REVIEW OF MOCKINGJAY – PART 1: ANATOMY OF A REVOLUTION
Published On December 17, 2014 | By Jack Zhang
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is a seismic break from the first two Hunger Games movies. The fault lines of Panem’s society, previously glimpsed through montages of District workers protesting and rioting against the oppressive Capitol, have erupted into a full war. Rebels are killing soldiers who are brutalizing the people, workers are on strike, and the Capitol’s air force is bombing the resistance. Revolution takes center stage.
The Capitol, ruled by the machiavellian President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland), is in precarious shape. As a parasitic state that depends on goods appropriated from other districts, the Capitol finds itself weakened and facing shortages now that the districts it relied upon are rebelling. The movie opens with mentions of riots, protests, and strikes (a quiet nod toward the importance and power of labor), but very soon President Snow orders extended shifts for workers to replace the labor that’s been lost to the rebellion.
Through these glimpses of production relations in the world of Panem, we can see that it’s no different from our world. Much like how the capitalist class remains wealthy by exploiting employees who do all the work but are suddenly at the workers’ mercy if they strike, the Capitol suffers the contradiction that the very people it exploits are necessary to its survival.
Leading the war against the Capitol is District 13. This district is known for having led and lost a civil war against the Capitol in the past, and has been hiding underneath its bombed-out surface. The constant threat of siege keeps District 13 heavily militarized and highly centralized, with residents following strict rules and rationing scarce goods. It’s also a revolutionary organization with “people’s councils” (which are referenced, but never seen in action) and two stated goals: creating a democratic state of Panem and allowing districts to “share the fruits of their labor.”
The people, under bold leadership, have the power to make history.
The main focus of the movie, however, is on an all-too-neglected actor in revolution: the people. The Capitol cannot fuel its war without the labor of working people in the districts, and District 13 alone cannot overthrow the regime without mass support from the rest of the country. The hearts and minds of ordinary people, whose lives are the raw material of history, are the real battleground over which the two militaries fight.
In a welcome break from the usual action-film formula of exploding war machines and mapmaking-as-history, the movie focuses on the challenge of politically winning over the masses whose mobilization will shake the foundations of society. To this end, District 13 employs Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) as their “Mockingjay,” or propaganda lead.
As in the previous two films, Katniss is reluctant to assume a leading role until necessity forces her. Much like ordinary working people who just want to get by without too much trouble, Katniss only wants to get by and live a normal life. Initially, she fought in the Hunger Games only to save her sister, not to start a revolution. Then when the system threatened Peeta, she fought in the Games again to save him, not to spark a civil war. Now, when the system is threatening civilians in all rebellious districts, she has no choice but to join the revolution in order to save the people.
Katniss’s trajectory represents the path that most people take to becoming revolutionaries: a slow realization, through various attempts to work within the system, that there is simply no alternative but to build a new system. Once she makes this realization, Katniss becomes a brilliant Mockingjay.
By now, used to her role as a stand-in for political factions, she battles Capitol forces alongside ordinary people while being filmed by an embedded broadcasting crew. Fighting by her side is her childhood friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth), barely recognizable after the events of the previous film transformed him from a miner into a revolutionary soldier. Their recorded actions are edited into propaganda videos to show the people of Panem the brutality of the Capitol’s oppression.
Katniss’s counterpart, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), is a mouthpiece for the Capitol. He regularly appears on a popular Capitol talk show and repeatedly appeals to nonviolence, telling the viewers to lay down arms and reinstate peace in the districts. These appeals are a thin lie: much like in our world, Panem’s ruling class uses the ideal of nonviolence to say the oppressed are wrong to fight against their oppression, but in reality it is the ruling class that employs brutal violence to keep their system intact. While Peeta keeps telling the rebels to lay down their arms, behind the camera President Snow orders airstrikes on their homes. The two sides fight each other on the ground and over the airwaves in an exciting duel that carries through most of the movie, culminating in a daring battle that sets the tone for the sequel.
The propaganda filming crew for Katniss, taking a break.
Propaganda videos play a heavy role in the story, and the movie uses them to make interesting points on the role of mass media. Importantly, the movie raises the idea that propaganda is neutral. In common usage, the word ‘propaganda’ implies publicized falsehood for political gain. But the stark contrast between Peeta and Katniss’s videos, both of which are called propaganda, show that the purpose and value of propaganda – when defined simply as politicized messages – comes from the politics contained within it. It’s possible to produce oppressive ruling-class propaganda (Peeta) or liberatory working-class propaganda (Katniss). Hopefully, the audience will carry this distinction from the movie over to their own lives!
Another fresh idea is the role of ordinary people in the revolution: after each broadcast of Katniss’s videos, there is a mass response from the people of Panem. Loggers revolt against soldiers forcing them to work overtime, miners rush fortress-dams powering the Capitol, and so on – it’s the people who are doing the actual fighting, not the soldiers of District 13. The movie does justice to the historicity of the people, viscerally showing that it is ordinary people, under bold leadership, who power the events that define history. Great leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the shoulders of countless others whose names will never be written in history books.
