Innocence in a Time of War, Mockingjay Part 2

The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 2, seems to ask, “is there innocence in a time of war?”

From the movie poster of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

From the movie poster of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

Non- spoiler review – Mockingjay Part 2 is awesome. I laughed a little. I cried a lot. I left the theater satisfied and hoping to see it again on the big screen.

If you haven’t read The Hunger Games books or seen any of the movies, here is your primer. If you have, feel free to scroll down to The Spoilers.

The Hunger Games

Katniss, a teenage girl, supports her widowed mother and sister by poaching wild game, highly illegal in Panem, an Orwellian society. Her best friend is Gale. His father died in the same coal mine explosion as Katniss’ father. They hunt together, relying on each other for success.

Each year two names are drawn from the pool of teenagers in each of the 12 Districts of Panem. The Hunger Games are designed to demonstrate the Capitol’s complete control, pitting the children against each other in an arena until only one is left.

Prim, Katniss’ beloved younger sister is drawn. Katniss volunteers to take her place. The boy “tribute”, as they are called, is Peeta, the baker’s son. Peeta is the only other boy Katniss cares about. Shortly after her father died Peeta intentionally burned a loaf of bread so he would have to throw it away. Instead he gave it to Katniss. Peeta’s act of kindness saved her from starving to death.

Incredibly, Katniss and Peeta are the last two tributes. But rather than fight each other, they defy the Capitol and make a suicide pact. Before they can swallow the poison berries, both are crowned victors.

Catching Fire

Katniss and Peeta are on their Victory Tour, forced to continue the romance that built their popularity – and probably saved their lives – in the arena. President Snow blames Katniss for kindling the fire of revolt that is spreading in the districts. He puts the job of settling the crowds back down on her shoulders. It is an impossible job, especially for a guileless teenager.

It’s also the Quarter Quell. Every 25 years there is an especially brutal form of The Hunger Games called the Quarter Quell to remind the residents of Panem how painful revolting against the government can be. This year it is decided that the Tributes would be drawn from the victors from each district. As the only female victor from District 12, there is no question what will happen to Katniss.

Once in the arena she learns that the rebellion is more than just outer district discontent, but an actual movement. An intricate plot is in place to rescue the rebel tributes from the arena, but it is only partially successful. Peeta is among those left behind.

Mockingjay Part 1

Katniss wakes up in District 13, formerly believed to have been destroyed 75 years earlier. She learns Peeta and several other allies were captured by Capitol forces, and by now are certain to be tortured for information.

The president of District 13 is a woman named Alma Coin who has taken charge of organizing and leading the rebellion along with a former Capitol Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee. They ask Katniss to step up and agree to be the public face of the rebellion, since everyone has rallied around her anyway.

She is assigned a camera crew to film her and produce “propos”, propaganda that will be broadcast to the districts and into the Capitol.

Katniss does her best to rally the rebellion, and she is very good at it, until it becomes clear that Snow is having Peeta tortured. The weight of all the dead left in her wake, along with Peeta’s obvious pain, becomes too much for her. Finally, Coin and Heavenbee agree to launch a rescue party for Peeta. He is found and brought back to District 13, only to turn on and nearly kill Katniss with his bare hands.

Now, to the spoilers.

Do you remember M.A.S.H.? It was a show about war – but it was not a war show. I was 13 when the final episode of M.A.S.H. aired, and the reveal at the end, that Hawkeye carried the horror and guilt of the death of an innocent, has always stuck with me. M.A.S.H. showed us the horrors of war.

Mockingjay Part 2 is a movie about war – but it is not a war movie. In Mockingjay, during war good people do despicable things, and power hungry people to do anything they want.

Who is good?

In The Hunger Games universe, are the rebels innocent?

They are fighting a just cause against a definitively unjust and corrupt government.

Katniss would say no. She certainly would not call herself innocent, she feels the weight of death personally. But she holds out hope for her cause, until she finds her Gale and Beetee discussing a two-stage bomb that would lure family and medical staff into range before going off a second time. Then, when Gale proposes avalanches that will block thousands of of people inside a mountain fortress, many of them civilians, her faith in him is shaken.

“No one who supports the Capitol is innocent,” Gale says.

“With that kind of thinking you can kill anyone you want!” Katniss shouts back.

Katniss, Boggs and Gale navigate the Capitol. (Jennifer Lawrence, Mahershala Ali and Liam Hemsworth) Photo courtesy Lionsgate 2015

Katniss, Boggs and Gale navigate the Capitol. (Jennifer Lawrence, Mahershala Ali and Liam Hemsworth) Photo courtesy Lionsgate 2015

Obviously Gale doesn’t believe the citizens of the Capitol are innocent. But later he finds the lines aren’t so clearly drawn. Gale and a group of elite soldiers have been assigned to go with Katniss and her camera crew. They barely escape an ambush and are hiding out in a posh Capitol apartment. As he digs into sweets and delicacies that aren’t available in District 12 he says, “If I got to eat like this every day I’d believe anything I was told, too.”

(If that line doesn’t make you take stock of what you’re being told, you might want to put down the Kool-Aid for a while.)

Of the corrupt, there seems to be no end of the depths they will sink to.

President Coin states from the safety of her bunker in District 13, that she is willing to pay any price for victory – to Commander Paylor. It is Paylor leading the charge into District 2, who is expected to send her troops into withering gunfire.

Snow poisons one of his own ministers at his dinner table, then crows, “Our gamemakers will make (the rebels’) advance a celebration of suffering!”

Later, when Katniss’ group gets within a few blocks of his palace, Snow calls for an evacuation of an area of the city nearest to him, promising shelter in the presidential palace.

“(The rebels) have never known our comfort and sophistication. They do not understand us,” he tells them in a mandatory viewing broadcast. “They are coming to destroy us.”

But he doesn’t provide shelter. Instead he uses the wealthy refugees and their children as human shields.

I will not reveal any more of the movie to you here and now. It’s far too powerful an ending to spell out here.

When you get home from seeing Mockingjay Part 2, will you let me know what you think?

Are there any innocents in wartime? If so, who?

And, those of us who enjoy peace, what is our responsibility?

I write a lot more about the questions raised Mockingjay, and The Hunger Games, in my book Bird on Fire available through your favorite online book dealer.


Buy the book, spread the flame

So what is this Bird On Fire thing all about? In short, it’s about finding the Heart of God in The Hunger Games.

bird on fire cover

Bird on Fire is available in paperback and all the popular digital formats.

The Hunger Games trilogy has transfixed readers since the first book was released in 2008, and movie goers since 2012. This fame is puzzling to some because there is so much violence – but the story’s enduring popularity not because of the despicable deaths, it’s in spite of them. And the redemption at work in and through one of the most flawed protagonists of recent literary history.

Katniss Everdeen would never call herself a hero. Not when she kept her mother and sister alive by learning how to hunt and gather food after her father died. Not when she volunteered to take her sister’s place to most certainly die in the Hunger Games. Not when she survived the games, and saved her friend Peeta as well. Not when she presented a brave face to the citizens of Panem before entering the arena again. Not even when she decided to become the Mockingjay – the face and symbol of the rebellion against a cruel and oppressive system. She was only doing the best she could with the resources she had.

Doing the best we can with the resources we have is a divine directive. Bird on Fire: A Bible study for understanding the Hunger Games arena, Catching Fire flame, and the Mockingjay bird, is my attempt to show you how much like Katniss we are called to be. Resourceful, brave, and driven by the sure knowledge that things are supposed to be better than they often are.

You can make a difference in the world, Bird on Fire might just show you how.