The Hunger Games series is the stand-out in this wave of film adaptations of young adult fantasy and science-fiction book series that have washed over us in the years since Harry Potter and Twilight started the craze. If at this point you are unfamiliar with the Hunger Games series of films, I encourage you to watch the first two films soon so you don’t miss out on the opportunity to see a really great science fiction film in the theaters, Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, the third of this four part film series. Both of the first two entries in the series are available to stream on Netflix Instant.
The Gary Ross directed first film—simply titled The Hunger Games—was better than I expected it to be. Ross grounds the film in a gritty reality that serves the downbeat world well. Francis Lawrence took over directing for the second film, Catching Fire. He brought sense of scope to the world that makes protagonist Katniss Everdeen seem more like pawn in the hands of powerful forces than a plucky heroine determined to prevail on her own. This characterization is appropriate, because as the plot has progressed, that’s more and more what Katniss has become.
Now, in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, Katniss steps into her role as the “Mockingjay,” a symbol for the rebellion. She does this begrudgingly at first but with increasing conviction as she sees the plight of her fellow rebels. As the plot progresses further however, she kicks against her propagandic goads, ever more bothered by the way she is being used by both her compatriots and the villainous Capitol. Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic as Katniss. You can always see her wheels turning trying to figure out how to react in each situation as she learns more troubling information about her society. Katniss’ strength sparks when she is concerned for another, and Lawrence is able to shift between that heartache and resolve in a heartbeat.
The media has always been at the center of this series’ crosshairs. The “hunger games” of the series’ title is a clever indictment of the masses always eager to consume images of people being killed by one another. No matter how gruesome things get, the masses are always hungry for more. They care little what happens to those on their screens. Now even the “good guys,” the rebels, wield the cannibalistic camera. To win the war that is breaking out all over Panem, the rebels must take control of the airwaves and use the “Mockingjay” to unite the masses.
The real losers are the people caught in the camera’s lens – Katniss and Peeta. They have their lives flayed out for the viewers. They are made to act as the powers that be need them to act to inspire allegiance to either cause. The scenes featuring either Peeta or Katniss being used as propaganda are great. Often there are two or three things going on at one time – the plot tension of the rebels versus the Capitol, Katniss and Peeta or Gale’s relational turmoil, and Katniss or Peeta’s personal struggle to know how to act in the situation. It’s high drama.
Given the film’s critique of people’s appetites for that kind of drama, it’s a discomforting kind of high drama.The film is as critical of me and my enjoyment of it as it is of the masses in the film. The Hunger Games series is almost satire, but it’s a gentle, ever entertaining kind of satire that avoids becoming high camp by being so realistic and sincere. This sincerity is helped, once again, by the presence of Jennifer Lawrence, an actor known for her sincerity and an actor who’s personal life as also been violated by media consumers with insatiable appetites and no regard for the people they are consuming.
That The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 can contain all of this and still be so thrilling is astounding. Go see it. It’s one of the best movies of any kind I’ve seen this year. Of its kind, it is unparalleled.
You might also find these reviews of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 helpful: