in Movies

‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1’ Review: Katniss Is At Her Most Vulnerable

the hunger games mockingjay part 1

There seems to be an overwhelming agreement among the readers that Mockingjay, the third installment in Suzanne Collins‘ The Hunger Games trilogy, is the least liked of the series. This caused some confusion and doubt as to whether director Francis Lawrence would be able to pull off splitting it in two, and if that was really necessary. We all know that this was probably done for financial reasons, but viewing it from a character-driven perspective, I found it to be somewhat necessary. Yes, at times it seemed like some scenes dragged on for awhile, but what made this salvageable was the focus on Katniss’ emotions. To those expecting an action-filled film, be prepared to not see that. Rather, the focus seems to be the emotional torment left by the previous Games in those who participated.

Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss Everdeen not at all emotionally prepared to take on her new job being the face of the rebellion as the Mockingjay. Now in District 13, she is trained and pampered by newcomers President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and her film crew with Cressida (Natalie Dormer) as the director in charge of filming her propaganda pieces. After having somewhat of a hard time in filming these “propos,” her Mockingjay team consisting of Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), and Effie (Elizabeth Banks), decide that she must be exposed to what the Capitol has done in various parts of the Districts, including her own in 12. After visiting and viewing the destruction of the Capitol’s bombing, she agrees to become the Mockingjay with the condition that Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and the other tributes must be rescued at the earliest opportunity and be pardoned for whatever crimes they commit.

What spurs most of Katniss’ actions throughout the film are her feelings for Peeta and the fact that whatever she does indirectly influences whatever is done to him in the Capitol. As she views more of his interviews with Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), we can see a steep decline in his health and demeanor. Her fixation on Peeta dominates pretty much the entire film with her entire focus being on getting him back. She frequently plays with the pearl he gave her, she dreams of him, even when she sings “The Hanging Tree” we get the idea that she’s thinking of him. Because of this, her interactions with the ever dedicated Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) seem contrived. His characterization changes somewhat than that of the book. While book-Gale was also on Peeta’s side when he told the nation that there should be a cease-fire, movie-Gale calls him a “coward” and joins all the others who think of Peeta as a traitor. This created an even bigger divide between the two boys vying for Katniss’ affections and also forces Katniss to bear the weight of worrying about Peeta alone.

This focus on Peeta was good in the sense that the audience has the ability to somewhat attach themselves to how important he is to Katniss. It creates an even bigger shock when it is revealed that Peeta’s mental health has been tampered with, possibly creating permanent damage. We all know that Jennifer Lawrence completely steals all of the scenes she’s in, but Josh Hutcherson gave such a compelling performance as a tortured and brainwashed Peeta that he took her spot in the scenes he was in, particularly the ending shot, which left me so heartbroken.

One of the central figures that actually helps Katniss through coping with the loss of Peeta is Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin). That is, he was in the book. In the film, it seemed like they pushed him off to the wayside. They made him into a side character. We’d occasionally see him worrying over Annie Cresta (Stef Dawson), who was also being kept and tortured in the Capitol alongside Peeta, but what really disappointed me was how they dealt with his forced prostitution storyline. You would think that with all the time they had they’d be able to give Finnick a scene in which he could recount his story fully and actually let the audience feel for what he had to go through, but they mixed it in with the Peeta rescue scene. The viewers are too busy paying attention to the action that’s happening, you barely get a chance to listen to what Finnick’s actually saying as he’s being filmed. You don’t get the full extent of what some Victor’s lives are like even after the Games. Despite winning, they’re still forced to do things they don’t want to do. I know Sam Claflin would have done an amazing job with that very emotional scene, if they had given him a chance to do it fully and not focused on something else meanwhile.

Are you, are you coming to the tree?
Where they strung up a man they say who murdered three.
Strange things did happen here no stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree.

The moment that induced the most chills was Katniss’ haunting rendition of “The Hanging Tree”. I’m going to need an entire album of Jennifer Lawrence singing more eerie and beautiful songs. It’s moments like these with Katniss sitting by the lake and singing that Lawrence does the most justice to the character. People may complain that this movie is boring or Katniss is too morose for the film’s sake, but the what this film does so well is evoke Katniss’ feelings. You can’t expect her to be so emotionally strong that she’ll just bounce back after losing the person she loves and having to endure all of the death and destruction the Capitol creates. These are the repercussions of what the Games have done to her and the other victors. It’s inspiring to see Katniss in her Mockingjay costume and speaking passionately to a camera, but it’s even more moving to see her at her weakest and most vulnerable.

GRADE: B+

Director: Francis Lawrence
Writers: Danny Strong, Peter Craig
Genre: Action, Drama, Fantasy
Runtime: 2 hr. 5 min.

  • JB Clem

    Here’s a Black Nerds take on Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1