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A few incomplete thoughts on Mockingjay, Part 1
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Overall, I think I liked it. I have some criticisms but maybe another time. For now, just some thoughts on the movie (and the book), starting with: what is a mockingjay?

1. A mockingjay is the offspring of genetically engineered jabberjays with mockingbirds. The jabberjays were created by the Capitol to spy on people; mockingjays sing beautiful songs. The Capitol's attempts to exert control on every aspect of society, including by creating new tools at the DNA level, are subverted by the procreative urge in the birds. A mockingjay is the grass that grows between the cracks of the sidewalk; it is the result of the primal creative force of life bursting forth within, and even *because* of the most tightly controlled society ever designed.

2. A mockingjay is a being whose defining characteristic is its ability to beautifully, soulfully, reproduce exactly sounds made by others, which it is unable to understand itself.

I'm not sure what I think of the movie overall -- I think I liked it -- but I think that it gets (and gets across) the central tension at the heart of Katniss' role in the revolution that springs up around her: Katniss is, at this moment, the symbol of humanity whose passion can no longer be contained or destroyed, and a tool being used to beam a desire to go fight and die into millions of people's heads.

And that's sort of the trick: to bring down the extremely, shockingly oppressive aristocracy, you need numbers, raised fists in unison like an Eisenstein poster. (I could have done without the oorah, though.) And how much do you need of each person? When you need every body and to conserve everything, to go down to 14% oxygen for a night, suddenly "luxuries" like alcohol, wigs and cats become illegal. For a moment I was thinking how ridiculous it is that Prim becomes the ONLY person to nearly be locked out when District 13 shuts itself down, but of course she is: the survivors of District 12 are the only civilians in District 13 who would think of defying the order to move down into the bunker, which has been drilled into the people for years. They had to, to survive; District 13 is a fighting force, in a way District 12 wasn't. But the people that Katniss are fighting for are the remnants of 12, and they still have individual things they care about.

What degree of control, authoritarian control, and for what reasons, one has to put up with; is it better, in an underground bunker where everyone is fed and they have a chance to strike back at the Capitol but no one can have pets or drink or dress themselves or display individuality, or above ground where people were starving and taking on the Capitol was a pipe dream and an impossibility but people could make their own choices? It's, I suppose, moot now that District 12 is gone -- but one of the principal questions of Mockingjay (the book and film) is what District 13 has lost in order to be the sole region to survive completely separate from the Capitol's influence, and what this means should there be anyone left standing if the Districts and the Capitol go for all out war.

Plutarch changes "a necklace of rope" to "a necklace of hope" in the song, and the call to suicide becomes a call to freedom. And is taking on the Capitol a fight for freedom or a call to suicide? Is there even a difference? (Finnick said, at the beginning, that he wished that Annie was dead, that they were all dead, rather than being punished by the Capitol.) And the quiet beauty of Katniss singing an old, half-remembered song becomes the inspirational/horrifying sight of thousands of people singing a song about murder, lynching and romantic suicide as an anthem of revolution, the Mockingjay leading an army of mockingjays out to throw themselves onto the gears of the great machine and slow it down with their bodies and blood. In the propaganda wars that break out, Peeta and Katniss are opposed symbols, one used by the Capitol and one used by Coin. And both are as honest as they can be, in their situations; both are unwilling to break their own personal moral codes. Katniss looks at the horror that has befallen those she cares about, looks at the hospitals being burned to the ground, and the rage and fire within cannot be sated: Snow is a monster, the Capitol continues to oppress and destroy them, and they need to fight back. Peeta is biding his time for a moment where he has built up enough media capital to scream a warning to protect people's lives, but I also think that he genuinely means what he's saying, because, yes, going after the Capitol is suspiciously like suicide. It's also a call to complacency against a juggernaut that has massacred them and will do so again. Sure, the propaganda is manipulative, and sure no one seems to know what they are singing when they bravely march into battle singing Hanging Tree, but you need every tool you can to dismantle Snow's machine, right? Right?

As with the rest of the media stuff in this series, we're also looking at the bleeding of individual and group -- how Katniss' authentic, idiosyncratic, personal Katnissness is selectively edited, channeled, and packaged to make her the symbol of what everyone else should be, an individualism immediately transformed into a legion's (or fanbase's, or cult's) adulation, the ultimate It girl. And of course, you can't fake authenticity -- so rather than have Katniss try and fail to "act," Coin et al. simply put her in emotionally traumatic situations to produce the exact Pavlovian emotional response they want from her! Katniss is not a wholly passive figure, here -- she advocates for the Victors and for Prim, she regularly defies Coin on a personal level -- and she's not actually programmed the way Peeta is, with actual neurotoxins and torture. But Katniss is a traumatized young woman who has a team of handlers working together to figure out how to maneuver her into having the emotional reactions they want her to have. She isn't yet getting out of that. And I think about Peeta's admonition to her, while he was being used as a tool, which may ironically be the key: think for yourself.

