Four Ways ‘Mockingjay’ Explains The World

CREDIT: Murray Close

The newest installment of the Hunger Games film reaped in the biggest opening day box office sales of the year on Thursday. The $17 million Mockingjay drew in from North American audiences solidifies the series’ place in Hollywood history — although its grisly plotline is one few would have pegged for such mass appeal.

Part of its success might have to do with a hunger for the news among young people to make sense of a world — without having to pick up a newspaper. The Hunger Games series reflects on major issues of our times but as entertainments. And, even more, it’s able to offer at least the slightest bit of hope in the face of economic injustice, violent suppression, and brutal dictators. There’s a stereotype out there that millennials don’t care about the world. But while young Americans are far less likely to follow about pressing political issues, they somehow manage to believe that they can make a real change in the world on a global level.

It’s not just that this sort of off-kilter dynamic is reflected in the plot of the movie where the heroes are more or less forced to act by circumstance. Millennials are great at substituting entertainment for the news, and The Hunger Games borrows just enough from real global events to satisfy their very particular “I want to care, but I don’t care to know” attitude. While some elements might seem over the top (we realized that watching people fight to the death was twisted millennia ago), here are some moments from Mockingjay that reflect reality back to perhaps unwitting audiences in a stranger-than-fiction kind of way.

1. Point-Blank Executions A La ISIS

There is one scene in Mockingjay that will be eerily familiar to anyone who has watched the news in recent months. It only flashes across the scene for a few moments, but shows people kneeling, with black bags over their heads, and storm trooper-esque Panem peacekeepers leering over them, guns in hand, ready to kill. The head-on framing seemingly borrows a page from ISIS which beheaded, most recently, Abdur-Rahman (Peter) Kassig.

Kassig’s silence broke from videos other Western captives recently beheaded by the Islamist militant group who were seemingly coerced into denouncing their home countries.

“I call on my friends, family, and loved ones to rise up against my real killers, the US government, for what will happen to me is only a result of their complacency and criminality.” James Foley, the American journalist said into the camera before an ISIS executioner took a knife to his throat. “I call on my brother John, who is a member of the US air force. Think about what you are doing, think about the lives you destroy, including those of your own family.”

ISIS’ uses the westerners it kills as a mouthpiece for its own political agenda in the same way that Peeta is used by the Panem administration to denounce the uprising. He urges Katniss specifically – a lot like Foley urges his brother John – to reconsider her part in promoting a rebellion against the Capital.

2. Katniss’ “Propos” And Syrian Separatist Videos

“In Syria before the revolution, holding a camera or having a camera was a big crime,” a Syrian photographer who works under the pseudonym Saeed al-Batal told NPR earlier this week. That might be why cameras became so essential in the Syrian revolution. As Al-Batal explained, “I don’t hold weapons. I only hold camera. It’s a kind of weapon.”

Almost as soon as the revolutionary movement began, videos of aerial attacks over cities, gun battles, and protests inundated social media sites – and the vignettes of violence raised the battle cry against the Syrian administration in a way that simply wasn’t possible in the past.

As President Bashar al-Assad began to issue video statements to counter the separatists, “We realized we had to counter every argument,” Rafif Jouejati, an separatist spokeswoman told CNN in 2012.

A similar propaganda war is a major part of Mockingjay.

Early on in the movie, Katniss is asked to shoot ‘propos’ to draw support for a rebellion across Panem. Never one to follow direction, since Katniss can’t manage to make a sincere-seeming call-to-arms on set, she instead wanders into some of the various districts that have been hit by President Snow’s forces – and gets caught up in the conflict. Her commentaries on those scenes help to instigate uprisings across Panem in much the same way Syrian separatists’ videos drew focus to the scale of the conflict there.

3. A Hospital Bombing And The Gaza War

Katniss’ first propo takes her to a hospital in a District which was attacked by the Panem’s peacekeepers after it attempted to rise up against the administration. As Katniss wanders through a ward packed with injured people, one young boy raises up his hand in the iconic three-finger salute. The President catches a glimpse of this scene through a surveillance video and orders that the hospital be bombed, claiming that those in side are traitors for flashing the “power to the people” symbol.

It’s not hard to compare this moment in Israeli Defense Force’s (IDF) bombing of hospitals in Gaza this summer – even if there are some key differences. The most notable departure is that unlike President Snow who deems all of those in the hospital to be “guilty of treason,” Israeli officials admitted to killing innocent civilians who, they claim were too close to military targets to avoid.

An IDF statement issued during the conflict reads, “While the IDF does everything that it can to avoid civilian casualties, Hamas deliberately puts Palestinian civilian lives in danger. Hamas hides weapons and missile launchers in densely populated areas. Instead of keeping its citizens out of harm’s way, Hamas encourages and even forces Gazans to join its violent resistance against Israel. It sends men, women and children directly into the line of fire to be used as human shields for terrorists.”

4. President Snow And So Many A Dictator’s Last Speech

As the uprising pick up across Districts, President Snow makes an address to the people that is not unlike those made by many a nearly-toppled dictator for Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi to Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad and doubtless many before them. Leaning from the old Hobbesian theory that people must exchange their liberties for protection from the state, Snow recalls a time of chaos that he worked to eradicate not without great personal sacrifices.

The most uncanny example of this political posturing came from President Hosni Mubarak as the Egyptian Revolution swept the country. In “a speech from the father to his sons and daughters,” he said:

I was a young man, a youth just like all these youth, when I have learned the honor of the military system and to sacrifice for the country. I have spent my entire life defending its land and its sovereignty. I have witnessed and attended its wars with all its defeats and victories. I have lived during defeat and victory.

And if the Hunger Games blurs the lines between real life and great myth, it’s not by coincidence. Although many of these events Mockingjay bears resemblance happened long after she wrote the books on which the movies are based, Suzanne Collins said in an interview that her inspiration stemmed from a confluence of human nature and the nature of war:

One night, I was lying in bed, and I was channel surfing between reality TV programs and actual war coverage. On one channel, there’s a group of young people competing for I don’t even know; and on the next, there’s a group of young people fighting in an actual war. I was really tired, and the lines between these stories started to blur in a very unsettling way. That’s the moment when Katniss’s story came to me.

Perhaps what’s more surprising than a connection between the Hunger Games and current events, is how the books-turned-movies have themselves gone to spur news events.

Several people have been arrested for flashing the three-finger salute in Thailand where the symbol Katniss uses to express solidarity has come to stand in for opposition to the military rulers who usurped power in May coup.