Whose revolution

Submitted by cathy n on 8 December, 2015 - 8:41 Author: Kelly Rogers

What kind of revolution takes place in the Hunger Games trilogy? The answer is not particularly clear, because the films are marked by a notable absence of politics.

As Daisy Thomas writes in her review (Solidarity 386), the key themes sweeping through the film are the powerless vs. the powerful, and the mobilising force that comes from hope, but at no point do the uprising dissidents express any kind of political vision for a world after President Snow.

There is a class component to the revolution. Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist, comes from the poorest of the districts of Panem, District 12, where people regularly die of poverty and starvation, and ghastly, onerous workplaces and conditions. Districts are divided broadly along lines of race, and industry, with Katniss coming from Panem’s white mining community. The districts’ impoverished workers take up arms and march on the wealthy, decadent Capitol. But rather than identifying their exploitation as systemic, the characters in the film understand the source of their exploitation to be President Snow himself.

This is in part why the final two films were so unsatisfying. The Hunger Games, the first film, takes place 74 years after the Hunger Games were created. They were established as a means of disciplining the district residents following a mass revolt, headed by District 13. This background adds to a convincing dystopia, which is bleak precisely because the grip that the Capitol has over the districts has history. Snow, who is by all means a despot and the architect of much misery and death, is continuing a legacy rooted in generations of class conflict.

It is frustrating then, that the Mockingjay films are so flat. Rather than articulating a political vision, the district residents seem to blindly follow the Mockingjay, their symbol of hope.

Katniss in turn, reluctant to be cast the hero, consistently refuses to stand shoulder to shoulder with her fellow revolutionaries, instead going off alone to kill Snow and satisfy her own desire for revenge.
The story does take an exciting turn towards the end, however (spoiler alert). President Coin, leader of the rebellious District 13, becomes interim leader following the revolution. Katniss is disturbed to discover that the bombing of hundreds of children, from both the Capitol and the districts, was devised by Coin and, it is hinted, Katniss’ lover from District 12, Gale. Upon taking power, Coin declares that elections will be suspended in the post-revolutionary period, and that a new Hunger Games, pitting the bourgeoisie against one another, should take place in celebration.

Katniss, once again a lone hero, publicly assassinates Coin, and as a result, free and open elections take place. A happy ending.

So then, what kind of revolution takes place in the Hunger Games trilogy? Not a socialist revolution. Off screen, perhaps, district residents were meeting, discussing, writing great socialist texts. In any case we’re not told about it. It is certainly progressive, the working class are fighting for democracy, first and foremost, and against the disciplinary nature of the state, most clearly represented in the “peacekeepers” (state police) and the Hunger Games.

Ultimately though, it is (unsurprisingly) a revolution acceptable for Hollywood. Despite the history of Panem being steeped in class conflict, class is rarely mentioned and politics is largely absent. The bloody history of Stalinism gets a reference, but it is our hero, Katniss, not the masses, who saves the day.

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