The questions are what conditions are worth living with, and what is it that's worth dying for -- a cat, a sister or friend, a freedom, or power? I do wish this was given more dramatic kick than it was, but still, I do love that Snow has a slow-creeping poison devouring him, which was literally self-administered in order to amass power. In general, how much do you compromise, of personal freedom, to stay alive? How much are, as Snow points out, the things that one wants what will destroy you? If the contrast between Snow's poisoning himself for power and Prim nearly dying to rescue her damned cat or Katniss being broken again and again by Snow's use of Peeta tells anything, it may be this: yes, you may be destroyed as a result of what you love. But nothing lasts forever. In a world where everything you love may destroy you, choose to love someone or something worth dying for.

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However, once enough people die For The Cause, there will be liberty, because ... ?

...Because once enough people have died for something, that thing must by definition be Liberty? ;) (This will become a very Soviet-heavy discussion, but I recently read Svetlana Alexievich's Zinky Boys, about the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and the reaction to the soldiers' testimonies on how they treated the locals and what it did to them. Quote from one mother: "I'm proud of my son! I love the USSR because my son died for it! And I hate you [the journalist], we don't need your awful truth!") The more you sacrifice, the more you must get in return; that's simple capitalism. (Ouch.)

I recently watched an early Tarkovsky movie, Ivan's Childhood, about a, say, 12 year old boy who fought for the USSR during WW2 against the Germans

I haven't watched that one (yet) but have you seen Elem Klimov's 1985 movie Come And See? Roughly the same idea (young Belarusian boy gets tossed into WWII and has to survive) and possibly THE bleakest, least "Woah, dude, look at the cool explosions"-like war movie ever made. (And, if I were to film The Hunger Games, would be one of the main inspirations for how I'd film Katniss' last shot.) ETA: Trailer

I think watching that recently is what puts me in mind of the Germany vs. USSR frame for the whole thing, though it doesn't seem that there is racial or religious persecution in the Capitol, which is probably more directly based on Rome and the Modern West in equalish measures.

Yeah, the iconography really is a bit weird in this - I always wondered why villains in sci-fi dystopias inevitably dress themselves to look as villainous as possible (then again, the Nazis did that too) and why they all seem to base their uniforms on either Nazis or Star Wars stormtroopers. I mean, as scary as they look, they... y'know, lost. What kind of example is that to set for your minions? And is that why the Capitol soldiers can't hit anything further away than arm's length?

Edited at 2014-12-17 02:26 pm (UTC)

Give me Liberty or give me Death! Oh, you gave that other guy Death? Well, I must have gotten Liberty! Phew, what a relief! I can go back to living now! ;)

That reporter/interview has something of Stockholm syndrome (whose name makes it sound as if it's more common in Sweden -- any thoughts? ;)) in it, but at least with "ordinary" Stockholm syndrome there is at least some possibility of getting out with enough time and re-building values according to some sense of normalcy -- "Oh, right, I was held hostage by some people, that's not what is supposed to happen, I reacted weirdly, and now my life is back to normal. Check" -- as opposed to, "I was raised to believe in this value system and my son died for it, so FUCK YOU." It's also sort of a variant of Pascal's wager:

Case 1 - The State's demand for great sacrifices which have already been made are justified ==> implies that sacrifices that have already happened happened for a reason.
Case 2 - The State's demand for great sacrifices were not justified ==> sacrificed for NOTHING! AHHHHHHH!

The "Pascal's wager" element of it, I guess, is that the method used to choose which belief to adopt is very explicitly *not* the probability of each belief being correct, but how desirable or frightening the consequences of that belief are.

I have not watched Come and See but I will try to check it out. I have heard of it.

Yeah, the iconography really is a bit weird in this - I always wondered why villains in sci-fi dystopias inevitably dress themselves to look as villainous as possible (then again, the Nazis did that too) and why they all seem to base their uniforms on either Nazis or Star Wars stormtroopers. I mean, as scary as they look, they... y'know, lost. What kind of example is that to set for your minions? And is that why the Capitol soldiers can't hit anything further away than arm's length?

Yeah, I mean, I also kind of am not sure what the deal with Capitol soldiers is anyway -- this may have been clarified at some point and I may have forgotten, but who *are* the people fighting? The depiction of Capitol people as decadent sloths means that they probably aren't doing their own fighting, so it's probably District 1 or 2 or something that produces the soldiers. It may be that the Nazi iconography (or generally dressing them like interchangeable supervillainous identity-free forces), and possibly even a piss-poor training program leading to people unable to shoot, is a mechanism to control the army which could really take them over if they ever wanted to, which is one of the consequences of having Too Good a military. Or it's a cliched dystopian army and not much thought was put into it! HARD TO SAY.

(whose name makes it sound as if it's more common in Sweden -- any thoughts? ;)

Don't know if it's more common, but we did invent it. Our most successful post-war export next to IKEA and ABBA. So there.

