Sunday, November 23, 2014

Guerrilla Warfare in 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' (libertarian film review)

This libertarian movie review contains SPOILERS.
These spoilers DO NOT give away the plot, but they do reveal certain things viewers will see in the movie.
You’ve been warned.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, starring Jennifer Lawrence, is a thrilling action/sci-fi film about a revolutionary war in a dystopian future.  Like its predecessors in the Hunger Games Saga, Mockingjay Part 1 is remarkably well made and will keep viewers glued to their seats.  However, the “Part 1” in the title should clue people in to the fact that the movie is a total cliffhanger.

The setting itself hardly needs to be analyzed to find the striking libertarian imagery.  In Panem we see an oppressed people living and dying under the yoke of a totalitarian government—a massive surveillance and police state.  First there is Katniss Everdeen’s individual defiance against the state through seizing freedom of speech and expression in the Hunger Games.  In the second installment, we see the birth pangs of the revolution amidst the Quarter Quell Games.  In the third and fourth installments—Mockingjay parts 1 and 2—we see the revolution become a brutal civil war.

Because the film is divided into two parts of two hours each, the producers could afford to take their time telling the story.  Therefore, the exposition is slow and the plot is slower to unfold.  This first half is less about the revolutionary war to overthrow the Capital than it is about Katniss Everdeen’s transformation from stunned tribute into the Mockingjay, the face of the revolution.

One of the benefits of slower, longer movies is the increase in time spent on showing depth and detail in the story, characters, and setting.  We get a heavier taste of Katniss’ post-traumatic stress following the games, as well as new challenges to her fragile sanity as the war begins to take its toll on loved ones.  We also have time to see the general way of life in the rebel capital, District 13.  These glimpses create an authentic look and feel of wartime, combining images that cross World War II with the Fallout video game series.

Even more intriguing is Katniss’ interaction with President Coin, the rebel head-of-state played by Julianne Moore. Coin’s stirring speeches to her soldiers and their Spartan, in-unison responses invoke mental images of the post-World War II archetypal dictator, fist high in the air, riling up the troops.  This causes viewers to question whether the rebel cause is a just cause—after all, replacing one police state with another is hardly an improvement.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman also adds a good performance that complements both Lawrence’s and Moore’s.  This movie is one of the last times we’ll see Hoffman’s face on the big screen.

Moving past the gritty details of character and exposition, there is one element of the on-screen revolutionary warfare that intrigues me.  We get to see several glimpses of oppressed civilians rise up, with or without weapons, and fight the Capital’s “peacekeepers” (jackbooted thug troops clad in white).  In the lumber workers’ IED attack on the peacekeepers and the hydro-engineers’ destruction of the dam, the viewer is looking at guerrilla warfare in action.

Murray Rothbard writes about guerrilla warfare as the most libertarian way to wage a just war for a just cause.  In analyzing the American militia’s tactics and actions at Lexington and Concord, Rothbard says:

“In brief, a guerrilla war would be the libertarian way to fight a war fully consistent with the American revolutionary ideals of liberty and equality of rights, and, therefore, the only way to achieve the libertarian goals of the Revolution.  A European style, orthodox war would be heavily statist, and would inevitably lead to the resumption of the very statism—the taxes, the restrictions, the bureaucracy—which the colonists were waging the revolution to escape.

“What is more, guerrilla war would be enormously more effective; for that is the way any subjugated people—not only libertarians—can fight against a better-armed, but hated foe.  The efficiency of guerrilla fighting as against European warfare had not only been demonstrated in the unbroken victories of Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys in the Vermont revolution, but also in the victory at Concord, a guerrilla engagement so individualistic as to be almost completely leaderless.  In contrast stood the slaughter at Lexington, where the Americans had fought in fixed ranks and in the open.”

Slaughter is definitely a recurring theme in the Hunger Games Saga, no less in Mockingjay Part 1.  This is a reminder that few revolutions are bloodless, and like the American war of independence was no tea party for the American revolutionaries, it will be no walk in the park for Panem’s rebel army.  We see revolutionaries and rebel guerrillas gunned down by the dozens, yet they keep coming until they overpower the peacekeepers.

Sometimes, the only way an oppressed people can overcome a better-armed minority is to use their strength in numbers in a guerrilla war.  History showed us this when the American militia pushed the British out of Concord and besieged Boston, when the Red Army pushed the Germans back west and besieged Berlin, and in modern days as the Kurdish guerrillas continue to press against the Islamic State psychopaths, using hardly more than single-shot rifles.

Despite being a giant appetizer for Part 2—the real Mockingjay film—Part 1 is still a dynamite flick and certainly raises a high standard for Part 2 when it debuts in November 2015.

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Mockingjay Part 1 art is the property of Lionsgate films and other respective owners and stakeholders, used here according to Fair Use laws for the promotion of the movie.  Fan-made movie poster by Kim-Beurre-Lait, courtesy of

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