Caution! This post includes spoilers from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
Jennifer Lawrence is the face of The Hunger Games and is undoubtedly one of the most popular actresses in the world at this moment in time. She’s loved by all and so far it seems that she can do no wrong. As an advocate for women across the film industry and a voice in all things equality, she is taking the internet by storm, one ‘share’ at a time.
Katniss Everdeen is in a similar position. As the Mockingjay she’s loved by many, but unlike J-Law she is dangerously threatened by others. There is no question that she is one of the strongest female characters the film industry has ever seen, as she wields her bow, jumps through explosions, and vows to bring down the Capitol government. She is never really seen as weak, despite her cries of desperation or tears of anger. From the very start of the franchise she comes across to us as hardened and brave – “I volunteer as tribute!” However, when she volunteers in the place of her sister, Primrose, her weakness is exposed and is evident throughout all of the films, in particular the final installment.
In Mockingjay – Part 2 Katniss has been pushed to the edge; she’s tasted death from all angles; she knows the absolute pinnacle of pain and she’s ready to reclaim her life and peace for all of Panem. Katniss is a very different character to the teenager that we once met in the woods of District 12 – she is damaged yet focused. Affected by what has happened to Peeta in particular, every action that she takes seems to be out of desperation to save him.
We first see her in this film in District 13, a short time after the end of Part 1, with a neck brace and highly inflamed vocal chords thanks to Peeta’s attack on her throat. After being tortured by the Capitol his memories of Katniss have been altered to be horrific and reflect danger, creating a barrier between him and Katniss and in theory making her weaker. We don’t necessarily see a weaker Katniss; sure, she is very traumatized by everything that he is doing or saying, and all she wants is for him to be back to normal, but she will continue to fight the Capitol whether he improves or not. Her efforts, however, don’t go unnoticed by him. We see what might be a hint of him getting better, but it is a very slow process. Her attitude towards him doesn’t waver. She doesn’t get upset and it’s possible to question a couple of times whether she indeed loves him.
Being a driven character, Katniss feels that she needs to go to the war zone in the Capitol, hating the idea of feeling useless over in District 13. Good old President Coin explains that she’s done her bit and doesn’t need to go to the Capitol until they have invaded everything and are in power. It’s clear that Coin is incredibly threatened by Katniss and wants to keep her where she won’t cause any trouble for her. Of course, Katniss has other ideas.
When Katniss makes it to the Capitol and is put in a special media squad, she proves that she is a real fighter and a leader. She shows the soldiers (and Peeta) surrounding her that she is good at defending the rebels and that she can fight (not that she didn’t prove enough in the arena in the first film).
Katniss proves to the people around her, including Peeta, crucially, that she is important to the cause and that she will make a difference. It wasn’t her choice to be in this position (other than volunteering as tribute) but essentially, she is a girl who has been thrust into political warfare and she adopts the role wholeheartedly. A lot of films depicting ‘warrior women’, such as Alien (1979) and Terminator 2 (1991) show transgressive characters and Katniss is no different. A normal girl unexpectedly finds herself in a dangerous situation and is forced to adapt. They don’t come from a background of action and violence, but they have to become that person so they can survive.
Just because she is brave, however, does not mean she is not exposed to emotional pain. She is not immune to death and she is not easily defended against attacks. Peeta almost successfully kills her in the midst of running away from one of the ‘pods’ that explodes with hot black oil. Throughout the film you see more of Peeta than the ‘Mutt’ that the Capitol have made out of him and, without putting all of her energy into him, she brings him back. He’s quite the side mission to her, as her absolute priority is to kill President Snow, something that she makes clear to us countless times. She’s been hurt by President Snow too much; he’s targeted her, Peeta, her family and her friends too many times for her to focus only on ‘the boy with the bread’.
We see her torn between Peeta and Gale, but the film does not necessarily focus on the romantic aspect as much as the book does. Katniss shares the odd kiss with Gale, but it comes across as more of a need for affection and something positive rather than love. I don’t believe at any point throughout the films that Katniss is wholly dependent on Peeta. At the start of the first film she’s angry that he’s confessed his attraction to her in front of the Capitol because she think it makes her look weak, and to an extent she is right, but as Haymitch points out, it makes her look desirable. And being attractive is something that women possess that has the ability to make them powerful. There’s none of this in Mockingjay – Part 2, other than at the end when she’s all dressed up for the final ceremony. Having said that, being ‘dressed up’ at this point doesn’t mean wearing a dress that looks like flames; she’s wearing a black catsuit, adorned with belts for weapons and her bow. She wears make up and her hair is in the classic Katniss braid, but she doesn’t look delicate. She looks sexy and formidable, she looks like someone who could take over the world. Other than this, within the film she and all other women (except Effie of course) are dressed down, a sense of equality storming through District 13 as everyone wears dull grey boiler suits.
Not to spoil the ending, but as expected Katniss saves the day. She’s the hero that Panem needs and gives them a solution that they deserve. After the grand finale peace is uncomfortably restored to their lives. She and Haymitch move back into District 12 and eventually Peeta shows up as well. What we see is the transformation from ‘warrior woman’ to ‘loving mother’, something that is a little difficult to swallow after all the action we have been put through for the last two hours. Where it is understandable that Katniss and Peeta would realistically settle down and have children, it feels a little too happy of an ending.
They’ve gone through so much in the films and it makes sense that they would want to have a normal, boring life, but as an audience, is that what we want? Do we want realism or do we want her to take over Panem and become the ultimate queen? It’s a difficult one, but from a feminist perspective it shows that she has a choice. She could probably have become the leader of Panem if she had really wanted to, but she has succeeded in having a calm life with a family. If you remember in the previous films, she talked about refusing to have children because she would not want them to go into the Hunger Games, but now she feels that they will be safe in this new life.
She’s probably one of the best female role models we’ve had in films and little girls all over the world have been buying toy bows and braiding their hair. Her strength is enormous and she has respect from all audiences. It’s wonderful that we have a character that is accessible to us and hopefully more films with equally strong characters will be following.
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