This is not an essay on the merits or failures of Mockingjay the book or the film. It is not a critique.
This is a thank you letter.
But first you must understand my history with this story.
On the day before my twenty-sixth birthday, five years ago, at eleven o’clock at night, I finished reading Mockingjay for the very first time. Having read all the Hunger Games books in the span of three days, I had gotten too absorbed, too close to these fictional people, this fictional war, those fictional deaths. I spent my birthday sobbing. I struggled to make sense of the sudden dark hole I found myself in. I was an adult, a thinking woman who was raising a child and married and paying a mortgage, but I couldn’t have a conversation that day without welling up in tears.
It created a flood out of which many, many things flowed. I discovered the Young Adult genre because of these books, and began consuming fiction like it was some sort of gloriously delectable goody. I started writing my own fiction, too. Believing I could and should become an author. I found my own voice that way, imitating Suzanne Collins, Maggie Steifvater, Libba Bray — others, greats — until out of their brilliant voices my own, still raw but real, began to emerge.
But there was something I couldn’t shake. A gnawing that unsettled me and left me at a loss for words to explain. As life changing as The Hunger Games was for me, it also felt unfinished. Not wrong in the way Gilmore Girls or Lost will always be because of the way they ended, but like I was waiting for the rest of the story. I had walked with Katniss through the Games, through a war, through deaths and sacrifices, victory and loss, but the time I spent in her triumph was too short. What I needed for this reluctant hero was to experience the simplicity she had always wanted. A life without war and hunger — the things I would argue Katniss ultimately fought the Games and the war for. Even more than Prim or Peeta.
Two pages in an Epilogue, no matter how beautiful, were not enough for me.
Finally, I saw Mockingjay, Part 2, and in the last minutes of the movie I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. Finally, I got what I needed for my hero and myself.
I watched the war’s harshness melt away from Katniss. I saw her look at Peeta like he was someone she wanted and not just needed to survive. I got to see her decide to lie beside him, letting him hold her and love her back. I saw her babies. And for a few minutes I wasn’t watching Jennifer Lawrence play a character, but I was with Katniss again. My Katniss. The one I had followed to war five years ago. The one that made me remember that books possess the power to change me when I let them.
I was grateful. I found closure.
Certainly, my experience speaks to how the visual story can communicate a different part of the character’s experience. Katniss was a hard character to ever really know, even for a reader in her head, but when I saw her living on screen she proved to me, finally, that all she’d walked through had been worth it.
But I think it was more than that.
Humans crave the triumph of good over evil — unless you’re a Death Eater or member of Hydra or Sauron. That is why the heroes journey has been written in every form imaginable, and then was written again from another point of view, and then reversed, over and over and over.
We need Harry to walk into the Forbidden Forest and face Voldemort. We need Frodo to take the ring, and when he falters we need Sam to make sure he drops it in the fires of Mordor. We need Buffy to sacrifice herself for her sister and stop the end of the world…again. But I almost think sometimes we need the After more.
We need to see that Harry got married and holds down a job, Ginny probably bakes him pie on Sundays, and James likely wants one of those Muggle video game systems. We need to see Frodo go with the Elves because he gave too much of himself to his journey and now he needs to a quiet place to pass his last days.
We have to see that Katniss didn’t need power and prestige to consider herself the winner of the Games. She had done all she did so she could live a life most of us would find dull. The movie gave me that moment in a way the book alone had not been able to. I needed it.
We are in war all over the world. The horrors we experience in the fictional Panem are happening in real, more brutal ways, now, here, in our backyards, where our children live and play and learn. The reason we fight back isn’t for world peace. Peace is an unattainable dream. Mockingjay doesn’t pretend that it is, and I am not pretending it should be.
But what it promises is this: Our children are worth it. Humanity is worth it.
We don’t need much to win. Just a table filled with family and friends, the promise to work harder, the action of standing up to the bullies or the tyrants, to the terror and the violence. Unity is impossible, so stop seeking it. We will never all agree on policy or faith, whether guns should be banned or abortions outlawed. We are so divided, and in our division we are weakened. We will lose and become enemies, and when we need to, we will fail each other. We will riot and fight. We will kill. We will look the other way.
We need heroes in our stories, but we are the only heroes available to this world. Us, thinking and feeling human beings that allow our hearts to be changed.Our heroes journey starts when we say yes. Yes, I’ll give back to the hurt and the wounded. Yes, I’ll listen. Yes, I’ll look at the pain and not ignore it just because it is not mine.
This is a thank you to Mockingjay, Part 2 for reminding me why I shouldn’t give up the fight. Why I can be my own hero in my own life. Why I already am.