It’s never fun to listen to someone talk about all of the ways in which a movie was not like the book. And I’m not going to do that here because that is not the point. Am I sad that the personalities and import of secondary characters were lost between Mockingjay the book and Mockingjay the movies? Yes. Do I wish Prim’s final scene could have been more impactful? I do. Would it have been better to more strongly allude to Gale’s part in the bombing? Possibly.
But, surprisingly, what has most saddened me about Mockingjay, Part 2 is what was kept between book and movie: the epilogue.
People have talked and talked and talked about The Hunger Games as a feminist franchise — here we have a somewhat oblivious but totally badass heroine who sometimes responds in stereotypically feminine ways but, more often than not, breaks convention. She’s a breadwinner and protector, quick to anger, emotionally damaged, confused, and heroic. Katniss is brave and strong, skilled and smart, and, always, distinctly a teenage girl.
The feminism doesn’t stop with Katniss. Women are real people in this franchise: Effie rocks out her style no matter the situation, because it makes her feel good; Coin is ruthless and ready for power; Prim is focused on bettering herself and the world around her; Annie — as difficult as it may be — survives, thrives, and raises a child without her male partner; Cressida escapes the Capitol and becomes a leader in the rebellion; Johanna endures terrible punishment but maintains her steel and intelligence. Women, like their male counterparts (also real people who break with gender norms: Peeta as partner, Finnick’s imprisonment in the sex trade, Beetee as a maternal figure to Wiress), are agents of change. It is a beautiful thing to see this work gain such a massive following and dominate the box office.
But that last scene…
Mockingjay the book ends the same way as Mockingjay, Part 2: we flash-forward to Katniss and Peeta as the parents of two young children. Katniss lets us know that one day, when it’s time, she’ll explain to her children why the world is the way it is and her role in making it that way. She will tell her children why she has nightmares, how she survived, how she continues to survive. It is clear that she is happy, if scarred. It is clear that there is a “happy ending.” And it is clear that life goes on.
It could have been clearer in the movie that Peeta and Katniss are still broken in some ways, that the pain never really goes away, that things aren’t all meadows and chubby babies. But if you know what to look/listen for, those ideas can be found in the dialogue.
But the book makes one additional, very important thing clear: it took many, many years (“five, ten, fifteen years”) before Katniss felt safe and comfortable with the idea of motherhood. Peeta is the partner who desperately wants a family — Katniss does not acquiesce until her early 30s. She loves her children, yes, and is very happy with her life and the added role of mother, but at no point was it necessary for her to have children to be happy.
In the movie, however, we cut to a seated, loose-haired Katniss, babe in arms. She wears a pastel, floral print dress and is bathed in golden light. Gone is her signature braid, gone are her Earth-tone colors and leather vests, gone is her restless motion and active-even-at-rest stance. Gone is Katniss the Hero. All of the pain, the work, the fear, the struggle in the name of the female protagonist with agency; all of Katniss is wiped clean in this image. Here, she sits inactive, wearing clothing we have only ever associated with her mother (whose complete lack of agency is integral to the story), with husband and children as her sole focus.
This ending shows the viewer that the only way a woman can be truly happy is through motherhood — the only measure of a woman’s success is through her ability to be a mommy. It doesn’t matter that Katniss has taken down the Capitol. It doesn’t matter that she deposed what would be a new dictator. It doesn’t matter that she has finally discovered and understood herself and her loss. It doesn’t matter that she has mended relationships. It doesn’t matter that she has opened herself up to love. It doesn’t matter that it took fifteen years of relationship building and emotional mending to bring Katniss to a place where she would accept being a parent. None of this matters because the only way to give a woman a happy ending is to make her a mommy.
Four movies. Four. Of strength and wit and sacrifice and crushing defeats and women enacting world-changing events. All to bring us to one final scene: Katniss the Mother.
It devastates me that this ending was so misrepresented. Because the beauty of the book’s epilogue lies in how Katniss and Peeta keep themselves whole, how they build a life together, how they are individuals with pasts that matter, how they cannot be pigeon-holed into specific gender or relationship roles. It adds to the feminist nature of the work and continues Collins’s methodical destruction of gender stereotypes. It is hopeful and realistic and it made me cry for days.
The movie ending, though, works only to undermine all of the important work Collins’s series has done. Because, at the end of the day, who cares if you’re the Girl on Fire? You only matter if you have a girl of your own.
Don’t miss our reviews of Mockingjay, Parts 1 and 2. This post is part of our Hunger Games Week. Click on the tags Hunger Games Week and Hunger Games to see all posts. For more in our Fan Week series, click on the tag Fan Week 2016 and see #HBFanWeek on Twitter.