Mockingjay Part I: No Romance in Revolution

Surely there has to be a better way.

That was my non-stop thought through the whole of the viewing of Mockingjay Part I, a brilliant addition to the Hunger Games series.

It picks up where the last film left off. Katniss has destroyed the game arena and emerges under the protection of the rebels living deep in a bunker in District 13. She reluctantly works with the rebels and their leader President Coin to push the revolution further and rescue her beloved Peeta from captivity in the capitol city.

In past films, there is the romance of revolution, the dream of standing up to ghastly tyranny through resistance and rebellion. We all imagine ourselves to be with Katniss and the rebels, hoping that if we were there, we would do the same.

Down with the tyrants and up with the power of the people!

The solution to the problem in the last film was for Katniss to shoot an arrow through the dome of the games themselves and destroy them all. That impressed us mostly because it was smart and not brutal. It destroyed government property but didn’t necessarily cost lives. It ended a source of misery while not creating more. She had been told that “every system has a flaw” and she found that flaw and exploited it. There is everything to like about this approach to revolution.

In the newest film, that romance evaporates. So much for smart solutions. This film is all about blood for blood and destruction for destruction. It’s their guns vs. our guns. Power vs. power. The “civil war” that ensues is surely more violent than anyone could have anticipated. The amount of sheer social calamity shown in this film takes your breath away.

You might try to think “this is the price we pay for freedom” but the price is high beyond belief. District 12 is in ruins. Other districts are held hostage and variously bombed from the air. The rebels do not have the support of the masses of people, and so they must make propaganda films to cause others to join. But everyone who does join becomes a target and most die a grim death.

Surely there is a better way.

We have to admire Katniss, in part, because she is a very reluctant revolutionary. Her main goal in life is the preservation of the life of her mother, sister, and true love Peeta. The grand cause of revolutionary upheaval doesn’t quite resonate with her, even though she never doubts the justice of it all.

Something else hangs over this film: a strange sense that something is not altogether right about the rebel group. The leader of the group is herself rather creepy, and you gradually gain the suspicion that she aspires to rule, just as President Snow does now. Yes, she promises eventual rule by the people and a nation of cooperation rather than violence, but everyone is in the position of taking her word for it. Her lack of humility is also disturbing, as is the manner in which she absorbs the personal credit for every victory.

But doesn’t every revolution need such people in order to succeed? Probably. And that’s the real problem. The winners of the revolution become the next power structure in place after the bad guys have been tossed out. Sometimes the successors are worse than those who were overthrown. This is what happened in the United States, in France, and in Russia in the early 20th century, as well as the waves of resistance movements that hit the Middle East during the Arab Spring.

Even the anti-socialist revolutions of 1989 and 1990 had mixed results. One group of bad guys were thrown out and another group of bad guys came to power quickly after. Is it worth it?

Thinking back to the most perfect revolution of all — 1776! — we do have to wonder. The elites who imposed the Constitution a few years later were made up of supposed war heroes, financiers, and bond dealers who achieved their fame in the course of the revolution. Only a quarter of a century later, there were speech controls and the need for another revolution was ridiculously obvious.

The difference between a genuine revolution and a coup d’etat is notoriously difficult to discern. King George, President George, who cares really? I’ll put up with the ermine robes if it means lower taxes and less surveillance.

Every American from the beginning has been schooled in the glories of revolution, even as the government lives in unrelenting fear of it. Meanwhile, every radical political group fantasizes about the meaning and prospects of real revolution, even as the public culture decries such thoughts as profoundly evil. The contradiction here is weird.

Mockingjay Part I should give every would-be revolutionary pause. You can’t watch this and cheer at any aspect of the consequences. The State needs to be overthrown — in all times and all places — but surely there are smarter, better, and more peaceful ways to go about it that don’t result in new war-hero despots assuming new power.

Violent revolution? No principled person can fail to consider it as an option. In the end, no decent person can possibly pursue it as a reality.

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Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey A. Tucker is Founder and President of the Brownstone Institute. He is also Senior Economics Columnist for Epoch Times, author of 10 books, including Liberty or Lockdown, and thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.

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20 comments

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  • Hi Jeffrey! Does this article contain spoilers? I have yet to see the movie but I would like to read the article as well. Should I wait to read this until after the movie?