Case 1 - The State's demand for great sacrifices which have already been made are justified ==> implies that sacrifices that have already happened happened for a reason.
Case 2 - The State's demand for great sacrifices were not justified ==> sacrificed for NOTHING! AHHHHHHH!


Which is, in fact, pretty much the dilemma Alexievich points to.

who *are* the people fighting?

Yeah. If there's one thing that's really sorely lacking in HG, it's the bird's-eye view - everything (including but not limited to the plot) is so focused on Katniss that we have no idea who anyone beyond her circle of friends and enemies is. It's even more obvious in the movies, without the first-person narrative. I'd love to get some more insight into how the Capitol dwellers justify their lives, how the District 13 people have actually lived over the years, etc. There's another reason to dress your supporting cast in uniforms; you don't need to acknowledge them as actual people.

Don't know if it's more common, but we did invent it. Our most successful post-war export next to IKEA and ABBA. So there.

Is your most successful pre-war export Ingrid Bergman? Or Greta Garbo? :) (Talk about objectification!)

Yeah. If there's one thing that's really sorely lacking in HG, it's the bird's-eye view - everything (including but not limited to the plot) is so focused on Katniss that we have no idea who anyone beyond her circle of friends and enemies is. It's even more obvious in the movies, without the first-person narrative. I'd love to get some more insight into how the Capitol dwellers justify their lives, how the District 13 people have actually lived over the years, etc. There's another reason to dress your supporting cast in uniforms; you don't need to acknowledge them as actual people.

Yeah. And I mean, I don't know. I think that it sort of works in the books better than the movies on this particular point; one could still say it's lazy, but I think the difference is that a character hearing "oh, and like a thousand people died fighting today," and not getting a sense of what those people are like or how they died or what their hopes and dreams are, is different from *seeing* hordes of people running at each other as disposable figures in a brief action scene that is mostly for exposition. Katniss' shell-shocked inability to grasp the larger narrative around her is The Point; I think if the books were stronger, there would be more information at the margins to allow us to reconstruct the whole world, but I think for what they are it largely makes sense. However, every time the films cut away from Katniss they necessarily become something like omniscient narrator, and while that doesn't happen too often it does happen in some of the scenes (like the...woodsmen in District (2 < n < 12) climbing trees to drop bombs or whatever which don't make the trees fall down? ish?). It's a different feeling, and reminds me of Truffaut (I think?) saying that it's impossible to make an anti-war film because war looks so exciting on film. There is no real adrenal charge in Katniss hearing that fighting that she doesn't understand happened, whereas there is some even in a battle scene on camera where we have no real sense of any of the individuals as people.

I do think there is some critique in there -- mostly in the way the solo Hanging Tree becomes Soviet Marching Song -- but it can only go so far without development of the extra-Katniss world, which the movies only really half-commit to. (Well, half is maybe stretching it, it's less than that!) I don't quite know how critical I want to be of the movies (or books, for that matter) -- I think they are...fine, sort of, for what they are? But I sort of wish they built on what worked about them further.

Edited at 2014-12-17 03:54 pm (UTC)

Yeah, I mean, I also kind of am not sure what the deal with Capitol soldiers is anyway -- this may have been clarified at some point and I may have forgotten, but who *are* the people fighting? The depiction of Capitol people as decadent sloths means that they probably aren't doing their own fighting, so it's probably District 1 or 2 or something that produces the soldiers.

That's actually a pretty big plot point in Mockingjay, in what will be in part 1 of the movie (though it could have easily been in part 1), so if you don't want to be reminded, don't scroll down (I've forgotten, how do you do spoiler tags here, or can you?):
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It's explicitly explained by Plutarch in the book that the majority of Peacekeepers comes from District 2. There are lots of Capitol citizens who are in bad debts and who'd agree to join the forces because they have little choice otherwise, and some do become Peacekeepers, but most of them are not considered fit and trained enough for the job. Instead, the majority of the force comes from District 2, which has always been the one most loyal to the Capitol, and also the richest i.e. the one Capitol treats the best financially - or rather, it's District 1 and 2, but 2 is specifically a very militarized district. Their official industry is masonry, but actually it is training future Peacekeepers, producing weapons, and they also take a lot of pride in their participation in the Hunger Games, training the "Career Tributes" from an early age, so they could volunteer when they turn 18, and "bring pride" to their District. They seem to have a very "being a gladiator is a noble and proud thing" mentality (I'm reminded of a couple of characters from Spartacus: Blood and Sand that used to have that mentality).

Which is why 2 is far more divided than the other Districts regarding their attitude to the Capitol, and rebellion doesn't spread that easily. It's a Capitol stronghold for a long time.












Edited at 2014-12-28 03:46 pm (UTC)

I forget how to do spoiler tags -- you can do it, but I don't recall.

And thanks for that. I remember that now, but it's a detail that floated out of my mind.

About the Peacekeeper uniforms - that's a movie thing, I don't think their clothing is ever described in the books. I don't know why they went with that - maybe as a homage to Star Wars?

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