of so much darkness, Katniss seems frozen. Unable to support anyone, she turns her gaze to Snow, the one person she knows is really evil. Her final solution to this problem is bizarre, and it is unclear whether it will ultimately solve anything. In reality, she gives up. Rather than face the difficult waters of nation building, she acts in a way that simply ends the war. What happens next is not her problem.
The real issue (and answer) that pokes around the margins of The Hunger Games but is never fully realized is the infinite value and worth of every human being. The film’s Universe is devoid of religion and thus any “good” that people strive for is ultimately a reflection of personal preference. There are shadows of natural law present but without divine revelation there is no guidance. Everyone knows in their bones they must love one another, but the details are foggy. In the final scene, Katniss reminds her daughter that despite all the terrible things in this world, there are also many wonderful blessings, a good argument for the moral law, but her words come off as forced and awkward. The question remains.
Like Katniss, it is easy to become hopeless as the world is headed “piecemeal towards World War III.” War is always Hell, and it’s proper to recognize it as such. Sentiments such as “war never solved anything” and “the war to end all wars” are equally naïve. “War is, in the main,” wrote G.K. Chesterton, “a dirty, mean inglorious business, but it is not the dirtiest calamity that can befall a people. There is one worse state at least: the state of slavery.” In the face of this reality, Christ reveals the dignity of every person, friend and foe alike. War will always be with us; what matters are your choices for what is true, good, and eternal.