The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 is, more than any of the other films in the Hunger Games franchise, a war movie. The handful of new characters who show up for this final installment are defined by their military rank (like Lieutenant Jackson, played by Michelle Forbes, or Gwendoline Christie’s Commander Lyme); the settings consist of abandoned streets and underground safe houses and a dictator’s decadent mansion; and, though each of these films features a surprisingly high body count, the deaths in this story are no longer confined to the gladiatorial arena from which the series derives its name.
As a film, Part 2 is probably the least effective of the series, as it lacks the first film’s fresh vision and voice, the second film’s color and creativity, and the third film’s cold, narrow focus on Katniss’s internal struggle. Nevertheless, The Hunger Games has always played with our assumptions about violence and spectacle in a compelling (if not entirely consistent) way and given us a uniquely personal exploration of the politics of revolution and media representation, and Mockingjay, Part 2 is no exception. This film’s connections to world events is a given, and Josh Larsen has thoughtfully explored how one pivotal scene in Part 2 provides a striking and ambiguous parallel to the plight of Syrian refugees.
As I watched Part 2—and this may say more about me and the circumstances of my faith journey than the film itself—I was struck with the way the story explored Katniss’s own crisis of trust. At this point, you either know the story of The Hunger Games or probably don’t care to know: that in a future dystopia called Panem, Katniss Everdeen (played by the series’ most reliable element, Jennifer Lawrence) has survived two rounds in a televised death match and become the hero and symbol of an underground rebellion aiming to overthrow the ruthless dictator President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Part 2 opens almost immediately where Part 1 left off, with Katniss working with a speech therapist after being strangled by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), a friend-maybe-lover who survived both rounds of the Hunger Games with her (Katniss later describes her relationship with Peeta to him as, “We keep each other alive.”) but who has undergone intense behavioral conditioning at the hands of Snow’s people to make him despise Katniss. The sequence establishes one of the film’s primary conflicts: As the rebellion intensifies into all-out civil war and Katniss inserts herself directly into the heart of the conflict, she struggles to identify whom she can trust, especially as she begins to question the values of the movement who props her up as the face of their revolution.
I think those of us who carry any sort of church baggage may be able to identify with Katniss’s crisis of trust. Many of us who grew up in religious communities that we loved and trusted have experienced some kind of fracture in that trust. Perhaps we were, like Katniss, victims of abuse in any of the forms it takes. Perhaps the crisis was more intellectual: We encountered new ideas, often as a result of leaving home, and found ourselves questioning things people taught us and things we believed ourselves. Or perhaps we lost trust when we found ourselves on the margins of the community: We committed the shameful, taboo sins instead of the socially-acceptable sins, or we revealed parts of ourselves that people might have preferred we kept hidden, or we asked questions we weren’t supposed to ask. As a result, people regarded or treated us differently (sometimes with open hostility), doors were slammed in our faces, and we felt much less at home in the pews than we once did.
In many cases, this crisis of trust overlaps with a crisis of faith: We may doubt the character of God or the competence of God or even the existence of God. In other cases, though, what complicates the struggle is the way our perceptions about God don’t match our negative perceptions of our religious community: We still love and desire God even as we no longer feel as much at home in the places where we once found God. It’s disorienting and lonely, since we often don’t know where to turn or whom to trust. The questions we face are often practical but reach at abstract conflicts: Who is safe enough to listen with compassion and sensitivity when I need to vent? Where should I attend church on Sunday—if I even make it out of bed—and what do I hope to find there? Whose interpretation of the Bible should I trust, or should I even trust the Bible in the first place? We can’t simply drop the dilemma, overwhelming though it may feel, because we know how high the stakes are.
Near the end of the film, Katniss makes a decision with massive, history-making ramifications; one of the film’s greatest shortcomings, in fact, is the way it swiftly underplays those ramifications to arrive at a relatively tidy conclusion. That the story goes to nearly absurd lengths to make the decision seem inevitable (even moreso than the book does, if I remember correctly) does not eliminate what’s particularly poignant about it: namely, that in spite of few the trusted allies who do remain within her reach, Katniss consults with no one before executing her decision. At this point in the story, Katniss has reached her own state of profound disorientation and loneliness with the war having robbed the lives of many of her allies and brought out the worst in those who have survived. In the fogginess of her despair, she makes an irreversible move, and everyone else must rush to deal with the consequences—ultimately preventing, in fact, the second half of her two-part plan.
If there’s any lesson to be learned from Katniss’s despair, then, perhaps it’s that we might try our hardest not to let our own crises of trust rob us of the resources that do remain at our disposal, particularly in terms of the people whose faithfulness to us doesn’t waver. Most of us won’t find ourselves in positions of as much influence and power as Katniss finds herself; if we make mistakes, they aren’t likely to shape the course of history so dramatically. Nevertheless, it’s often when we feel the most adrift and alone that we run the greatest risk of hurting ourselves or the people around us. As Peeta slowly recovers from the conditioning he received from Snow, he reestablishes a rapport with Katniss, continually asking her whether certain memories or details are “Real or not real?” His dependence on her and the rest of the team stands in stark contrast to Katniss, whose sense of what is real (and right, and good) consists entirely of her own perception. When our own crises of trust leave us scrambling to figure out what’s real or not real—about God, about ourselves, about the Bible, about church—we could do much worse than to follow Peeta’s lead.