' Cinema Romantico: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1

“The Hunger Games” trilogy (plus one) is among the few film series I recall genuinely improving as it progresses. The first film was nothing more than the same kind of action-oriented reality show it was supposed to be satirizing. The second film, however, broadened its scope and deepened its ideology. The “Part 1” addendum to “Mockingjay” obviously betrays the third film's status as a set-up, but don't assume it’s a mere placeholder. If you’re willing to set aside justifiable anger over Hollywood’s need to wrangle two films outta one just to reel in those sweet, sweet bucks, this film is tough and smart, even if its conclusion has no choice but to be a cliffhanger.


“Mockingjay, Part 1” is more political intrigue than dystopian thriller. If you’re looking for a gaggle of flaming arrows and physical challenges, disappointment might ensue. As if sensing that ahead of time, director Francis Lawrence crams in a woeful Cat Rescue sequence and a couple other moments of machine gun fire and CGI explosions, perhaps because “machine gun fire” and “CGI explosions” were directorial contract conditions. Whatever, the true action here is conversational, behind the scenes, two opposing blocs trading bureaucratic bombast, almost as if we are watching an adaptation of Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s “Game Change” for Panem, the North American world of this post-apocalyptic landscape.

If that sounds like heady stuff for a film based on a Young Adult novel, well, even Young Adults have to learn that in America – er, Panem – advocates of hope and change dabble in the same nefarious tactics as the vile keepers of the status quo. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, once again expertly providing this blockbuster a super solid sense of gravity), Hunger Games heroine, was propped up by venomous President Snow (Donald Sutherland) as the false beacon of his totalitarian society, the magic to distract the mob. She shattered that illusion, literally and figuratively, as the second film, “Catching Fire”, concluded and now she has been brought by a rebel faction to an underground hiding place where its leader, Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), and her right-hand man, Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), yearn to turn the most beloved face of this totalitarian society into the face of their fledgling insurgency.

There is an endless assortment of talking heads seen on massive video screens spouting rhetoric that may or may not be based in truth but, either way, inspires the masses, transforming “Mockingjay, Part 1” into a straight-up contest of propaganda where neither side is unwilling to hit below the belt. Katniss is issued her small unit of protection cum documentary crew, following her into the field and filming her adventures for evangelistic purposes. One scene finds them resting on the shore of a serene lake where Katniss is goaded into singing a song, which she does, unabashedly and unironically, though the rebellion expediently transforms her hymn into a District 12 dust bowl ballad, Katniss Everdeen as Pete Seeger. Everything she does is exploited.


Perhaps this is why she clings so desperately to her past relationship with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), her fellow “Hunger Games” hero and kinda, sorta love interest. He remains behind in the government-held capital city and her only interactions with him are not really interactions at all. Every time the rebels submit a Panem-wide communique, the capital city hits back with a communique of its own, and usually in the form of Peeta addressing Katniss directly, begging for his one-time ally to give up this insurrection. Naturally Katniss assumes he is being brainwashed but since we never see the story from his side we have no idea if that’s true, or if he assumes the same thing about her. I yearned for a dual movie set in the capital, one where the President is spinning Katniss Everdeen as Patty Hearst and Alma Coin as Donald DeFreeze.

It’s this relationship that gives a purposely talky movie an extra dose of oomph. In movies where the livelihood of an entire civilization is threatened are often criticized when a single love affair is somehow made out to be just as important. “The problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world,” someone once said. But if everything you are is co-opted in the name of a cause, well, what’s left but loving the one you’re with? Or, in the case of Katniss, loving the one you want to be with. And that’s why even if the film’s end is wide, wide open in lieu of the wrap-up that will not arrive in theaters until November 20, 2015, there remains a detectable note of convincing melancholy as this first part concludes. What if even the only person you love isn't whom they appear to be?

1 comment:

Dan said...

I also was surprised to be so intrigued by all the political moves in this movie. I just watched it last weekend, and what sticks with me is the sense of dread that I felt while Julianne Moore was speaking to the crowd at the end. Essentially, their whole world is in real trouble. It feels very different than a normal franchise movie. There are some awkward parts, and the two films seem unnecessary, but there's still a lot to like.