Mockingjay Part 1 (2014)
Editor’s Note: Mockingjay Part 1 opens in wide theatrical release tomorrow, November 20th.
The dystopian Hunger Games saga continues with the first part of the final chapter. Similar to other young adult franchises (e.g. Harry Potter, Twilight) the third book Mockingjay is split into two films, arguably for financial reasons rather for narrative advantages. Francis Lawrence, who also directed Catching Fire, shot Mockingjay back-to-back and reunited the incredible ensemble including Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, Sam Claflin and Elizabeth Banks, whose character Effie Trinket is given more screentime in the adaptation than in the book and is responsible for few light and comical scenes. With Julianne Moore as President Alma Coin and Natalie Dormer as Cressida for example, Mockingjay adds a couple of more strong, female characters.
… the third book Mockingjay is split into two films, arguably for financial reasons rather for narrative advantages.
Mockingjay Part 1 picks up shortly after Katniss has been rescued by the rebels and taken to District 13 to lead the rebellion against the Capitol. Instead of a rebellious leading figure however, Katniss is introduced to the audience as traumatized and broken when we see her waking up screaming and shaking from nightmares, wandering around the underground of District 13 lost in thoughts and worrying about Peeta’s fate (Josh Hutcherson), who has been left behind by the rebels and taken in by the Capitol.
The deadly Hunger Games are history but the revolution and the war between the districts and its oppressing regime has just begun. To unite all other districts in their fight against President Snow (Donald Sutherland), Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), the unreliable and demanding President of District 13, needs Katniss to reprise her role as the Mockingjay, the symbol of hope, equality and democracy for Panem. At first, Katniss refuses to be the face of the uprising until she realizes how valuable she is to President Coin and her military plans, she is able to make commands and agrees to lead the rebellion under certain circumstances.
The familiar faces of supporting characters such as Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Finnick (Sam Claflin), Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) and Effie (Elizabeth Banks) work alongside Coin but even more so are around to support and encourage Katniss. To unite the districts and encourage them to withstand the oppression, the team comes up with propaganda videos featuring Katniss all suited up as the Mockingjay to convince them that she is ready to bring down President Snow. Her first scripted so called “propos” fail due to lack of convincing emotions but since Katniss needs a trigger to express her anger and hate towards the Capitol she is sent to the Districts to witness the extent of the destruction and the eagerness of the rebels to fight alongside Katniss. With this, fire is catching and the narrative structure of Mockingjay operates in “moves and countermoves” - a strategy Plutarch once described during the 75th Hunger Games.
Although the increasing uprising and rebellion replace the thrilling and suspenseful action of the Hunger Games, the action remains in the background since the film deals with Katniss’ inner struggles as she is coping with the loss of Peeta, the psychological damages due to experiencing the brutality of the Hunger Games twice in a row and the heavy burden that come with her responsibility as the Mockingjay, symbol of the revolution. The plot and the general themes of Mockingjay resemble a genre mix of a political thriller and a war film but with the focus on the heroine, the third installment of the franchise is immensely character-driven. With this, the film takes an even darker, more sinister and serious turn compared to its preceding films as it deals with the aftermath of the Quarter Quell in Catching Fire.
Although it lacks the action usually inevitable for a big franchise blockbuster, it prepares the audience for what is yet to come and still delivers …
During one of the thoughtful and quiet scenes, Katniss sings “The Hanging Tree”, a haunting song with dark lyrics expressing the hardships of a tormented life and the liberation of death in a world that is not worth to live in. Once broadcasted all over Panem, the song turns into the theme song of the rebels, fighting fearless for justice and a better world.
The darkening and also military shift is furthermore noticeable in the setting of the third installment and the costume choices. District 13, where most of the plot is taking place is characterized by its cold and grey atmosphere, narrow tunnel system, endless staircases leading further and further underground, dim lights and a civilization functioning according to schedule and dressed in uniform jumpsuits. Once outside, Katniss stumbles through the haunting ashes and human remains of the destructed districts. Wherever she goes, Katniss is followed by a camera team to capture her every move. Her emotions are used for the political propaganda of the rebels, while the Capitol exploits and tortures Peeta for their own purposes in order to manipulate Katniss but also to restore and stabilize the Capitol’s totalitarian regime. In the first two films, the brutal and morbid Reality-TV show and its construction offered a satirical and cynical look upon the media, whereas this time it is the staged interviews with Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) and the propaganda video materials. Katniss’ and Peeta’s fear in the trilogy’s Hunger Games of being just another piece in the games switched to both of them have actually become a piece of the political game of war.
Unlike the previous two films the first part of the final chapter is obviously less self-contained and leaves the audience by a cliffhanger creating more loose ends to tie up than before. Although it lacks the action usually inevitable for a big franchise blockbuster, it prepares the audience for what is yet to come and still delivers mainly due to the political schemes, the character-driven focus and the brilliant performance by Jennifer Lawrence.
Mockingjay Part 1 lacks action but delivers due to its increased psychological depth, the display of a manipulative political system and the brilliant performance of the broken heroine by Jennifer Lawrence.