The Mockingjay Problem Solved

By Rebekah Fitzsimmons


I came across the following article while browsing Slate today, and found this to be a somewhat insightful discussion of the potential difficulties of staging the next two books in the Hunger Games trilogy, specifically the last, chaotic book Mockingjay.  The link is here.

The article focuses mainly on the problems with the end of the third novel: the transformation from the well-ordered Hunger Games festival into analogous urban warfare (still televised through carefully filmed propaganda films) and one of the final scenes in which small children are blown up, so that adult combatants will be drawn in to aid them, only to fall victim to a second round of explosions.  The article rightly discusses how Hollywood might be squeamish about this direct confrontation with the death of children and suggests possible ways of dealing with this ending, such as filming it as is, damn the cost, tactically rewrite parts of the scene while maintaining the spirit of the moment (perhaps the explosion happens off screen), or rewriting the ending all-together to make it more of a Hollywood happy ending.

After some careful consideration, especially of my own fan-girl vantage point, I think the rest of the story hinges so closely on that scene that the second option is a non-option.  A brief look at things that might change if that scene were to be deleted or transformed in some way:

Prim: The unfortunate (spoiler) truth is, Prim is killed in that awful explosion.  The film can not have the explosion happen off-screen because it is vital for both Katniss and the viewer to see and understand that Prim is one of the ones rushing to aid the injured children and thus is caught in the trap and killed.  I am working on a paper that argues that the entire book is the story of life between Prim’s two deaths: the first when her name is called in the Reaping, that was delayed by Katniss’s heroism, and the second when she is destroyed in the war between two sides who were both willing to sacrifice children in order to win.  There are clear parallels in the book between the moment Prim is called in the Reaping and the moment before the second bomb goes off, specifically Katniss watching her from a distance and seeing the tail of her shirt coming untucked like a little duck.  To eliminate this scene would rob the Hunger Games films of the Prim tragedy book-ends.  The reality is, Katniss does not become the symbol of an all-out rebellion because she is pretty, smart, or good with a bow and arrow.  It is her sacrifice for her sister that sets her apart from all others in the Districts (where no one volunteers except the Careers, because they want the honor and glory, not because they have loved ones to save).

Gale: Casey said to me after seeing the film: “When Gale came and carried Prim away at the Reaping, I finally understood everyone who was on Team Gale.”  Over the next two books, Gale and Peeta compete for Katniss’s affections and each has a very strong hold on her: Gale is her rock, her home, the man she can rely on to help save her family from starvation, loneliness and despair.  She breaks the law with him and in the peace and quiet of the woods outside their district, they dream about a life away from the pain, suffering, hunger and misery of their lives.  Peeta is Katniss’s companion in the Games, one who understands her nightmares, fears and guilt.  Peeta has similar scars from killing other children, from providing entertainment for the Capitol at the cost of his self-respect, soul and peace of mind.  Through the entirety of the second and the first part of the third novel, the reader can be torn between the two: Gale represents Katniss before the Hunger Games, Peeta represents what she has to become after.  I will freely admit to being on Team Gale, nostalgically wishing that Katniss could just return home to the way things used to be.

Until he blows up her sister.

Now the book is purposely ambiguous about whether or not Gale is directly responsible for setting up the trap, but Katniss (and the reader) is privy to a conversation in which Gale and Beetee plan a similar trap for war-time enemies: set of a small number of bombs, wait until the enemy comes to the aid of the wounded, then set of a larger round of bombs, destroying everyone.  President Snow indicates that the hovercraft that dropped the silver-parachute bombs belonged to the rebels, and while he is a smarmy, manipulative son-of-a-bitch, his reasoning (mainly, if he had a working hovercraft, he would have used it to escape rather than blow up the children acting as a living shield for the Presidential Palace) is despicably convincing.  Gale recognizes too that whether or not he was directly responsible, the idea that he had something to do with Prim’s death would haunt Katniss for the rest of her life and thus, she could not spend the rest of her life with him.  One of his last lines in the book makes reference to the fact that the thing that set him above Peeta was taking care of Katniss’s family and now that is gone.

Presidents Coin and Snow: One of the more amazing things that Collins has done in her trilogy is to create the villainous, evil, despicable Capitol, which forces children to murder children on television for entertainment, and then to create a rebellion against that Capitol which is equally and despicably flawed.  District 13 and President Coin are equally complicit in the deaths of those children, as they hid in their bunker behind the protection of mutually assured destruction and did nothing until the other Districts begged for their help.  Coin sends Peeta on military missions with Katniss, despite his trackerjacker brainwashing which makes him want to kill Katniss: Coin claims it will look better for the propos, but Katniss believes that with the war fully on, she is no longer of use to Coin and is in fact a threat to her authority.

When Katniss is set up on the balcony of the Presidential Palace with a silver arrow, which is to be the symbolic last shot of the war, she is expected to execute President Snow.  Instead, she assassinates Coin.  In order for this scene to make any sense (if it too isn’t cut from the film), the audience has to understand WHY Katniss believes that Panem is better off without Coin.  The scene with the children is vital to the end of the film, because Katniss must be able to believe that the bombing COULD have been executed by Coin, otherwise she could not shoot her instead of Snow.  Unless the writers (which included Collins for the first film) plan to rewrite the entire end of the trilogy (Coin dead, a democratically elected President, Katniss exiled to 12, Gale off in 2 making stuff), the scene is vital for the following chain of events that precede the dénouement of the film.

If Collins truly set out to depict the cross between the Iraq war and American reality television, the ending needs to remain as close to the book version as possible.  The surreal descriptions of Katniss watching the television monitors while watching the bombing in real time is stunning and the final pageantry of the execution-turned-assassination will be even more powerful on the big screen then they were on the page: the meta-vision of the audience watching Panem citizens watch Katniss watch the TV screens will be too amazing to miss out on.

Rebekah is a PhD student.

Categories: Critical Conversations, In the Media

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