The bleak Hunger Games book and film saga speaks to a generation. The final instalment, Mockingjay part 2, shows why it’s so popular, writes Dave Sewell
The fourth and final film in the Hunger Games saga opens with its young hero Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in hospital, voiceless and badly bruised.
She’d been strangled by the tortured and brainwashed lover she spent the whole of the previous film trying to rescue.
Now the people nursing her voice back to health are also putting words in her mouth. And the torment is only just beginning.
It’s no spoiler that Mockingjay part 2 ends in a revolution.
Visually it takes its cue from the real life civil war in Syria. Katniss and her comrades walk through a cityscape of rubble.
The slaughter unleashed by ruthless President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has forced the uprising a long way from the demonstrations and riots seen earlier in the series.
It has pushed all opposition into the camp of heavily armed faction District 13 and its equally ruthless leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore).
Though an expert archer, Katniss is kept from the front lines. Instead she is used as a propaganda symbol to inspire the rebellion.
It’s all carefully choreographed by Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the defected state media guru who used to run Snow’s Hunger Games.
These deadly contests were televised to intimidate the regime’s enemies.
As one survivor points out, that sense of spectacle remains central to the conflict. Another struggles to tell what’s real from what isn’t.
Katniss speaks most powerfully when she throws the scripts away. She calls for those Snow has kept divided to unite against their real enemy.
If anything her story is missing the genuine joy and participation that revolt can bring. But the towering success of such a bleak series says a lot about our time.
Hunger Games has inspired a genre of imitations and is progressively breaking records set by Harry Potter a decade earlier.
Its most obvious influence, Japanese cult classic Battle Royale, dates back to just 2000.
Their shared theme of adolescents forced to kill each other speaks to a generation driven to stress by constant competition.
It’s a far cry from the 2005 adaptation of V for Vendetta which inspired the masked protests earlier this month.
That film ends in jubilation as the regime melts away.
Katniss’s victory is hard fought and bittersweet. But it too can inspire.
Protesters in Thailand were even arrested last year for copying her three fingered salute.
Despite its epic sweep, the Hunger Games is at heart a personal story all about Katniss.
Life under Snow’s regime has taught her to be pessimistic and distrustful, hoping for nothing beyond the survival of those she cares about.
But it also makes even that aim impossible.
As she says of Snow, “Nothing good is safe as long as he’s alive.”
And perhaps her defiance in the face of never-ending nightmares offers a bit more solace in a cruel society. In the end, it makes her aim truer than anyone’s.