    • Any spoilers here are pretty vague – having said that, if you have not read the books, I’d go see the movie first.

      • Thanks! I have yet to read the books. Now that I’ve seen 2/4 of the movies, I’ll just wait to see them all before reading the books. I’m going to see the movie soon 🙂

  • Hi Jeffrey! Does this article contain spoilers? I have yet to see the movie but I would like to read the article as well. Should I wait to read this until after the movie?

    • Any spoilers here are pretty vague – having said that, if you have not read the books, I’d go see the movie first.

      • Thanks! I have yet to read the books. Now that I’ve seen 2/4 of the movies, I’ll just wait to see them all before reading the books. I’m going to see the movie soon 🙂

  • Great writeup. This very conundrum plagues my thoughts quite often. I believe that a small non-violent revolution could become contagious. For example, if NH were to use a majority vote to ”legally” secede from the USA, there would be little cause for violence as the result would be accomplished through the ”all-powerful” vote.

    After a moment like that, let the dominoes fall. For any violent action against them by the military might of the USA would cast such a dark shadow over the Federal Govt that it would all but ensure its own demise. The world watch watch the State burn itself to the ground.

  • Great writeup. This very conundrum plagues my thoughts quite often. I believe that a small non-violent revolution could become contagious. For example, if NH were to use a majority vote to ”legally” secede from the USA, there would be little cause for violence as the result would be accomplished through the ”all-powerful” vote.

    After a moment like that, let the dominoes fall. For any violent action against them by the military might of the USA would cast such a dark shadow over the Federal Govt that it would all but ensure its own demise. The world watch watch the State burn itself to the ground.

  • Totally agree. I was really looking forward to this film after the first two. In the first two it was all about strong individuals defying a totalitarian system with their own actions. It was all about the idea that totalitarian systems only work if people go along with them. Now it is one state fighting another state, how disappointing. This strange little rebellion group with their planned economy and strong regulations going as far as to tell people what to wear is nothing to be very exited about. The only good thing is that Katniss is not totally falling for this either. My only hope is that this alternative state will also be a little bit exposed for what it is in the second part next year.

    The older I get the more I come to the conclusion that violent revolutions are really for dreamers. It never seems to make things better. Violence promises quick solutions but in politics it never delivers on this promise. Real change needs to be gradual. There just is no short cut for positive change.

  • Totally agree. I was really looking forward to this film after the first two. In the first two it was all about strong individuals defying a totalitarian system with their own actions. It was all about the idea that totalitarian systems only work if people go along with them. Now it is one state fighting another state, how disappointing. This strange little rebellion group with their planned economy and strong regulations going as far as to tell people what to wear is nothing to be very exited about. The only good thing is that Katniss is not totally falling for this either. My only hope is that this alternative state will also be a little bit exposed for what it is in the second part next year.

    The older I get the more I come to the conclusion that violent revolutions are really for dreamers. It never seems to make things better. Violence promises quick solutions but in politics it never delivers on this promise. Real change needs to be gradual. There just is no short cut for positive change.

  • I found myself thinking the same thing through the film. Surely there is a better, smarter way? Surely going gun-to-gun with the Capitol is not the only option? District 13 seems poised and ready to become the next Capitol.

    I’ve not read the books. I hate to think how the last movie will play out.

  • I found myself thinking the same thing through the film. Surely there is a better, smarter way? Surely going gun-to-gun with the Capitol is not the only option? District 13 seems poised and ready to become the next Capitol.

    I’ve not read the books. I hate to think how the last movie will play out.

  • **My comment may contain spoilers**

    Was having a very similar conversation in the car on the way home from the theater – I even said, this was a depiction of a ‘coup’ not a ‘revolution’. It bothered me that District 13 was instigating violence in order to prop up their own government, to presumably enforce their brand of government (some sort of democracy) on the rest of Panem. Having read the series, however, I’m sure that the next installment will likely correct some of these feelings… they would be getting it wrong if it didn’t.

