Liberty at the Movies: Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1

Those who enjoy good movies with libertarian themes should not miss Mockingjay, Part 1, the third and second-to-last movie in The Hunger Games series. For those unfamiliar with the series, The Hunger Games takes place in a dystopian society consisting of 12 districts, which are ruled over by an authoritarian Capitol. The residents of the districts live lives of poverty and toil while the residents of the Capitol live in Roman-like splendor.

As punishment for a prior revolution, and in order to keep the districts in line, the Capitol forces each district to send two "tributes" between the ages of 12 and 18 to "The Hunger Games." The tributes are forced to fight to the death for the entertainment of the Capitol and as a means of reminding the 12 districts of the consequences of rebellion.

The heroine of The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen, outsmarted the Capitol in the first movie by manipulating public sentiment so the Capitol was forced to declare her and her fellow tribute, Peeta, co-winners. In the second movie, Katniss was forced to compete in another Hunger Games with former winners. That movie ended with Katniss being airlifted out of the Capitol, and the revelation that President Snow was himself being manipulated by "game maker" Plutarch Heavensbee  (one of the last roles of the magnificent Philip Seymour Hoffman). Heavensbee is actually a leader of a rebellion against Snow's rule, and he set up the new games to encourage the people of the twelve districts to rise up against the Capitol's rule, with Katniss serving as the symbol ("Mockingjay") of the revolution.

Mockingjay picks up with Katniss awaking in the rebel headquarters, in the supposedly destroyed District 13.  Some critics have complained that the third film is not as action-driven as its predecessors, but that is one reason I enjoyed this film. Instead of focusing on the violent games, the movie focuses on the rebellion's attempts to "market" Katniss as the symbol of the revolution.

The scenes where the rebel leaders discuss how to best frame Katniss’ message in a series of propaganda videos resemble a modern campaign strategy season. Watching Heavensbee work to properly script Katniss’  performance as the Mockingjay reminded me of Hoffman's performance as a political consultant in the Ides of March.

The film also gives us more information on the depth of the corruption of the Capitol. But the movie also raises questions about the tactics and motives of the rebels. Julian Moore's icy performance as rebel leader "President" Alma Coin raises question about whether she would really be that much better than Snow. Libertarians will also note the rebels talk a lot about "democracy" but little about freedom.

One distinction between Katniss and the rebels that I picked up on is that Katniss fights the Capitol for the people she cares about, whereas the rebel leaders fight for abstract principles like democracy--and for power for themselves. The question that thoughtful film goers might be inspired to ask: is the rebels' goal of instilling themselves in power as part of a "democratic" regime a goal worth fighting and dying for, or does real change come from reducing government power, not just installing a new group of rulers?

I understand from friends who have read the books that these themes will be further developed in the fourth (and final) Hunger Games movie, out in November 2015.

Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 is not just an enjoyable movie, but a rare mainstream movie that may enable you to strike up a conversation about politics and the ideas of liberty with your apolitical friends.

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