In “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I,” the beginning of the end, the antics usually confined to the Hunger Games arena have bled into the districts of Panem as chaos threatens to halt a would be revolution.
The final book of the Hunger Games saga, “Mockingjay,” is widely considered the weakest piece of the trilogy. It ends the series well, in my opinion, but structurally it’s completely different from the previous two books, which both follow a similar arc: Katniss before the arena, Katniss in the arena, Katniss survives the arena.
Needless to say, when it was announced that”Mockingjay” would be split into two films, the decision was met with apprehension from fans. I can’t speak for all of them, but for my part, I think it was the best thing they could have done for the finale of this story. Any weaknesses presented in the book can/and so far have been mended by the mid-story break.
In “Mockingjay” we see the full political implications of the building revolution and the reality of what that will mean for our hero—Katniss. In the book, it makes for a slower read, but I’d like to argue that the true strength of the series reveals itself in its final volume. In the films, the propaganda machines that fully come to light in the final book have been woven into the first two films, preparing us in a way that the books don’t.
After being whisked away as the arena crumbled around her, leaving Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) behind, only to discover that her home, District 12 had been destroyed, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is resistant to accept life in District 13. This district, long thought to have been destroyed by the Capitol, has not only survived, when the other 12 thought it was gone, they’ve been building a military resistance underground (literally) and biding their time. Life in a bunker has clearly affected the way this society operates, with all of its residents clad in the same gray jumpsuit in living quarters that resemble barracks more than homes.
This rebel society is led by its president, Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), a harsh, practical woman who’s itching to remove President Snow (Donald Sutherland) from power and overturn the current system. With help from former gamemaker Plutarch Heavensby (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the still fabulous, even in her gray jumpsuit, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), they hope to design a revolution led by their Mockingjay—Katniss.
Side note: I know Effie is not in the final book, but the glory of Effie (and she is glorious) is a perfect example of how the films have adapted this story with style.
These carefully designed propaganda pushes are the driving force of the plot. After it becomes clear, through a series of amusing failed attempts at a promotional video, that Katniss can’t be scripted, a defiantly sober Haymitch leads a whiteboard brainstorm for the history books (it’s fantastic) that sets the Mockingjay machine in motion. The influence of such a machine, even when led by our hero, becomes more and more evident as we see the reaction of the districts.
On the other side of this conflict, Peeta, presumably against his will, becomes the face of the Capitol’s own propaganda machine, the ultimate weapon in this battle, as broadcasts featuring him becoming increasingly loyal to the Capitol paint him as a traitor to the rest of Panem.
A back and forth of broadcasts by Katniss and Peeta sets the revolution in motion. During a particularly well-crafted scene, the haunting melody of Katniss’ rendition of “The Hanging Tree,” a scene straight from the books, transforms into a battle cry as the people of the districts rise up against the Capitol.
As the film continued beyond the point I thought “Part I” should have ended (I won’t say where that is), my initial reaction was one of disappointment. But now, I have to admit, the ending they chose makes perfect sense with the story they’ve chosen to tell. It’s in these final moments we start to question President Coin, as we see the increasing, albeit well-meaning, influence of Plutarch on her campaign, and start to see some parallels between the rebels and the Capitol. The stage for the final battle is set.
At this point in the series, a bar has been set and this movie continues to meet those expectations, and set new ones. This series has done a wonderful job of staying true to the original stories, while making the most of the advantages that film presents. This third film is no exception. As we approach the end, “Mockingjay – Part I,” sets the stage beautifully while still leaving us (I’m sorry for this, I can’t help it) hungry for more.