Freedom in Film and Fiction: Truth in Art

CascadeNewLogoBy Kathryn Hickok

Since 2013, “Freedom in Film and Fiction” has been an occasional series of book and film reviews housed on Cascade’s website. Join us as we explore themes of freedom and timeless truths in literature and art. You can find the introductory post here.

When the first film of the Hunger Games series premiered, Cascade’s Sarah Wolf wrote about the themes of human freedom found in the popular novels by Suzanne Collins.

“In a society where rules and oppression define the lives of its citizens,” she wrote, “the fictional Katniss shows that freedom is not completely lost, despite the external constraints on her freedom. She still has the will to make choices based on what she believes to be right and wrong, often in defiance of the expectations of her government.

“Even in the darkest of circumstances, personal choice and liberty can prevail if only we don’t cave in to the immoral expectations of our leaders and peers. Good can overcome evil, one small act at a time.”

If you missed it, you can read Sarah’s review here.

The Acton Institute’s Dylan Pahman has written an insightful take on the third Hunger Games movie, which opened in theaters earlier this month.

“While some would criticize the series for lack of depth, ‘Mockingjay, Part 1,’ offers more than just a shallow cast of good guys vs. bad guys, acting as a window into the messy realities of tyranny, class, and freedom,” he says.

Pahman points out the role that beauty can play in defending freedom. In the movie, the fashionable Effie Trinket says “she has been ‘condemned to this life of jumpsuits’—skewering the conformist dress of the militaristic District 13.” Does Effie sense the connection between the loss of expression of beauty through dress with the denial of the intrinsic worth of each human being under an authoritarian system that squelches personal expression and human difference?

Consider the themes of tyranny and class dynamics in The Hunger Games, a subject that I reflected on last year with reference to ‘Catching Fire.’ In ‘Mockingjay,’ which like past films in the series does an excellent job of bringing these themes more to the forefront than their source material, we see again a clear rejection of ‘us vs. them,’ class warfare dynamics in favor of greater nuance and complexity.

Which brings me to Effie Trinket (played by Elizabeth Banks). Effie epitomizes the shallow lifestyles of Capitol denizens…..[However], another side of Effie comes to the fore. Plutarch scolds her that the revolution is happening and there is no going back to the extravagant life she once had, calling her, ‘replaceable,’ just like everyone else. But Effie counters that certainly Katniss, who the rebellion so wants to be their mockingjay, is not replaceable, and neither is she. Her self-worth may be inflated, but she also hints at the error of Plutarch’s way of thinking: no person is replaceable, an inherent dignity violated year after year by the Hunger Games themselves….

Commenting on France under Napoleon III, Lord Acton once said, ‘The victims of the imperial despotism are for the most part its instruments.’ Panem has far more victims than the willing instruments of the Capitol, but nevertheless ‘Mockingjay’ shows that even the Effies of the world, the symbols of self-serving tyranny, may themselves be tyrannized and worthy, too, of liberation. If we can look more than skin deep (past, no doubt, copious layers of concealer), we might see even those we believe to be shallow or adversarial to possess the irreplaceable dignity of the image of God.

You can read the rest of Pahman’s thoughts on Mockingjay here. Hopefully, you will find food for discussion about the story’s themes of freedom and human dignity to share with moviegoers you know this holiday season.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

(A version of this article was originally published December 12, 2014.)



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