The three central fingers raised with thumb and pinky connected; the Mockingjay Salute. This time it’s not appearing in a film but instead in the Philippine Senate. Miriam Defensor Santiago has her arm elevated; what does it mean? A symbol of defiance, a sign saying that she is not going to take the corruption anymore, a warning that she is going to speak truth to power. When a gesture becomes a poignant metaphor in a real political arena, you know a film is not just pop culture froth. The groundbreaking Hunger Games franchise, the most fascinating of recent globalized cultural products, reaches its finale this week with the release of Mockingjay Part 2.
Plot Synopsis: The Battle to End All Wars
Beginning from where Mockingjay Part 1 ended, we see the very familiar scene of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) waking up from her last battle injury (a scene that will be repeated over and over again). Having rescued Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), now is the time for the final assault on the Capitol. President Coin (Julianne Moore) wants Katniss to remain out of the battle as a symbol of defiance. Will the Mockingjay accept being left behind the front line? Never! Katniss joins the troops for the final battle against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) as she and her friends enter the labyrinthine city streets, infested with deadly Games-style booby traps.
While Part 1 was slow in the build up to the action of this section, there is almost relentless action in Part 2. I worried we might have another Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies here, where endless fight scenes relentlessly bored because of a lack of story. The Mockingjay Part II misses that particular trap; the action in fact moves the narrative forward, with extremely tense and claustrophobic set pieces cleverly recalling Aliens. The reference is sly because it compares Katniss with the ultimate female action hero Ripley. By doing this, we see how Katniss, though seemingly fitting the role of hero, actually subverts it. Katniss constantly fails where we think she should succeed. Her strength and prowess, though formidable, do not ultimately make her conquer all odds, but instead her humanity and compassion is what really inspires the heroism in others.
While relentlessly bleak, the humorous vein of the earlier film still remains, only it reaches ever darker as it looks with unflinching details at the horror war. This is genuine satire. The role of the media in its manipulation of the masses is brought to its bloody conclusion. While the fight scenes are exciting, they are never glorified. Killing is never cool here; even the death of the worst villains remain sad and questionable. The damage of war affects all its characters, and no one is left unharmed after it.
The Scars of War and How They Might Still Affect US
Watching Mockingjay Part 2 reminded me of another film I reviewed earlier, Heneral Luna. Questions about leadership, loyalty, war and humanity seem to be the great themes of this movie-going year. Where Luna kept things relatively light and glorified macho bravado, killing people is never an admirable act in the Mockingjay. Wars damage, kill, destroy and scar. Reflecting on the Philippines, I have wondered if we really ever healed from the damage of our wars. First, the Spanish subjugated us, and when we developed some sense of self from the writings of the Ilustrados, the Americans then crushed with genocide that killed thousands, if not millions. Almost fifty years later, as a people we experienced some of the worst violence in the history of the world, murdered, tortured and raped by the Japanese and bombed out by the Americans. Yet our wounds are something we rarely talk about; instead it is kept in the darkness to fester. And the traumatized survivors live on, trying to love and raise families, but with parts of them dead from the violence. Does the trauma of war and its damage explain the lack of hope in our voters, and the cynicism in our politicians where they feel if they do not victimize they will be the victimized?
“Strong Men” Aren’t the Answer; You Are!
I get worried when perceived “strong men” like Duterte or Marcos are offered as a panacea to today’s problems. The beliefs that violence will defeat violence to me seems illogical; I believe much more what Mockingjay has to say about violence, that it begets more violence and that we will all be damaged by it. I feel we have already felt the effect of such violence from the wars and martial law. We have lot of angry people unable to channel that energy in ways that are productive. Instead we have a dog-eat-dog country where we say we need to cheat others before we get cheated. Everyone is afraid, so they either runaway to healthier democracies, or they remain and passively accept being either the exploiters or the exploited. People who constantly live in fear would gladly jump on the bandwagon of any gun-wielding cowboy whom they believe can offer them safety, but what they will discover is that they will just put themselves into an even deeper pit of exploitation, where might always makes right. What we need instead is personal conviction; no one else has the answer. Each one has to accept love and peace as a way of life and trust that those around them will work to do the same. Fear only brings more darkness. Choose love instead, and let us see where that leads us.
Mockingjay Part II is showing in Cebu cinemas this weekend November 20-22, 2015