It’s not a game. It never has been.
For more than seven decades, the Capitol used its Hunger Games to control Panem. Every year, the gamemakers would “reap” a crop of teens from across the country, sending them into a lethal arena where just one would survive. The Hunger Games have been required viewing in each of Panem’s 12 known districts—fathers and mothers, neighbors and friends, forced to watch their children die.
But then Katniss Everdeen, a surly teen with a sacrificial streak from the backwaters of District 12, won the Games and changed the rules. First, she finagled a way to see her and fellow District 12’er, Peeta Mellark, survive the 74th Games together—a previously unthinkable outcome—unintentionally lighting the first dim sparks of rebellion while she did so. In an equally unthinkable return trip to the Games, she literally destroyed the playing field itself, and the sparks were fanned into a raging fire.
Now, in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, the fire has exploded into a national immolation, rushing unquenched to the very gates of the Capitol, ready to engulf its leader, President Snow, in its destructive yet hopefully cleansing flames. To many, Katniss is no longer merely a valiant young woman but instead the Mockingjay—a symbol of the rebellion, the people’s warrior savior.
But as the Hunger Games reaches its end game, the cost of playing continues to grow. President Snow has seen to that. Katniss has lost her home, her friends, her very life in most of its tangible ways. And now it seems as though she’s lost Peeta—her friend, her ally, her rock. Though Peeta was rescued from Snow’s clutches, the Capitol tortured him and twisted his memories. Now, when he looks at Katniss, he sees not the woman he loves, but a demon—a selfish, untrustworthy schemer who brings death with her wherever she goes.
Peeta’s transformation is horrible for Katniss to see—not just because Peeta hates her so, but because she wonders, deep down inside, whether he’s right. Peeta was the one person who always seemed to see the good in her, even when Katniss couldn’t see it herself. Now he sees the person she’s scared she is.
Katniss has little time to grieve. Nobody ever decent wins the games, she said once. And now, in a war that some dubiously call the 76th Hunger Games, she’s playing again. She’s playing to win. And this time she has just one opponent to beat: President Snow himself.
“I’m going to kill Snow,” she says. “He needs to see my eyes when I kill him.”
But of course it’s never that simple in a game, in a war, in life.
The final installment of The Hunger Games series is a difficult movie to watch. We see a lot of people die here—some of whom we’ve grown to care about as the story has progressed. That’s the point, of course, of the movie and of Suzanne Collins’ books. War is wicked. It’s vile. It’s to be fended off … until it cannot be fended off any longer. And even then, we’re taught here, even when we wage a campaign against evil, against tyranny, war is still wicked and vile.
An example: President Coin and Gale hatch a plan to bring District 2 to heel by sealing its army—along with scads of civilians—inside a mountain fortress. When Katniss expresses her horror at these and other ethically questionable tactics, Gale says, “It’s war, Katniss.” You can’t take every death personally, he tells her: She, the Hunger Game victor that she is, should know that better than anybody.
Katniss rejects Gale’s premise completely. “I, of all people, know that it’s always personal,” she rages. And in this, as in other circumstances too crucial to the plot to spoil here, the story tells us that winning at any cost is never worth the price.That integrity matters, more in war than anywhere else, perhaps.
To further drive home the point from another angle, we’re also shown numerous people who sacrifice and strive in all the right ways for something better. Something higher. Katniss leads the way with her stubborn bravery, with her refusal to walk away even when she so desperately wants to. And others follow, risking their lives and giving their lives, yes, to protect Katniss, but really to make possible a free Panem.
We also see a tender love story play out between Katniss and Peeta—a love story that quite literally works wonders on their souls. She cares for him even as he’s determined to kill her, re-teaching him what is real in the world and what isn’t. And as he slowly comes out of his brainwashed fog, he begins to realize that Katniss isn’t the enemy he imagined she was.
“You’re still trying to protect me, aren’t you?” Peeta asks Katniss.
“That’s what you and I do,” Katniss says. “Keep each other alive.”
And so they do.
For some rebels, it would seem, the Mockingjay becomes almost a spiritual leader. And when she survives a bullet to her heart (thanks to a bulletproof suit), the rebellion’s leadership believes that her apparent resurrection will fire up the people even more.
There’s talk about the love triangle that entangles Katniss, Peeta and Gale. Gale and Katniss kiss, but Gale says it’s like “kissing someone who’s drunk. Doesn’t count.” She later kisses Peeta. Haymitch and Effie Trinket share a smooch.
Just as Katniss would want it to, death feels personal here … and we see a great deal of it. Katniss and her team confront a variety of vicious traps and threats. One man dies when he is snatched and stretched by oily chains. Others are shot or fall victim to explosions. And in one of the movie’s most horrific scenes, screaming team members are, essentially, eaten alive by frightening, sharp-toothed zombie-like creatures—bipedal pirahnas, really. Katniss drops an explosive device down where the attack is taking place—killing her cohort while slaughtering countless Capitol “mutts.” (Prior to that we see the beasties being shot, stabbed and blown up in a frenzy of activity.)
In the last stages of the war, Snow tricks throngs of people, including children, and then bombs them. We see their bodies strewn everywhere, and when rebel medical teams arrive, a secondary explosion goes off—killing most who are trying to help. Katniss herself is blown backward by the blast and knocked unconscious, her Mockingjay costume burning. (It’s a tragic, poignant callback to one of her nicknames, The Girl on Fire.)
Katniss kills someone with an arrow. Others are gunned down or blown up. Peeta tries to smash Katniss’ head in with a rifle butt and encourages others to kill her. He invites people to kill him as well. We see terrible bruises on Katniss’ neck and midsection. Someone sticks a gun under her chin. Someone is poisoned. Snow coughs up blood. There’s a suggestion that a person is torn apart by a frenzied crowd. All members of Katniss’ assault team are given “nightlock” (suicide) pills, which they’re to take if captured.
Snow and his cronies drink champagne at a banquet. Katniss is given a morphine drip. Johanna, a one-time victor, takes the tube out of Katniss’ arm and sticks it in her own, admitting elsewhere that she’s been looking for ways to steal more drugs.
Katniss goes against orders and lies in an effort to realize her vendetta against Snow.
The Hunger Games movies have always been predicated on an emphatic and high-minded moral: War and death should never be a game. And it instructs that even when wounds from such dire dealings aren’t visible, they sometimes never completely heal.
That kind of serious structure makes these movies hard to watch, none more so than this grand finale. Many people wondered how the final half of Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay book could possibly snag a PG-13 rating given its kill quotient. And it is truly a harsh experience—one that could really upset and even scar some moviegoers, particularly younger ones. I can’t stress that enough … but even in the midst of such horror, this movie gives us hope.
When Katniss and what’s left of her team take a breather under the streets of the Capitol—a metaphorical underworld, perhaps, bedecked with demons—the Mockingjay is overwhelmed by the horror of it all. She blames herself for the growing casualty count: “Everyone’s dead because of me,” she says.
But Peeta reminds her that those who died in the tunnels, they died as free men and women—unlike those who died in the games.
“All those deaths?” Peeta says. “They mean something. … They chose this. They chose you.”
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 is no more a nice movie than Katniss is a nice person. But it is a courageous movie, just as Katniss is courageous. And it cares about a cause, just as she does.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.