    The foreshadowing was clear in this movie. Katniss was reluctant indeed. President Coin isn’t seeming to be all that wonderful. Also, there was that one little scene where Finnick comments to Katniss (as they are both outwardly disturbed after a President Coin speech) and I paraphrase, because I don’t remember the exact words: “So you don’t like hearing a war song at a funeral, huh?” It is clear that both Finnick and Katniss are disturbed by the celebratory atmosphere. When District 13 starts chanting something eerily similar the the US Marine Corps “Ooh Rah” it is definitely disturbing. Their hatred toward Peeta also, will resonate with viewers as something that is “wrong” with them. Peeta is a victim of the Capitol, yet, for some reason the people of District 13 aren’t concerned for their fellow rebel (whom they abandoned). Instead they condemn him, thinking he’s been “turned” somehow. All of this is uncomfortable for the viewer – and one of the ways I think the movie sets us up for true revolution. We are learning to dislike District 13 just as much as the Capitol. It’s nuanced, but its there.

    PS: I absolutely loved it. I’ve seen some critical reviews of Mockingjay Part 1 – but I really, really liked it!

  • **My comment may contain spoilers**

    Was having a very similar conversation in the car on the way home from the theater – I even said, this was a depiction of a ‘coup’ not a ‘revolution’. It bothered me that District 13 was instigating violence in order to prop up their own government, to presumably enforce their brand of government (some sort of democracy) on the rest of Panem. Having read the series, however, I’m sure that the next installment will likely correct some of these feelings… they would be getting it wrong if it didn’t.

    The foreshadowing was clear in this movie. Katniss was reluctant indeed. President Coin isn’t seeming to be all that wonderful. Also, there was that one little scene where Finnick comments to Katniss (as they are both outwardly disturbed after a President Coin speech) and I paraphrase, because I don’t remember the exact words: “So you don’t like hearing a war song at a funeral, huh?” It is clear that both Finnick and Katniss are disturbed by the celebratory atmosphere. When District 13 starts chanting something eerily similar the the US Marine Corps “Ooh Rah” it is definitely disturbing. Their hatred toward Peeta also, will resonate with viewers as something that is “wrong” with them. Peeta is a victim of the Capitol, yet, for some reason the people of District 13 aren’t concerned for their fellow rebel (whom they abandoned). Instead they condemn him, thinking he’s been “turned” somehow. All of this is uncomfortable for the viewer – and one of the ways I think the movie sets us up for true revolution. We are learning to dislike District 13 just as much as the Capitol. It’s nuanced, but its there.

    PS: I absolutely loved it. I’ve seen some critical reviews of Mockingjay Part 1 – but I really, really liked it!

  • As usual, a thought provoking article that challenges preconceptions. Thanks for making me think Jeffrey. Your whimsical logic tends to break down unrealized errant presuppositions.

  • As usual, a thought provoking article that challenges preconceptions. Thanks for making me think Jeffrey. Your whimsical logic tends to break down unrealized errant presuppositions.

  • As “the state” is purely a fictional construct, it is impossible to do violence ” in revolt against the state” or “to establish a new state.” All violence is done by people, against people. Such volence can be justified only in immediate, unavoidable self-defense, which can be exercised communally as well as individually, and on behalf of others. What might begin as communal self-defense tends to morph into violence aimed at overthrowing the golden idols upon which rest the fictional constructs motivating the enemy, a sort of war against an abstract idea. And for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Going to violent war against abstract beliefs inevitably causes those beliefs to be replaced by others equally problematic, at best. Seeking domination through violence is the root. It is unwise to chop off the Hydra’s head. Better to look away.

  • As “the state” is purely a fictional construct, it is impossible to do violence ” in revolt against the state” or “to establish a new state.” All violence is done by people, against people. Such volence can be justified only in immediate, unavoidable self-defense, which can be exercised communally as well as individually, and on behalf of others. What might begin as communal self-defense tends to morph into violence aimed at overthrowing the golden idols upon which rest the fictional constructs motivating the enemy, a sort of war against an abstract idea. And for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Going to violent war against abstract beliefs inevitably causes those beliefs to be replaced by others equally problematic, at best. Seeking domination through violence is the root. It is unwise to chop off the Hydra’s head. Better to look away.

  • Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a fourth book in the Hunger Games series? It could show what a totally free society looks like. Yes, I know, I’m dreaming.

  • Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a fourth book in the Hunger Games series? It could show what a totally free society looks like. Yes, I know, I’m dreaming.

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