As another holiday season approaches, another film in The Hunger Games saga attempts to satisfy fans of Suzanne Collins’ popular book series. For full disclosure’s sake, I have never so much as flipped through the pages of Collins’ source material. Yet, I have seen all three movies to date, and am curiously but patiently awaiting the next and presumably final conclusion to the film series.
As someone who has never read the novels, I like to think it puts me in a unique position to view and review the film: I have no anticipation and preoccupation with the film’s potential faithfulness to book events and portrayal of characters, but can instead take only the films at face value without any assumed knowledge of the fiction.
That said, the first two films in the series have a nebulous and arbitrary quality that give Panem and its inhabitants, when combined with the obtuse and faux allegorical mining of notable person and place names from Roman antiquity, an artificial and hollow cultural history and atmosphere. Though the history and purpose of the Panem’s numbered districts and societal order are briefly referenced from time to time throughout the previous titles, I never fully grasped the cultural necessity of the Hunger Games themselves. Nevertheless, the first two films deliver decent tension derived action, relying on relatable characters and varied pacing despite heavily predictable plot turns.
The worst that I can say about Mockingjay Part 1 is notice the film series’ directorial choice to refocus and forgo so much plot and character development for the sake of world building. In many ways a stark contrast to its predecessors, such world building is, however, a definite strength of Mockingjay Part 1.
As the bulk of this film is set in the underground fortress bunker District 13, I was able to truly understand the civil rights tribulations of Panem’s teeming underclass semi-citizen subordinates for the first time. Specific horrors of being one of Panem’s rebellious laborers are further exemplified in scenes wherein Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) ventures to a hospital in District 8 and first visits the fallout of her home District 12. Though her reactionary visits before coming back to home base began to show the seams of a formulaic structure, their cumulative subtextual effect was not without meaning.
With the series ever grasping the edge for civil rights and revolution inspired profundity, yet simultaneously stumbling through deep cultural issues for the sake of tense violent action, the most recent Hunger Games film finally takes hold of something substantial. For instance, given more life and thus character other than the odd evil glance to the camera, President Coriolanus Snow’s (Donald Sutherland) motives and concerns for his nation are given more depth and solidified beyond mere tradition. As we see his belief for a certain albeit catastrophic idealism for Panem, so his villainy is reinforced by his humanity.
In contrast, District 13 President Alma Coin’s (Julianne Moore) deeper motives are unclear. Granted, her day to day goal is to maintain the safety and stability of her bunker’s residents while invigorating district rebellion, but her words are calculated, practiced. Though she speaks from the same ring around which her citizens populate their circular tribunal meeting hall, she is their obvious superior and keeper of power and information, the district’s sole decision maker. Though President Snow is brutal and maniacal, his vengeance is forthright; President Coin and her entourage, however, seem the least honest and more suspiciously conspicuous politicos.
Furthermore, beyond Katniss’ reactionary pathos lies the unsettling truth that the sole objective for her suffering, purely surrogate and emotional, is only to be recorded and used, sound bite and catchphrase, as a cleverly edited “propo,” Plutarch’s (Philip Seymour Hoffman) honeyed moniker for his self-directed rebellion inciting propaganda film.
And this is how Mockingjay Part I surpasses its predecessors. At a time in history when much of the world can be most readily exposed to the abject violation of basic human liberations, via visual and social media (whether truthful documentation or fear mongering fit only to incite controversy) than has ever been possible, Mockingjay Part 1 invites the questioning of modern society’s passive obsession with “infotainment” and popular media-fueled, impersonal revolutions, and an examination of how such media affects us. Despite its shortcomings as an action movie, Mockingjay Part 1’s clever exploration of its political subtext rings true and relevant.
Photos via: Lionsgate