CONTEST IS CLOSED. Congrats, Benjamin!
Have I mentioned how much I love my job? Because I love my job. Last Wednesday, Tumblr took us out for a treat: a pre-screening of Mockingjay. I read The Hunger Games over a year ago and I’ve been a huge fan ever since, so just try to imagine the sounds I made when we received the invitation. Check out my review below and make sure you enter the contest for a chance to win an official Katniss poster!
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The rebellion is about to begin and Katniss is caught up in the middle of it. She has several difficult choices to make in this movie. She also has a lot to learn while holed up in the underground fortress of District 13– about the Capitol, about the world it’s shaped and even about herself– before she can become the symbol everyone wants her to be. This film does a great job of expanding on these lessons without succumbing to the long, angsty, introspective monologues that made the third book my least favorite of the series.
STUFF I LIKED
War is awful. It’s damaging not only to the body via the countless who are obviously hurt or killed in battle, which we see plainly in the movie, but also to the psyche. Psychological warfare is just as big a part in this film as physical combat; it wreaks serious havoc with Katniss’ mental state and with her ability to contribute to the rebellion. Seeing this kind of struggle in Katniss makes her more relatable, because we understand her pain and root for her to pick herself up. After all, it’s easy to imagine yourself in the fictional reality of Panem, but it’s hard to predict if you’d be able to make the same decisions and sacrifices, especially when those you love are at stake.
Speaking of those you love: Finnick and Annie’s relationship is very endearing. There’s something beautiful and innocent about the way they pine for each other. Finnick is the only one who can get Annie past her rough moments and Annie, in turn, is Finnick’s metaphorical anchor to reality. Their devotion amidst the chaos of kidnappings and violent politics is a sweet respite from the anxiety and bloodshed that seems to categorize most of the movie, and a reminder that even those with mental health issues can still experience the same romance as everyone else.
In fact, there are several characters who break the usual molds of a dystopian-hero film. Along with Annie, who would best be categorized as a sufferer of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, we also have the technological genius Beetee played by Jeffrey Wright. As Jeffrey explained in a recent interview with Queen Latifah, everyone deserves a hero. Beetee not only represents the “nerds,” but also the African American population and, as Jeffrey explained, those who utilize wheelchairs. Similarly, the character Pollux plays an important role as a cameraman later in the film though, as an Avox (one whose tongue has been cut out as punishment for defiance), he never speaks aloud and instead communicates via ASL. I loved seeing this diversity in the roster, with characters who were able to function perfectly well even in the unforgiving world of Panem, and who acted as beacons of hope and agents of significant change while simultaneously defying the form of a typical hero.
The actors did a fantastic job of embodying these characters, as well. I had reservations about Finnick’s initial casting in Catching Fire, for example, but Sam Claflin pulls him off well, maintaining an obviously sensitive demeanor that can become furiously vengeful when the time calls for it in Mockingjay. Josh Hutcherson makes a terrifying 180 as Peeta with the help of a talented makeup crew and a bit of CGI. Liam Hemsworth’s Gale remains a solemn presence, though in Mockingjay he seems more aware of how he stands in relation to others. He becomes more important in his own right as a member of the rebel effort, rather than purely a side character in relation to Katniss. Shoot, even Effie undergoes personal growth!
JLaw continues to impress as Katniss, also, despite her terrible wig. The explosive special effects and action scenes don’t distract from her importance; Katniss is really given her time to shine despite the setting. She takes control of her own life and often jeopardizes it, and though her supporters gladly step in to help she does not willingly depend on them. She’s capable, which as the news told me recently, has inspired many young women to defy gendered expectations of pink princesses and damsels in distress. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a princess, but having options is always a good thing. Catching Fire, for example, prompted Hasbro’s production of Katniss-style Nerf bows targeted toward girls, which grossed them a solid billion and offered children a new, socially encouraged outlet for play. And while the toys’ limited pink designs left something to be desired, I can’t deny that these small changes add up in terms of awareness. If a company as big as Hasbro is taking notice that girls want to be adventurous, fearless heroines just like the boys, then that’s great!
By the way, the Bechdel test? Mockingjay: Part 1 passes it with flying colors. Katniss, Primrose, President Alma Coin (of District 13), Cressida and several other women exist as complex, uniquely interesting characters who speak with each other about a variety of topics and endure hardships together.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE
This isn’t the action-packed half of Mockingjay. That isn’t to say there isn’t plenty of movement and action in this installment, but it’s a setup to the wilder conclusion next year (which, by the way, I was never happy with in the novels). Part 1 is more about character development and establishing plot– for example, when Finnick spills a bunch of juicy secrets to the public– than taking immediate action. And you know what? That’s okay for me. It didn’t come across as dull. I’ve read the books and I was still on the edge of my seat for the duration of it. It ended in a good place, teasing us with a cliffhanger that prompted someone to yell “wait, that’s it?” despite two and a half hours. Still, while I would have gladly sat through two and a half more right then for proper closure, I could understand if some audiences weren’t thrilled with the slower pace. There were definitely a few scenes where I tuned out because the dialogue droned on a little too long and a little too dry.
Now, in terms of the Mockingjay fandom: one of my biggest pet peeves about the community is the focus on Katniss’ love life, i.e. “Team Peeta” versus “Team Gale.” I do not doubt that these relationships play very important roles both in The Hunger Games books and in the movies, serving as motivation for many of Katniss’ actions (particularly in Mockingjay), but I will always actually be “Team Katniss.” This is a girl who demands change, who seeks to create a better world for the most important person in her life… her sister. She is the symbol of something incredible and drastic that’s brewing in the Districts, so she– and what she can do for the society she seeks to improve– come first before romance. Katniss is well aware of these priorities in the film, too. For once, it’s satisfying to note that sex appeal is addressed, then deliberately downplayed and labeled out of place in a society where people are learning to become less concerned with panem et circenses and more with the quality of their lives.
Mockingjay: Part 1 drives home Katniss’ trauma and the way she reinvents herself without becoming repetitive or watering down the intensity of the source material. To be cliche, it’s an emotional roller coaster with a diverse, interesting group of characters that you instantly empathize with. It’s also a frightening and provactive reflection of real-world issues, and it doesn’t take much to realize that.
WHAT ABOUT MOCKINGJAY: PART 2?
If just this first part was insane, I can’t even imagine what Part 2 will be like. That’s when we’ll really get to the meat of the books. The rebellion has been sparked; in a year’s time, we’ll see it mature into a raging inferno.
The soundtrack is great! Lorde’s “Yellow Flicker Beat” is performing well on the charts right now and rightly so. Even Katniss contributes to the score at one point, which I thought would come across as cheesy and forced, but which actually sets up for a brilliant display of defiance later on, not unlike Rue’s lullaby or three finger salute.
Philip Seymour Hoffman honestly did an incredible job and was one of those most lovable characters in this film, as Plutarch. He’s gleefully manipulative and a brilliant tactician, all while maintaining the perfect air of cheery nonchalance. He will be sorely missed in future films.
Did you watch Mockingjay: Part 1? What was your favorite part? How do you think it compared to the book?