Final “Hunger Games” Film Ends on a Low Note, But JLaw Still Soars

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Mockingjay — Part 2, the final film of The Hunger Games series, is more of an action flick than any of the other iterations. Yet, thanks to its condemnation of greed, its depiction of oil as a killer bent on drowning all in its wake, its satirizing of news as infotainment propaganda and its denunciation of police violence, the film deals with evils that bespoil our own world as much a they do the futuristic dystopia of Panem. As s.e. smith at Bitch writes, the narrative is “clearly and unequivocally being told as a commentary against violence.”

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

In this final outing, Katniss Everdeen is more heroic than ever, proving to be fearless, loyal and radically independent—until the film’s sugarcoated, conservative ending that is, one that finds Katniss in a utopian pastoral setting, holding her baby girl as she watches Peeta play with their towheaded son in the distance. Donning a ’50s-era housedress, she coos to the restless baby about her “game” of reminding herself of every good thing that she has ever seen someone do anytime she has a nightmare. Acknowledging that this practice gets tedious, she closes the film with the same line that closed the book “there are much worse games to play.”

This play on the word “games” is clever from a syntactical standpoint, but rings hollow in terms of offering any closing political statement. While smith reads this scene as “a commentary on what society values and what it doesn’t,” arguing that our society does not value mothers, I disagree that the film is trying to make any sort of commentary here. Rather, as in the book , it tacks on an old-school happy ending reminiscent of Victorian novels, the so-called “woman’s film”of the early 20th century, and reinforces lessons currently being promulgated in abstinence-only education.

The ending infuriated me when I read it, and my disdain was only reignited by the movie’s literal adaptation. Given that Jennifer Lawrence has condemned sexism and pay inequity in Hollywood, has been critical of body-shaming, and promotes female sexual agency while also announcing her plans to direct films (as in her recent Entertainment Weekly interview that ends with the line, “Let’s talk about dildos”), I wonder why the producers of the film didn’t take a page from Lawrence’s book and change up the ending. Yes, this is a bit of utopian feminist dreaming on my part, but wouldn’t it have been wonderful to see Katniss choose something other than heteronormative, monogamous parenthood with Peeta?

Of course, motherhood can be and often is revolutionary, but Mockingjay does not present it in this way. Indeed, both marriage and motherhood are represented with a sort of retro sexist glow, offering nostalgic imagery, replete with soft lighting and pastoral fields, wedding receptions and baby pictures. Annie and Finnick’s wedding, images of Annie and her baby, and the closing scene with Peeta, Katniss and their two children do not suggest anything radical about the future Panem. Instead, it seems as if these characters have been transported into an alternative universe of the past, as seen in films such as Pleasantville and The Truman Show.

Despite these disappointing depictions, a more radical result of the amazing success of this franchise is the solidification of Jennifer Lawrence as a tour de force not only in her acting, but also in her activist sentiment. Noted as a “groundbreaking franchise” for its female action-hero protagonist, and as a “genre-defying franchise” with a “dissident spirit,” The Hunger Games is, no matter how you slice it, a huge improvement on Twilight, where Bella Swan’s marriage to the violent, control-freak Edward Cullen and her willingness to die to give birth to baby Renesmee are framed as a happy ending.

However, I would’ve preferred it if the closing slice of The Hunger Games pie had given us more political bite. Instead, we are given costuming and imagery redolent of Little House on the Prairie. Methinks that “Half Pint,” aka Laura Ingalls Wilder, would not be pleased. Katniss, as a modern descendent of feminist and feminist-leaning protagonists, is given short shrift in this ending. At least her real-life counterpoint, Jennifer Lawrence, has her sights set on conquering Hollywood’s sexism. May the odds be ever in her favor.

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About

Natalie Wilson is a literature and women’s studies scholar, blogger, and author. She teaches at Cal State San Marcos and specializes in the areas of gender studies, feminism, feminist theory, girl studies, militarism, body studies, boy culture and masculinity, contemporary literature, and popular culture. She is author of the blogs Professor, what if…? and Seduced by Twilight. She also writes the guest columns Monstrous Musings for the Womanist Musings blog and Pop Goes Feminism at Girl with Pen. She is currently writing a book examining the contemporary vampire craze from a feminist perspective. Dr. Wilson is also part of the collaborative research group that publishes United States Military Violence Against Women and is currently working on an investigative piece on militarized sexual violence perpetuated against civilians. She is a proud feminist parent of two feminist kids and is an admitted pop-culture junkie. Her favorite food is chocolate. Visit her online at NatalieWilsonPhd.