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£10 Anarchy

Nathan Ellis

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay–Part 1
Dir. Francis Lawrence
Released on 10 November 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay–Part 1 is a film all about media. The convoluted plot sees Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) making broadcasts to the Districts to stir them up into revolution, and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), under the control of the Capitol, calling for an end to war across the state television network. It explicitly depicts the way the mass-media controls people’s minds, suppressing revolution and reinforcing hegemonic ideology. This may appear at first to be a bold, even radical, concern for a Hollywood production. However, on closer scrutiny the film reveals the ironies of its own project.

This instalment of the Hunger Games franchise has an estimated budget of 125 million dollars. It is produced and distributed by Lionsgate, the makers of such recent gems as Twilight: Breaking Dawn and Expendables 3. It would be roundly absurd to claim any kind of subversive impetus for these films. However, this is the production house which used to make the films that bigger studios thought too controversial: American Psycho, Farenheight 9/11. Responding, no doubt, to the pressure for profit, it is now a studio which specialises in massive, homogenised franchises, splitting the final instalment of any sagas into two for maximum financial advantage.

It is a dishonesty about this shift from subversion to mindless conformity which is so spectacularly horrifying about Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1. The film appears to be talking about educating the masses to have critical minds—encouraging them to consider the institutions which surround them with a questioning mind, seeking underlying ideological messages. But it is in fact an exercise in making money out of projecting relentlessly empty actions onto a screen with enough rapidity to hold the audience’s gaze. It tells its massive audience to shut down and watch. Just by being here, it tries to suggest to its viewers, you are fighting oppression and enacting free speech. You come in a long line of revolutionaries. Now, give me your money and bask in Jennifer Lawrence’s buttocks and Donald Sutherland’s beard. But there is no revolution here, and the sinister semiotic functions of those buttocks and that beard make them, respectively, the opiate and comfort-blanket of the masses.

The film compounds this effect by reinforcing a myth common in bad science fiction and fantasy: that the depicted dystopian world is far, far away, and therefore of no pressing relevance. The result of this naïve distancing is that the issues of propaganda, which the film so crudely handles, require thinking about and interrogating only within the context of distant totalitarian dictatorships. However, despite the film’s best efforts to distract attention from the fact, the parallels between Panem and our own culture are compelling. If the film is seen in the context of the mechanics of its own production, its very existence—solely there to amass huge profits for an enormous studio, its executives, and its stars—it is exposed as part of an attempt to depoliticise and imaginatively castrate a whole generation. The filmmakers may or may not possess the self-awareness to enjoy the irony of the fact that they are the bourgeois Capitol, dressing up, walking down the red carpets, going on TV to sell to the Districts a film that pretends to tell them that anarchy is good.

Far from being an anarchic act, every £10 ticket bought for this film only fans the flames of a bonfire of ideas, with Marx smouldering on the top. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay–Part 1 is the nadir of civilisation, the puppetmaster of late-capitalism, hawking Coke and popcorn to tweens and telling them it’s a revolution. In addition, it’s extraordinarily dull.

Nathan Ellis is reading for a B.A. in English language and literature at Exeter College, Oxford.