Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 – Half the story, but an unflinching half

Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 – Half the story, 

but an unflinching half


After being used ruthlessly by President Snow to quash rebellion, Katniss is rescued by District 13 to resurrect it.

It would be easy to hate Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 for what it is not.
It is not a stand alone film. It does not provide resolution or closure. It has no beginning, middle or end. It is not an action movie. It does not follow the same structure of the previous two instalments. And most glaringly, it does not feature the titular "games" at all.
That it is not any of these things, makes Mockingjay Part 1 my favourite part of the series yet.
The decision to split the movie in two was obviously financially motivated. Why charge for one ticket when you can get people to pay for two?
This trend to split the final book of a series to prolong it has been prevalent since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows and shows no sign of ceasing. Yet, of all the instances it has been done, Mockingjay is the most successful. The movie is just set up and placeholder for the final chapter, but that does not mean it cannot be a beautifully realised, captivating set up.
Screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong, took what could have been a weakness and turned it into a strength.
The Hunger Games has been so action packed up to this point that a pause in the narrative is both welcome and advantageous. With Katniss always in imminent danger, viewers never got the chance to breathe or think. The kill or be killed urgency gives way to the very complex themes about how we got to this point in the first place, and how to get out.
It is rare for a big budget blockbuster to double as a thoughtful, contemplative film. By focusing on the dynamics of the dystopia, it becomes more oppressive and the stakes are now higher. Surviving is not enough, the motivations for a revolution become clearer. Delving into the character drama, the personal and political comes to the forefront.
Depressingly bleak, the movie's lack of resolution helps us relate to Katniss. She's won the games and become the symbol of the revolution and yet has very little hope and does not know where she is going.
Warning: some spoilers ahead
 Jennifer Lawrence as the fearless Katniss Everdeen in 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1'. – Publicity photo
To this point Katniss has been brave, strong and determined, but the girl on fire is beginning to extinguish. The hunger games exist for the decadent Capitol to exert control on the impoverished districts and winning them is no victory.
After being used ruthlessly by President Snow to quash rebellion, she's rescued by District 13 to resurrect it.
 The cruel and unsympathetic President Snow. – Photo credit: IMDB
The cruel and unsympathetic President Snow. – Photo credit: IMDB
District 13, a mysterious rebel district thought to have been destroyed, is the exact opposite of the Capitol. Ashen and drab, it provides an interesting contrast to the ornate, flashy sets and costumes we've gotten used to. But despite their differences, both sides rely on image and perception to further their cause. This is why the propaganda films (propos) that Plutarch Heavensbee devises are so important.
 The late Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee. – Photo credit: IMDB
The late Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee. – Photo credit: IMDB
Katniss values honesty and authenticity above all things, so to be at the centre of something so manipulative is against her very being and yet it becomes necessary.
District 13 may be working on the right side and a good cause, but there are definitely shades of moral ambiguity. The political satire on how media plays on people's emotion for a desired result could not be more timely and relevant.
The delicate pacing of this movie allows for an opportunity to flesh out the side characters. The books were written in first person so the movie's shift of point of view gives us new insight into the background players. Getting to know the characters means that their fates will matter more to us.
Plutarch Heavensbee's covert pursuit to destroy the hunger games has succeeded and now he's the mastermind behind the revolution. It was bittersweet to see Philip Seymour Hoffman posthumously and the dedication at the end was touching. Hoffman is flawless as the puppet master, effortlessly motivating/manipulating Katniss, Effie and even President Coin.
The introduction of President Alma Coin is one of the most important aspects of Mockingjay Part 1. As the leader of the rebellion, she’s willing to do whatever it takes to overthrow President Snow. Julianne Moore captures her icy ruthlessness, but is maybe a little too restrained in terms of intensity.
 Julianne Moore dons a gray wig and conceals her signature red locks as President Alma Coin. – Photo credit: IMDB
Julianne Moore dons a gray wig and conceals her signature red locks as President Alma Coin. – Photo credit: IMDB
Meanwhile, Donald Sutherland as President Snow is anticipating and countering Coin's every move. He is a megalomaniac who controls people with fear and his strongest weapon in this offensive is the boy with the bread, Peeta.
 Josh Hutcherson gives a convincing potrayal of the innocent Peeta. – Photo credit: IMDB
Josh Hutcherson gives a convincing potrayal of the innocent Peeta. – Photo credit: IMDB
Peeta has always been the best at playing the game. His "aw shucks" naiveté belies his ability to use his weaknesses as advantages. So turning the tables by hijacking him is an interesting twist. Josh Hutcherson shows real depth as he is tortured and abused.
 Liam Hemsworth doesn't do justice to the written version of Gale. – Photo credit: IMDB
Liam Hemsworth doesn't do justice to the written version of Gale. – Photo credit: IMDB
Gale finally gets context and personality as his revolutionary spirit is ignited. He becomes a key member of the rebellion and a shoulder for Katniss to lean on. Liam Hemsworth is still bland though and his monolog is not as stirring as it must've been on paper.
Primrose Everdeen (Willow Sheilds) inadvertently set this whole series of events into motion. She now has an even bigger part to play as a healer. Her obsessive attachment to her cat Buttercup, causes further complications.
The biggest departure from the book, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) is back but without her trinkets. Stripped both of her finery and the comfort of her world view, it is a delight to watch Effie make the best of what she has.
Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) is the person who knows and understands Katniss best. So he is the logical choice as her adviser despite her anger at him for not saving Peeta.
When Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) was first introduced in Catching Firehe appeared to be just a pretty face. As his past experiences come to light, we are reminded how inhumane the Capitol is.
Mockingjay Part 1 may be half the story, but it is a weighty and unflinching half.
As a bridge between the previous two movies and the final one, it succeeds admirably. It built up considerable expectation for the next one.
As an open ended grim reverie, it equally succeeds intent on asking more important questions than giving trite black and white answers.

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