Thoughts on Mockingjay

Yesterday I dragged myself out of the house in the rain and did quite a bit of walking and standing at bus stops in order to get myself to the theatre to see Mockingjay: Part 1. I almost didn’t go – my bed was really comfy, and I’d already endured a pretty scary doctor’s appointment earlier. But I really wanted to see it, and my holidays are almost over, so I made myself go. And I’m really glad I did.

This isn’t really a review, per se, but I just wanted to gather all my thoughts together about the film. First off, I want to say that I really enjoyed it. The Hunger Games movies (and books I assume, though I haven’t read them) are an incredibly complex and nuanced look into what an oppressive regime looks like, and what exactly is necessary for a revolution to occur. It also manages not to get lost in it’s grand scale, taking time to explore the characters and quiet moments that are necessary to make us care. There’s also no Hunger Games in this movie, which is really a blessing. The story focuses on the real world, and it’s all the better for it.

Normally I don’t like the practice of splitting one book into several movies, because it often feels like a bid for more money, and it can awkwardly break up the arc of the story. But in this case it worked, because the filmmakers used that extra time to develop those quiet moments between the characters. The film didn’t feel 100% like a complete film, and a lot of things have definitely been set up for the sequel, but there were some satisfying character arcs, and it still felt cohesive.

It’s definitely a “girl power” movie. I’ve got some praise and some criticism for this aspect, and I’ll start with the praise. First off, you have all the wonderful female characters. They definitely feel like the focus of the story, with the male characters definitely there, but slightly more in the background. The Bechdel test is blown out of the water as well, with Katniss routinely conversing with her mother and sister, Cressida, President Coin and Effie. The POC representation was … okay. There were diverse characters there, for sure, and no one doubts that Panem is a multi-cultural country, but there’s still a pretty strong lack of non-white main characters. The POC were mostly side characters and background characters (spoiler: a whole bunch of which die.)

The thing I’m slightly divided on is Katniss herself, and her treatment in the film. And I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it, because there’s something to be said for writing minority characters and keeping in mind that they are a minority. But there’s also something to be said for allowing the character to move beyond that. Katniss  is never allowed to forget that she is female. While the Hunger games (and the horrible fake parade for the Capitol) is over, she’s still being coerced into dressing up and performing a part. This is really something that is almost explicitly stated as being motivated by the fact that she is female, and the fact that she’s still trapped playing this part even when she’s supposed to be liberated sort of rubs me the wrong way. And that’s part of Katniss’s tragedy, I suppose, that’s she’s really a very introverted warrior type who is now being forced to stay out of the actual battles and instead be paraded in a costume. And maybe this is something that gets addressed in book three and we just haven’t come to it yet, but by splitting it between two movies, there’s definitely a lot of frustration felt for the limits being put on Katniss.

Something I really want to crow about though, is the amazing self-awareness these movies have, and the way they’ve circumvented the public’s preconceived notion of what a movie with a teenage girl as the lead is going to be about. I know that when The Hunger Games was first being advertised, I wasn’t that interested. I think this is partially because of my own prejudices and partially because it was being advertised as “the next Twilight.” You had a lot of focus on the love triangle, and not a lot of focus at all on what the movies are really about, which is rebellion against an oppressive regime.

And the brilliant, brilliant, brilliant thing about this is that is is exactly what the Capitol does within the movies. They focus on Katniss and Peeta’s love story, force-feed it to people, tell them that this is what it’s all about. All the while drawing attention away from what’s really going on in the real world. And the paralells between the Captiol and our world are easy to see. The most poignant example being of course, the way our media latched onto the love story and downplayed the revolutionary aspects of the movie. Because of course, this is a story about a teenage girl, an the only thing teenage girls are good for is being silly and falling in love … right? There’s no way they could be interested in overthrowing a dictator, fighting for their freedom or changing the world. The popularity of the series with teenage girls really says otherwise.

Again, the revolutionary aspects of this story are great. I love how the world of Panem is obviously a dystopia, but it is purposely made to be almost indistinguishable from our own. I love how the concept of sacrifice and making the hard decisions is explored and allowed to play out fully. I love all the strong female characters, and the brilliant, subtle character arcs. I don’t love how Katniss is constantly being controlled and made to play a role, and I don’t love how weak her love of Peeta makes her, although I understand that she’s meant to be a flawed character, it just seems to be too convenient of a flaw, considering that she is a teenage girl. And these are all comments on the world-building itself and the basic storyline, which may be more about flaws within the books than the movies. I think the movies, including this one, are absolutely excellent, and are a testament to how well books can be translated into movies if in the right hands. I kind of wish the later Harry Potter movies had been in the hands of these filmmakers. They absolutely know what they’re doing.

So there you go. Mockingjay: Part 1 is an excellent movie. Good, solid film-making, nuanced, complex characters, immersive world-building.  It’s not very long, just over two hours, I think, which is probably another plus of the book being broken into two movies, and it’s two hours well spent. If you’ve not seen the other two movies, I recommend watching them all.

Oh, and there’s also this cutie:

If nothing else, go see the movie for him.

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