The soldiers of the Capitol hunting down rebels in a forest.
It’s important to note, however, that this is an action movie, and a revolution will not necessarily look like fleets of Capitol bombers raining death on civilians and rebels. Every country and time has unique conditions, so every revolution will be different. The Arab Spring demonstrates this: in Libya and Syria, mass uprisings sparked civil wars, but in Tunisia and Egypt, the people toppled existing leaders without much violence.
During a real revolution, we must politically convince the armed forces (which in many countries draw from the most oppressed sections of the population) to join the side of the people and split the military. In 2011 Egypt and 1917 Russia, and right now in Burkina Faso, a sizable majority of the army joined the revolution, making the tasks of revolutionaries easier. We socialists advocate revolutions happening as non-violently as possible, while maintaining the character of the revolution and taking the movement all the way to a socialist transformation of society.
This does not mean we agree with the ruling class’s (or Peeta’s) appeals to stay “calm.” What Peeta’s words really mean, and what many politicians in our world mean when they make similar calls for calm, is really a double standard: demand nonviolence from the oppressed, but expect continued violence from the ruling class.
This is another way the futuristic dystopia of Panem resembles the world we’re living in: while appearing fair, capitalism and its puppet politicians impose a double standard on workers. When Hurricane Katrina wrecked working class neighborhoods in New Orleans, it took several days and over a thousand dead for National Guard to intervene, but when ordinary protesters damage corporate property in Ferguson, the National Guard rushes in without hesitation. When agribusinesses ask the government for millions in taxpayer subsidies, Congress readily hands over the money, but when the 49 million Americans who live in “food insecure households” take food stamps in order to survive, capitalist politicians call them lazy and entitled.
In the most advanced capitalist country in the world, children go hungry to bed. How many more will capitalism starve? Photo: Feeding America/feedingamerica.org
In Panem, hunger is forced on the residents of the Districts by the Capitol’s police and army. Globally, the problem of hunger is forced on us by capitalism and maintained by a system of laws. There’s more than enough food for the entire world to eat, yet agribusinesses price food out of the reach of millions of people, to make a profit! In some cities, even feeding the homeless is illegal. You don’t need a President Snow and sleek white-suited soldiers to cause starvation, you simply need capitalism and a government founded to enforce the property rights of corporations over the human rights of people.
Even the film itself is a victim of the profit motive. Though the Hollywood elite who sponsored this film can foresee the bleak future of humanity under capitalism, they cannot escape its clutches. The ending of the movie is extremely abrupt and very unsatisfying, because the story stops in the middle. The film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjayis split into two parts to maximize every bit of profit off of unsatisfied movie-goers. This is not speculation: the filming for Mockingjay, Part 2 is already finished, having been shot alongside Part 1 in a continuous period, and the entire story could have been released as a single movie. As it stands, we’ll have to wait unnecessarily until November 2015 to see the conclusion of The Hunger Games trilogy. By then, our world will undoubtedly be different.
People are angry at capitalism, in all the forms it takes to oppress people for profit. Mothers can’t afford to pay rent, fathers can’t afford to buy healthy food, and children are shot by police on the streets in broad daylight. Angry at the police murders of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, the people have been fighting back with mass protests that shut down the functioning of major stores and central streets by sheer numbers.
15 Now on the streets
What is an alternative to a few capitalists enriching themselves by immiserating billions of people? The answer is socialism, a society organized and run democratically by workers, where basic needs like food, housing, healthcare, and education are guaranteed. People are taking to the streets in greater numbers, many of them first-time protesters angry at the system. Unwilling to work for less than a living wage, a movement in Seattle led by 15 Now (initiated by Socialist Alternative) established the first $15/hour minimum wage in a major city, earlier this year. Now $15 has swept into San Francisco, and $13 into Chicago.
Though capitalism still maintains its stranglehold on social relations in this country, the rising wave of protests shows that there is a demand for an alternative. Gone is the lie that American society is post-racial, or that there are no classes. The distinction between we, who work for a living, and the capitalists, who profit off of our work, is sharper than ever. The claim that there is no alternative to capitalism, that after the dissolution of the Soviet Union we have reached the “end of history,” is falling apart.
History is alive and well, being made by people moving into action because there is no other way to survive under capitalism. The vast majority of people on the planet are facing worsening living standards and destitution, and the mass movements of 2014 may be dwarfed by the revolts of 2015. In these critical times, the responsibility of socialists to lead the working class to victory is more urgent than ever. Katniss and her crew played a pivotal role in guiding the revolution of Panem; socialists, armed with over a century’s worth of lessons learned from revolutionary experience, are in a similar position to punch above our weight in the coming period of mass anger. Join Socialist Alternative today!