The third installment of The Hunger Games: "The Hunger
Games: Mockingjay--Part I" does not disappoint. Director, Francis
Lawrence, who also directed "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," keeps
the momentum going in a sleek, seamless film. As we all know, sequels are
hardly ever as good as the original, but in serial films it seems, as long as
all the elements of the story are kept consistent and evenly measured out, this
doesn't have to be true (think the "Harry Potter" films).
Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is in the fortress-like District
13, essentially a huge underground bunker of a city run by President Coin
(Julianne Moore) in opposition to President Snow (Donald Sutherland) of the
Capitol. Katniss must agree to be the icon of the rebellion if it is to
succeed, but her only concern is to save Peeta, held hostage with Johanna and
Annie in the Capitol.
JOAN OF ARC?
There are definite "Joan of Arc" overtones at
certain points. Katniss' Mockingjay outfit is almost like armor, and her banner
with fire behind it feels like a scene right out of "Joan of Arc"
starring Ingrid Bergman. (Joan prided herself on never having actually killed
anyone herself--similar to Katniss.) I do think Katniss could be a role model
for young women to be strong as young
women. Sometimes to have a bit of needed nonviolent, feminine "fight back" in
"Mockingjay" gets off to a very quiet start with
lots of dialogue bringing us deeper into the human drama of the story (not just
telling us what happened in the first two films). The filmmakers and actors
know they have us eating out of their hand, and we, in turn, trust this is
going to be good, so we go along with it for quite some time with no action.
But once the action comes, it is purposefully tense and pregnant with meaning because
of this build up. We now know
what it takes, we know the stakes.
"Mockingjay" could have been unbearably grim, but
we have our comic relief in the personages of Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie
(Elizabeth Banks). The laughs come due to Haymitch being only a semi-reformed
addict and Effie being the fashionista doomed to a gray, Communist-like
jumpsuit existence. Stanley Tucci as the almost-evil game show host, Caesar
Flickerman, plays his role to the fullest with TMZ relish.
Although District 13 may look so drab and prison-like, and
the Capitol so elegant and charming, the reality is the opposite. The Capitol (even
sporting a red-background-with-yellow-emblem flag) operates on a Communist
principle: You exist to serve the State. The State provides order, security and
what you need--for you to continue working for the State, which is supreme and
will bridge no opposition. This is a great history lesson. Another history (and
current events!) lesson is that of propaganda and Media Literacy. The war
between District 13 (and Panem) and the Capitol is also a media war. Isn't the
fatal "reality show" what started it all? Katniss now goes nowhere without
her "media team," shaping, shooting and framing the freedom fighters'
image and message. Screens continue to dominate till there's a showdown between
Katniss and President Snow. This whole media theme would make an excellent
Media Literacy class discussion! Art is actually imitating life right now in Thailand, which has
outlawed the three raised fingers of defiance that real-life dissidents are borrowing
from "The Hunger Games"! (The mockingjay image is also outlawed by
President Snow in the film.)
Some of the dialogue feels like kidstuff (after all, the
books were not written for adults), sometimes overstating what is going on so
that everyone can keep up, but it never gets too heavy-handed, and is actually
a welcome relief from too-subtle or too-complicated plots and characters.
I still have huge problems with the whole "Hunger
Games" concept of kids killing kids (although the author's goal is to teach
young readers about the evils of war right before they may actually be asked to
fight in or support a real one). However, this installment is not about any
kind of killing games, but rather about the real-life escalation of revenge bombings
from the Capitol for the uprising, so actually seeing individuals being killed
one by one is not part of "Mockingjay." There are two gruesome, but
tidy (just bones) scene of the dead of District 12 (being picked at by a
vulture and a dog), and a slightly disturbing scene of a kind of torture (of
one of the young tributes).
LOWPOINTS & HIGHPOINTS
How does "Mockingjay" leave one feeling? Because
of all the heroism on the part of the "good guys," we can feel swept
up in wanting to "always do the right thing" as they do--even though
sometimes arriving at a moral strategy for going good can be murky waters. My
complaint with the character of Katniss (in the films, that is--I'm told that
in the books we can overhear her inner workings which are not always as
perfectly virtuous) is that she is too perfect. She always chooses the most noble, heroic and correct thing to do
without any fear or compromise. It's like she's programmed and can't do
otherwise. This is very poor character development. There are no questions in
our mind like: Oh, no! What will she do? Because we already know: she will
choose the high road and do good and keep on fighting and never give up. Even
if she has a slight dilemma about the right course of action, she resolves it
quickly and she never seems broken by it all. Even though we know our heroine
can't die, a good writer/filmmaker can put them in such peril that we can't
begin to imagine how they will ever get out of it, and we forget for a moment
that, well, our heroine can't die (yet).
"Mockingjay" keeps your attention, never feels
long, and boasts a sure-footed pace to ensure this. The soundtrack is rich,
creative and surprising as Katniss even sings a kind of chain-gang blues song
that becomes a rallying anthem. The constant use of intercuts is very effective
(back and forth between simultaneous action in different locales). It's so
refreshing to see an imaginative film with warriors who have no superpowers, their
greatest strength being that they are human and humane.
--Katniss should be with Gale.
--Bittersweet to see Philip Seymour Hoffman again....
--Like "Twilight," "Hunger Games" is one
woman adored by two men. But Katniss should be with Gale.
--Why do adults love young adult stories so much? I think
because they are big and bold (good), we're kids at heart (good), and we've
become a very literal, surface, face-value, obvious one-dimensional society,
with no time, talent or taste for nuance (not so good).
--Katniss should be with Gale.
--It dawned on me that the tributes are like Africa's child
--Did I mention Katniss should be with Gale?