Film Review: What the Hunger Games has taught us

The release of Mockingjay Part 2 – the final instalment of the Hunger Games series – is the most anticipated film this summer. It is clear that the series has struck a chord with the current generation of young people like no other.

The timing of the series’ book and film releases has in many ways reflected the titanic developments in recent world politics. The first book, focused on startling wealth inequality and the violence and cruelty of class society, came out in the early months of the Global Financial Crisis. The first two films, depicting a toiling majority rising up against a wealthy elite and the early stages of a revolution, were released against the backdrop of the Arab Spring, the Spanish Indignados, the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong, the game-changing Gezi Park protests in Turkey, and other historic uprisings.

Mockingjay deals with the consolidation of the revolution and the poor districts’ final assault on the wealthy Capital. It is undoubtedly the most sombre part of the series. The symbolic leader of the revolution (and now real-world household name) Katniss Everdeen spends the book and films shell-shocked from the extreme violence playing out around her, and increasingly unhappy with the politics of the other emerging leaders of the revolution.

In many ways the concerns of Mockingjay – traumatised refugees, the elite’s vicious retribution, shady and untrustworthy rebel leaders – reflect the shock and despair many people are feeling about the relentless whip of counter-revolution in places like Egypt. Just like in the fictional series, the giddy determination of the early days of rebellion in different parts of the world is giving way to a sense of dread that the wealthy elite might win after all. Katniss’ ambiguous relationship with President Coin, the official leader of the revolution, reflects people’s suspicion that post-revolutionary leaders won’t be so different from the monsters they replaced.

The cynicism of Mockingjay sets it apart from the rousing beginning to the series. This is understandable – the real world now is wracked with war, growing poverty, famine and failed uprisings. The final instalment doesn’t have any answers for us about how to organise a successful revolution. Suzanne Collins, the series’ author, is not a political theorist but an artist giving form to aspects of ordinary people’s lives, hopes and fears.

The dangers of counter-revolution, as we’re seeing around the world today, are very real. But just as real are the deteriorating living conditions of ordinary people,the catastrophic unsustainability of capitalism and the growing prosperity of a small few based on the hard work of the majority.

It will be up to that majority to decide how to change this situation and how to end the dominance of a wealthy elite making cruel decisions about all of our lives and futures. More than just rousing speeches and action-film theatrics, however, this will take political organisation and a conscious struggle to end capitalism.

The Hunger Games books and films don’t provide us with a blueprint for how to do this. But even though the series is not a Marxist one, its central premise – that the labour of workers is the key to the whole system functioning and when they stop working it threatens the power of the elite – has opened up a great opportunity for socialists to discuss capitalism and how it works with young people.

When the first film was released actor Donald Sutherland, who plays the series’ main villain, said ‘hopefully [young people] will see this film and the next film and the next film and then maybe organise. Stand up…They might create a third party. They might change the electoral process, they might be able to take over the government, change the tax system.” In a sense Sutherland has it backwards: the Hunger Games series isn’t putting the desire to do these things in young people’s heads, it’s reflecting back at young people and amplifying an already-existing political sentiment.

The series’ popularity should give us confidence that all around the world young people want to watch people like themselves fighting back against a rotten system and taking decision making into their own hands. How we achieve this in real life is going to be the debate of this generation.

By Chris Dite

 

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